Murder, She Wrote 7.7 “The Return of Preston Giles”

Preston Giles, J. B. Fletcher’s first publisher, is back! Way back in the pilot episode (almost seven years ago), Jessica Fletcher helped put him away for murder. Now, he has finished his jail sentence, and the current head of the publishing company wants to get him back in the business—and Jessica Fletcher back on the publishing company’s roster!

The episode begins with this beautiful establishing shot of the New York City skyline.

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Martin Bergman, a board member at the publishing company! (Preston Giles gets murdered as well towards the very end of the episode.)
Click to reveal the killer It was Millie Bingham Stafford, the wife of the owner of an investment company!
Click to reveal the weapon It was a letter opener!
Click to reveal the location It was in Preston Giles’ office!
Click to reveal the motive Her husband was being blackmailed for his involvement in a financial swindle and she was sick of being bled dry!

Cast of characters:

The focus of this episode is of course Preston Giles and his former publishing company (Sutton Place Publishing).

  • Arthur Hill plays Preston Giles. Hill has previously played Preston Giles in the MSW pilot episode “The Murder of Sherlock Holmes”. This marks his last ever on-screen appearance.
  • Arlene Golonka plays Gloria Winslow, Preston Giles’s secretary. This is Golonka’s second and final appearance on MSW.
  • George Coe plays Martin Bergman, senior VP (and controller and board member) at the publishing company who Preston Giles has accused of embezzling funds. This is Coe’s first of two total appearances on MSW.
  • Michael McKean plays Ross McKay, the current head of the publishing company. Mystery fans might recognize McKean from the 1985 movie ‘Clue’ in which he played Mr. Green.
  • Regina Leeds plays Dorothy, Ross McKay’s secretary.

Another subplot in the story is a love triangle involving the current head of the publishing company.

  • Brynn Thayer plays Linette McKay, Ross McKay’s wife and an investment banker.
  • Gordon Thomson plays Kendall Stafford, Linette’s boss and lover. This is Thomson’s second and final appearance on MSW. He previously appeared in “The Grand Old Lady“.
  • Lois Chiles plays Millie Bingham Stafford, Kendall Stafford’s wife.

A local New York City cop is in charge of the investigation.

  • Todd Susman plays Detective Sergeant Jack Slocum

Additional cast members in minor roles include:

  • Kriss Turner plays a secretary.
  • Michael Fairman plays a cabby.
  • Steven Connor plays the hotel assistant manager. (Jessica calls him Mr. Phelps on the show, but he’s not credited under that name.)

Final thoughts:

Throughout Season 7, the producers of the show felt that that season would be the last, so a lot of effort was put in to make the season a memorable end to the series. Bringing back Preston Giles was one such strategy. Preston Giles is a man of many firsts for Jessica Fletcher. He was her first publisher; the first murderer she ever helped put away; and her first love since Frank died.

One interesting thing about this episode is that it somewhat confirms a theory I have about the series timeline. At one point in the episode, it’s mentioned that “seven years ago”, shortly before Preston Giles went to jail, he had suspected that Martin Bergman was stealing from the company but he never had a chance to confront him. Since this episode aired in November 1990, seven years prior to that would have been November 1983—almost one year before Murder, She Wrote first aired in September 1984. This suggests that the events depicted in the pilot episode “The Murder of Sherlock Holmes” may have happened almost one year before the events in the first regular episode of the series. This would explain how Jessica Fletcher went from publishing her first novel in the pilot episode, to having already had a second novel published and working on her third early on in the first season.

One final thing left to say about this episode is to comment on the filming location. Just as was the case a couple episodes ago in “The Family Jewels”, Jessica Fletcher is shown to be staying at the Biltmore Hotel (which is actually located in Los Angeles).

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