Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing four other books from the Murder She Wrote paperback series written by “Jessica Fletcher” the tv character and Donald Bain, the writer and publisher who sadly passed away in 2017. Each was delightful, mimicking the tv series perfectly but offering up another side of Jessica that we get only as readers. I recall the Christmas book in particular being one of my favourites – what could be cozier? Blood on the Vine is no different; I was saving it for my birthday as a special treat to myself, and I read it in two sittings.
Jessica Fletcher is on a trip to wine country in California. She’s staying with some friends who used to live in Cabot Cove, but they now own a quaint B&B in the heart of Napa Valley. Her friend and Scotland Yard Detective George Sutherland happened to be in the same area at the same time, so he’s taken a detour from his original plans to spend some one-on-one time with Jessica. When news of her arrival hits the local papers, Jessica is invited to Bill Ladington’s impressive castle, a man who made millions in Hollywood but has retired to Napa Valley to focus on creating award-winning wine instead. He’s surrounded by people who hate him; business partners, family members, and his sixth wife who is half his age, so when he’s found dead just hours after Jessica leaves his castle, there is no shortage of suspects. Jessica and George work together to find out if the death was truly a suicide the way it first appeared to be, or if there is something more sinister at work. If you’re at all familiar with the famous television show, you’ll know this is a cozy mystery, so all questions are eventually answered and everything is put right again, at least in the world of Jessica Fletcher.
I find it difficult to be objective when I review these novels simply because I enjoy them so much, so I’m willing to let any niggling complaints quickly evaporate from my recollection. Is it a little too good to be true that Jess’s friend happens to be in the same place at the same time? Of course, but his presence adds an extra layer of interest to the story, mostly because it’s somewhat suggested (by both the writing, and Jess’s friends) that George could be a potential love interest. In almost every book in this series that I’ve read, I’ve noticed that there are hints of budding romance in the relationships that Jessica enjoys. She has never really fallen in love with anyone, but the fact that she’s described as even noticing a handsome man is a departure from her character in the television show. Jessica Fletcher on TV is steadfastly devoted to her deceased husband Frank, and doesn’t seem willing to consider any other man in her life. However, the books tell a different story, if only just a suggestion.
In comparison to other mystery novels, its plotting is well done and the red herrings thrown out amongst the long list of suspects served as a clever distraction. The pacing of Murder She Wrote episodes and books is something to appreciate. Many mysteries go too fast towards the ends, having meandered too long in the middle. Never did I feel like I wanted to just ‘get on with things’; new clues came up at a reasonable rate while finely balancing the personal side of Jess’s vacation nicely. The reveal was technically fair play – and when Jess sits down to muddle through all the suspects and motives, she writes it out on a piece of paper for readers to see and analyze along with her, which is a great way to include us in her final declaration of who she believes the killer is. This typically just happens over a commercial break in the television show, so I appreciated the added layer of decision-making the book offers.
Something else I appreciate about both the television show and the books; you can read and watch them out of order, it doesn’t make a difference. There are no complicated storylines to keep track of from show to show. Each follows the same formula; someone dies, Jess helps solve the murder, everything is made right again. What’s not to love? Whenever I feel like I need to simplify my life, a quick episode of MSW puts things right in my world, and I’m happy to report the books have the exact same affect.