MEETING A YOUNGER JESSICA FLETCHER
FOR THE FIRST TIME
A Time for Murder marks the 50th title in the iconic Murder, She Wrote book series based on the fabulously successful television show. And that places the mystery series I inherited from a writer named Don Bane in rarified air, to say the least, and casts any writer lucky enough to be involved with a tremendous responsibility to the series’ fans and followers.
I inherited the concept for my first effort, A Date with Murder, from an outline and some existing chapters. But I found Jessica Fletcher’s voice in that book early on. She’s listed as my co-author with good reason, because it’s her voice I hear in my mind when I’m writing (Well, Angela Lansbury’s voice, actually!).
It’s natural for a writer to want to put their own stamp on a series, no matter how iconic. So at some point during the writing of my next two efforts, Manuscript for Murder and Murder in Red, I asked myself what could I do that no one had ever done before? My thinking on that started with a conversation about how the television series might stage a return someday. CBS has already flirted with the notion, with Octavia Spencer in the lead role. The network, though, ultimately backed off, figuring there was only one Jessica Fletcher and her initials are “AL.”
But what about a younger Jessica Fletcher, I asked myself? A Jessica still married to very much alive husband Frank, raising her nephew Grady, and serving as a substitute English teacher at a Maine high school while trying to get published twenty-five years in the past. What if a murder happened at that high school and Jessica was drawn in, finding that she not only has a knack for solving crime, but also for writing mysteries?
And so A Time for Murder was born. I had an absolute blast reverse-engineering the back story presented and/or hinted at in the television show. For instance, the name of the high school where Jessica taught is
never mentioned anywhere on the show or in the previous books in the series. But she met her husband Frank while the two of them were volunteering on a play at the Appleton Playhouse, so I placed them in Appleton. And when the town’s beloved high school principal is murdered, who do you think the detective on the case turns out to be?
Amos Tupper, future sheriff of Cabot Cove fabulously played by Tom Bosley in the TV series. That gave me an excuse to explore the very origins of his relationship with Jessica, as well as incorporating one of the TV series’ most popular characters into the story, no easy task given that he was replaced long ago as sheriff by Mort Metzger.
To say I was off and running with A Time for Murder would be an understatement. Indeed, I was off on a dead sprint following a murder in the present intrinsically connected to that of the high school principal in the past. Add to that the fact that Jessica has been invited to a retirement party for one of her old colleagues at Appleton High and I had the connective tissue that every book demands, in this case through flashback chapters triggered by Jessica’s memories.
I was essentially writing two separate, interconnected stories and having a blast with both of them. And in that respect A Time for Murder became what superhero film fans might call an “origins” story, as it sought to answer many of the questions never addressed by either the previous books or the TV series itself. And I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to bring something new to a series that enjoys 100% name/brand recognition, a series that has been around for more than thirty-five years.
I always tell people that one of the real keys to penning a great story is to enjoy writing it as much as the reader will enjoy reading it. And I have every confidence that fans of both the book and television series will love meeting Frank and young Grady, not to mention (spoiler alert!) younger versions of real estate agent Eve Simpson and Seth Hazlitt, along with the aforementioned Amos Tupper. Want more? How about Jessica seeing her beloved home at 698 Candlewood Lane for the first time and wondering whether she and Frank can afford it? We’ll see her in A Time for Murderdisplaying her incredible powers of observation for the first time in solving a murder twenty-five years in the past that culminates in a Columbo-like twist.
For me, reading a Murder, She Wrotemystery is like visiting twice a year with old friends you haven’t seen in too long. And in A Time for Murder, get ready to take a trip back in time to meet some new ones.
Make a note that this new novel, A Time for Murder will be released on November 26 (just in time for Christmas gifts to our friends and fans of Murder She Wrote.) Thanks so much, Jon, for being our guest writer today. As for our readers here, tell us: what do you remember about this great TV series – and are there other TV series that you WISH would be transformed into novels?
….Karna Small Bodman