Grodin's Death by Hitchcock: Murder is this novel's opening act

When a college film student is murdered — just before a showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound — in a fictional college in a fictional town, it’s no surprise the teller of the tale is Elissa Grodin of Wilton.

Ms. Grodin is no stranger to the world of movies, which plays a big part in her latest book, Death by Hitchcock. She is married to actor Charles Grodin and for a period of time wrote about movies. Perhaps most tellingly, her grandfather, Edward Dubinsky, was a vaudevillian who eventually owned several movie theaters in her native Kansas City, Mo. (He later changed his name to Durwood.) Her father, the late Stanley H. Durwood, took over the family business, eventually becoming president of AMC Entertainment and helped change the way people viewed movies by developing the multi-plex.

“This book for me is an homage to my love of movies,” Ms. Grodin said during a recent interview. “I was raised with the movies. There were six of us kids and every weekend we’d pile into the car and drive downtown. I fell in love with the movies.”

In this latest book, published by Cozy Cat Press, she continues the story of her heroine, physics professor Edwina Goodman, introduced in Ms. Grodin’s first mystery, Physics Can Be Fatal.

In Death by Hitchcock, Ms. Goodman has come to a screening of Spellbound with Will Tenney, a police detective and friend, although the two are inching toward romance. Just as the film begins there is a scream, and the body of film student Bunny Baldwin is found strangled in the ladies’ room. Around her neck is a length of celluloid.

There is no lack of suspects as Will begins his investigation. There is the jilted wife of Bunny’s film professor and lover. There is Bunny’s roommate, who was cheated out of credit for a script they co-wrote, which Bunny has parlayed into an offer to go to Hollywood. What about the peculiar Honeysuckle Blessington, a frumpy middle-aged English woman who has a crush on the film professor and also happens to be quite handy with homeopathic remedies made from herbs, not all of which are benign? And then there is Milo, the awkward film student who fantasizes about Bunny’s roommate, Mary. A cast of supporting characters round out the campus and local community, nearly all with some connection to the case.

“Hitchcock is absolutely one of my favorite directors,” Ms. Grodin said, adding if she had to pick one of his films as her favorite it would be Rear Window, although she is very fond of Notorious and Spellbound as well.

Ms. Grodin was a film student in college and studied film as literature.

“His idea that the best suspense is psychological is so true,” she said. Adhering to the “cozy mystery” philosophy, her books are driven by characters and relationships, rather than action and violence.

“I find it more genteel,” Ms. Grodin said. “I favor that personally. I am unabashed about not being graphic. I write the kind of thing I like to read.”

With characters the main drivers of her stories, she works to make them memorable.

“If you like the characters, you want to be in their world and see what happens to them.”

Edwina Goodman, not surprisingly, is Ms. Grodin’s favorite character. She said she wanted to give her an androgynous name, hence, Edwina. Her last name, Goodman, is a statement about sexual parity.

“She’s as good as any man,” Ms. Grodin said. “She’s womanly in her girlish way. She doesn’t inhabit feminine clichés.” Certainly not when she takes to kayaking as a means of relaxation. And her chosen field is physics, primarily a man’s world.

The film connection

Drawing on her knowledge of film history, Ms. Grodin sprinkles the book with references to venerable directors such as Francois Truffaut, Vittorio DeSica, Preston Sturges and Fritz Lang, as well as actors Peter Lorre, Gregory Peck, Ronald Colman and Angela Lansbury.

Noting that her protagonist, Edwina, is 27, Ms. Grodin said “part of my desire is to tell people her age about these classic films.”

Two characters in the book are film buffs who talk frequently about classic movies. Through them, she said, she hopes “to ignite interest. There’s a lot to learn from another film era.

“It’s a different zeitgeist. It’s an attempt to evoke a different era or different values.”

What’s next

Fans of Edwina Goodman will be glad to know there’s a third book in the making.

“I’m intrigued by home shopping,” Ms. Grodin said, admitting to a guilty pleasure of watching home shopping networks on television. “I’m planning a murder on live TV.”

Just fiction, of course.