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While I have watched the Murder, She Wrote TV series over and over multiple times, I must confess that it wasn’t until I started this blog almost three years ago that I first discovered the Murder, She Wrote spin-off novels. I did see them occasionally on the shelves of the mystery section of my local public library, but I resisted picking them up (probably because I worried they wouldn’t live up to my expectations). However, since starting this blog, I felt compelled to give them a try.
Up until now, I had only read the very first book in the series (Gin and Daggers by Donald Bain), followed by the first three books written by Jon Land (Manuscript for Murder, Murder in Red, and A Time for Murder)—which were books 48, 49, and 50 respectively. (The reason for the jump from Book 1 to Book 48 in the series was because when I first started the blog, Jon Land had recently taken over the series and he had reached out to me and offered free digital copies of his first two books.)
Because it’s now been a couple of years now since I read any of the books, I thought it was high-time I continued my way through the series, going back to the second book in the series by Donald Bain: Manhattans and Murder. I first tried reading this back in December (since it’s set just around the holidays), but couldn’t quite get into it then. I picked it up again when I had time off from work in April and finished it last week.
Premise and brief summary
Manhattans & Murder by Donald Bain and Jessica Fletcher is the 2nd book in the Murder, She Wrote spin-off novel series and was first published in December 1994.
The novel is mainly set in New York City, shortly before Christmas. Jessica Fletcher is staying in her publisher’s apartment while she’s in town promoting her latest novel. While out shopping, she notices a man that she believes is someone she used to know from Cabot Cove—someone who had once been found guilty of drug smuggling. The man is dressed as Santa Clause, collecting money for charity, and when Jessica approaches him, he is startled but arranges to meet with her the next day. When Jessica shows up to their meeting, she instead witnesses him getting shot!
The mystery finds Jessica donning disguises and exploring the more seedy neighborhoods of New York. She also briefly takes a detour back to Cabot Cove, and brings Sheriff Metzger and Doc Hazlitt back to Manhattan with her to keep an eye on her as she proceeds with her investigation.
As a big fan of the TV series, I feel compelled to first comment on the inconsistencies between the book and the TV show, particularly in the characterization, many of which I noted while reading Gin & Daggers as well. The most glaring discrepancy is with respect to Sheriff Metzger—for some reason in the book he is referred to as Morton (rather than Mort), wears his uniform even in his time off (rather than donning the baseball jacket he frequently wears on the show), and behaves like a fish out of water while in New York City (which is inconsistent with him having lived in New York prior to moving to Cabot Cove).
However, there are also a few things about Jessica that don’t quite fit the character I’ve come to know from the TV show. I feel like she is much more of a stereotypical “old lady” in the books by drinking only tea (as opposed to the black coffee she is frequently seen drinking on the TV show). Additionally, this book in particular seems to forget that Jessica has her own apartment in New York and would therefore not need to stay with her publisher or in a hotel while she’s in town. (In the TV show, Jessica moves into her own New York apartment at the beginning of Season 8 in 1991—several years before the 1994 publication of this novel.)
(By the way, for fans of the spin-off-novels who are keeping track: Jessica Fletcher has a brief conversation with George Sutherland in this book. For those who don’t know who George Sutherland is, he is Jessica’s love-interest who was first introduced in Gin & Daggers.)
Although I couldn’t help but compare the book to the TV series, I did try to keep in mind what Terrie Farley Moran (the newest series author) had said in my interview with her. Namely, that you sort of have to treat the book series and the TV series as alternate realities and enjoy them on their own terms.
So despite being distracted by the inconsistencies, I did find that Manhattans & Murder had good pacing and the story held my attention enough that I was never bored. Nonetheless, it was perhaps at times a bit too plot driven, in the sense that sometimes I felt the characters would do something that didn’t really make sense—just to move the plot along. But this is perhaps a challenge with short 300-page novels that don’t have the space to go too in depth about a character’s motivations.
All-in-all, once I forced myself to stop making comparisons to the TV show, I found this to be an enjoyable enough read and will continue reading more in the series.