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Those who follow me on social media may also know that in mid-December I had to deal with the death of my beloved cat. Being emotionally distracted made it difficult to focus while reading, so it was only recently that I finished reading my first book of 2020. As I’m a big Murder, She Wrote fan, and also partly out of a commitment to document the Murder, She Wrote universe, my first book of 2020 was the latest installment in the Murder, She Wrote novel series.
A Time for Murder is the 50th book in the spin-off novel series starring (and purportedly written by) Jessica Fletcher. It is also the third book written (in reality) entirely by Jon Land, who took over the series following the original author’s, Donald Bain’s, death in 2017.
Although I’m a big fan of the show, I don’t have the same feelings about the novels — though I should note that I’ve only read four of the 50 novels so far. However, it is always nice to see my favourite characters from the fictional Cabot Cove featured in a new story. This particular novel doesn’t disappoint in that respect.
A Time for Murder begins its story in present day. Jessica Fletcher is interviewed by a young woman who claims to be a high school student, and who starts to ask probing questions about the first murder that Jessica Fletcher has been involved in solving. The story then proceeds to interweave present day events with flashbacks of Jessica retelling the story of a murder she helped solve in a nearby town before she and her husband Frank moved to Cabot Cove.
However, it is the flashbacks that form the basis of my major critique with the book: I really didn’t feel like Jessica Fletcher as a narrator was playing fair with me as a reader. There were too many instances where I felt like information was purposefully withheld from me as Jessica would abruptly end the flashback narrative to return to present day events.
Nonetheless, it was nice to see a glimpse of Jessica’s life before Frank’s death and before she became a world-famous mystery author. The novel was also full of cameos from some of my favourite characters, such as Amos Tupper (who doesn’t normally appear in the novels since they were written after Mort Metzger replaced him as sheriff in the TV series), as well as brief appearances by Jessica’s nephew Grady and real estate agent Eve Simpson.
With a show that has 12 seasons worth of episodes, the book also falls into problems when it comes to continuity — which is admittedly something that the entire spin-off novel series struggled with from the beginning. Fans who watch the show religiously might be put off by certain details that don’t fit the facts presented in the TV series.
Overall though, it the book does a good job of evoking the mood of the TV series, with the narrative style often echoing the dramatic cut-scenes that frequently occurred just before a commercial break. However, plot-wise, I would classify the novel more as a thriller rather than a straightforward mystery, as the focus towards the end of the story is less about detective work and more about getting Jessica Fletcher out of danger.
EDIT: The hardcover version of the book was first published on November 26th, 2019. A paperback version has since been released on April 28th, 2020.