MYSTERY WOMAN. Made for TV: The Hallmark Channel. First telecast: 31 August 2003. Kellie Martin, Robert Wagner, J. E. Freeman, William R. Moses, Constance Zimmer. Written by Michael Sloan. Director: Walter Klenhard.

   I missed this when it was first shown, and since I try to keep an eye out for good, solid detective movies, even though I’m not always able to watch them at the time, I’m not sure how that might have happened. After all, if the basic premise is someone inheriting a musty old mystery bookstore and using that as a basis to solving murders, how could I resist?

   That someone is Samantha Kinsey (Kellie Miller), and Jack Stelling (Robert Wagner) is the true-crime writer whose death by hanging in a locked room is the suicide that Samantha does not think is, um, a suicide.

   Assisting her are a grizzled old geezer named Ian Philby (J. E. Freeman) who is a carryover employee of Samantha’s uncle in the bookshop, and Cassie Tilman (Constance Zimmer), who as an Assistant DA is good at assisting (and seems to have no other regular working hours, other than being on hand when Samantha is out searching for clues).


   Convinced that the death is indeed a suicide is police lieutenant Robert Hawk (William Moses), conveniently ignoring all of growing evidence otherwise, but on the other hand, it is equally hard to ignore the door that is solidly bolted on the inside.

   There are a lot of the other vintage bits and pieces of the vintage detective story, a la MURDER, SHE WROTE, combined with the Carolyn Hart stories in which Annie Darling runs a mystery bookstore as well as solves mysteries in the “Death on Demand” series. There is also a bit of what – I hate to use the term – is called “woo woo” when psychic impressions of a murder committed 10 or 15 years earlier are needed to understand why an author of true crime books might need to be silenced today.

   As a mystery buff, Samantha also has the skills needed to pick locks when the time is needed. This almost goes without saying. I thought Kellie Martin was too young for the part – she looks and acts in this movie as though she were 18 – but I am afraid that it is I who am (is?) getting old. She is 29 and has been in a host of various other TV series and dramas that I have never seen, including being nominated for an Emmy for her role as Becca Thatcher in LIFE GOES ON, ABC, 1989-1993.


   The character I enjoyed the most was the relatively aged Philby, a man of the gutter who continued to surprise Samantha with his knowledge and abilities – definitely a man of some mystery beneath that weather-beaten and faded facade. (I don’t suppose I identified with him, or anything.)

   No mystery film with references to Ed McBain, Anthony Boucher and John Dickson Carr can be all bad, but neither does it rise to more than knee-high to any of them. Extremely derivative in nature, in other words, but other than the “woo woo,” is a well-natured, pleasant to the palate sort of way. Sloan, the screenwriter, started his career with McCLOUD (1970) and HARRY O (1974), so it isn’t as though he’s never been around the block before.

   And, I have discovered – since it was so obviously left open that way – that if not a weekly series, there is another Hallmark movie with (many of) the same characters coming, starting in production as of Fall 2004. Robert Wagner won’t be in it, for example, but other than that, and reading through the lines of what I said and what I didn’t say, I’d say that you should be on the lookout for it.

— September 2004

[UPDATE] 10-21-13. Advice, that for better or worse, I did not take myself. I may have purchased some of the later MYSTERY WOMAN movies when they came out on DVD (it did indeed become a series), but I never watched them. I believe the reason to be this. When I learned that J. E. Freeman was replaced by Clarence Williams III in the ten later episodes, I discovered that I wasn’t interested any more, or certainly at least not as much.