JESSICA FLETCHER & DONALD BAIN – Murder She Wrote: A Palette for Murder.

Signet, paperback original. First printing, October 1996.


   The first question that occurs to me as I sit down to write this review, and it hadn’t occurred to me before now, except in a nebulous sort of way, is just how many of these “Jessica Fletcher” books are there? They’ve seemed sort of generic and ubiquitous at the same time, and I never stopped to get them listed and enumerated. Until now. Take a look at the other end of this review…

   … and now that your eyes are back,some historical perspective may be in order. The TV show itself, the one starring Angela Lansbury, was on the air for twelve seasons, from 1984 to 1996, with four made-for-TV movies appearing after that, the last one in 2003.

   The first Murder, She Wrote novel came out in 1985, and there’s at least one that’s scheduled for 2009, a span of years that’s even longer than when the TV program was on the air. It’s quite a track record, and it certainly goes a long way in explaining the ubiquitousness I mentioned above.

   Which of course got me to thinking. What other series of TV tie-ins has consisted of more books than this one with Mrs. Fletcher has?

   To set some parameters, let’s restrict this question to detective novels. Otherwise in the field of science fiction, there is Star Trek, and we do not want to even begin to go there.


   In the field of gothics, and books that are actually included in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, there are the Dark Shadows books, of which there 32 (at a quick, rough count). Good, but not good enough. There are 35 Murder, She Wrote books, or there will be soon.

   If anyone can come up with a series I’m simply not thinking of — and, no, I don’t consider the Perry Mason paperbacks with photos of Raymond Burr on the back cover true TV tie-ins, or should I? — let me know.

   As for the author, Donald Bain, he has his own website (and photo), and by following the link, you can find a complete list of all of the books he admits that he has written, and not all of them have been crime fiction, by any means. His bibliography also pointedly omits 24 books he wrote under another’s name but which he can not contractually reveal. Most of these books are (in all likelihood) the Margaret Truman books, of which Al Hubin says, again in the Revised Crime Fiction IV:

TRUMAN, (Mary) MARGARET (1924-2008). Despite the strenuous denial of Donald Bain, 1935- , q.v., the strong belief persists that he has ghost-written all the titles below…. (The year of her death appears only in the Addenda.)


   Back up when I starting this review, which seems a long time ago already — you don’t know it, but it is now several days later, real time — I also called the books “generic” as well as ubiquitous, and perhaps I should apologize for that, even though I said “they’ve seemed,” since of course and/or as usual, this is the first one that I’ve read.

    “Ubiquitous” I think I may have proven, but the case is far less solid when it comes to generic, unless of course you think that the TV show was generic, and maybe it was, but what TV show today exerts as much effort into actual deduction in terms of its detective work than Murder, She Wrote? Numb3rs, perhaps? Any others?

   I’ll get back to this. To tell you something about the book I have just read, in it Jessica Fletcher is visiting the Hamptons (on Long Island), trying to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and secretly to try her hand at oil painting.


   The latter effort fails — well, in fact both objectives fail — if getting away from the big city means staying away from murder cases — when the young model posing nude for Jessica’s class is found dead while taking a short break. (With careful camera angles, most of the activity immediately preceding could have been shown on television.)

   But in any case it is thus that Mrs. Fletcher is introduced to world of modern art, including thefts (her own sketch of the dead girl included), forgeries and high finance, Long Island style.

   She also tells the story in her own words, and what is quite remarkable is that Donald Bain as the author has her voice down cold. Perfect. To a T. From page 58:

    “… One minute Miss Dorsey was very much alive and posing for fifteen fledgling artists. The next minute she was dead.

    “I knew I could justify looking into her death based upon the theft of my sketch. Maybe I could find out who took it. Even more important, the sketch was now floating around the Hamptons. Where was it? And who had it now?

    “I stopped going through my internal justification process, and decided to take a walk. It was sunny and warm outside, the sort of pretty day I’d counted on when deciding to vacation in the Hamptons.”

   And then a second death occurs, suggesting that the first one was not a simple accident of some kind, as if we (the reader) did not know that already. Perhaps innate in the world of “cozy” detective novels, the death may have affected me more than it did anyone in the story, including Mrs. Fletcher, who had begun to know the second victim well. (Shouldn’t she have at least been angry about it?)


   What I said about Donald Bain’s having his “co-author’s” voice down pat, he — at this relatively early point in the series — it does not seem to me that he has the mystery-telling (and solving) pattern of television series very well in mind at all.

   Instead of calling the suspects together and recreating the crime scene (in flashbacks) and naming the killer as a result, we have Jessica going here and there on her own and in exceedingly dangerous places, not realizing as she should that a two-time killer is on the loose.

   The ending is rather muddled altogether, in fact, and that I ending up skimming through it, rather than being transfixed with the unraveling, may tell you more about the mystery than anything else, I regret to say. I may read another, but without a push from some other direction, all things considered, it’s not as likely as it should be.


   The Murder of Sherlock Holmes (n.) Avon, pb, 1985.


   Hooray for Homicide (n.) Avon, pb, 1985.
   Lovers and Other Killers (n.) Avon, pb, 1986.


   Murder in Two Acts (n.) Star, UK, pb, 1986.


   Gin and Daggers. McGraw-Hill, hc, June 1989; Avon, pb, October 1990; Signet, pb, April 2000.


   Manhattans and Murder. Signet, pb, December 1994.
   Brandy and Bullets. Signet, pb, August 1995.
   Martinis and Mayhem. Signet, pb, December 1995.
   Rum and Razors. Signet, pb, April 1995.
   A Deadly Judgment. Signet, pb, April 1996.
   A Palette for Murder. Signet, pb, October 1996.
   The Highland Fling Murders. Signet, pb, April 1997.
   Murder on the QE2. Signet, pb, October 1997.
   Murder in Moscow. Signet, pb, May 1998.
   A Little Yuletide Murder. Signet, pb, October 1998.
   Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch. Signet, pb, May 1999.
   Knock ’Em Dead. Signet, pb, October 1999.
   Trick or Treachery. Signet, pb, October 2000.
   Blood on the Vine. Signet, pb, April 2001.
   Murder in a Minor Key. Signet, pb, October 2001.
   Provence to Die For. Signet, pb, April 2002.
   You Bet Your Life. Signet, pb, October 2002.
   Majoring in Murder. Signet, pb, April 2003.
   Destination Murder. New American Library (NAL), hc, October 2003; Signet, pb, September 2004.


   Dying to Retire By. Signet, pb, April 2004.
   A Vote for Murder. NAL, hc, October 2004; Signet, pb, September 2005.
   The Maine Mutiny. Signet, pb, April 2005.
   Margaritas and Murder. NAL, hc, October 2005; Signet, pb, September 2006.
   A Question of Murder. Signet, pb, April 2006.
   Three Strikes and You’re Dead. NAL, hc, October 2006; Signet, pb, September 2007.
   Coffee, Tea, or Murder. Signet, pb, April 2007.
   Panning For Murder. NAL, September 2007; Signet, pb, September 2008.
   Murder on Parade. NAL, hc, April 2008. Signet, pb, March 2009.
   A Slaying In Savannah. NAL, hc, September 2008. Signet, pb, September 2009.
   Madison Avenue Shoot. NAL, hc, April 2009

— April 2006 (revised)

[UPDATE] 01-30-09. Any updating has already been done, either in the course of the review, or in the subsequent bibliography. This post is long enough now without my needing to say more!