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As followers of this blog are probably already aware, the long-running TV show, Murder, She Wrote, also inspired a long-running book series of the same name. First established by Donald Bain with the publication of Gin & Daggers in 1989, this very popular series has been taken over by other authors following Donald Bain’s death in 2017.
The most recent literary adventures starring Jessica Fletcher were written by Terrie Farley Moran. Last October, I read and gave a brief review of Terrie’s first contribution to the series; and over this past weekend, I finally had some time to delve into Debonair in Death, which is Terrie’s second contribution to the series but the 54th novel in the series overall.
One of the major things I noted while reading Terrie’s previous book in the series is just how much it felt like I was watching another episode of the TV show. While the previous book had Jessica visiting a dear old friend, Debonair in Death has Jessica back in her home town of Cabot Cove, Maine, Therefore, I was particularly looking forward to seeing some of the Cabot Cove residents and locations previously established in the series (which I will get to discussing in more detail later). And this book certainly didn’t disappoint on that front.
The main premise the novel revolves around is the murder of a handsome new resident and the co-owner of a shop down by the harbor. As always, Jessica has a personal reason for getting involved in the investigation — the young nail technician from her local beauty parlor is the prime suspect! Add to that a dash of international intrigue involving a jewelry smuggling ring and you’ve got all the ingredients for a classic Murder, She Wrote story.
The books is set in September, which adds an extra feeling of coziness to the story. As Jessica runs errands around town and fulfills her various community obligations, she picks up the clues to the mystery organically. In this way, Terrie further establishes the cozy setting of a small town — but also a town that continues to grow as a result of a booming tourism industry (something that was also touched on a lot in the TV series).
Recurring characters and comparison to TV series
As I mentioned earlier, fans of the TV series will particularly enjoy all the references to recurring characters and locations.
Notably, the book opens with a scene at Loretta’s Beauty Parlor, and as such the story involves several of the beauty parlor ladies. This includes the owner Loretta and the nail technician Coreen, as well as two loyal customers Ideal Molloy and Eve Simpson. All four of them appeared in the episodes: “If it’s Thursday it must be Beverly“, “The Sins of Castle Cove“, and “Town Father“. And just like all three of those episodes, the plot of Debonair in Death also involves with romantic scandal.
Just like in every other Murder, She Wrote novel I read (including ones not set in Cabot Cove), Dr. Seth Hazlitt and Sheriff Mort Metzger also make appearances, and Terrie does a great job with their characterization — adding little details from the TV show such as having them call Jessica “woman” or “Mrs. F”, respectively. Additionally, Sheriff Metzger is supported by both of his deputies from the TV show: Deputy Floyd (from Season 5 to Season 7) and Deputy Andy (from Season 8 to Season 12).
And finally, the book marks a special appearance from Jessica’s friend and MI6 agent Michael Haggerty. In introducing his character, the book references the events of the episode “J.B.. As In Jailbird” (although places those events in NYC instead of San Francisco). As is the case with any Michael Haggerty episode in the TV show, Jessica gets roped into doing some secret agent work.
I think it’s tough reconciling the universe established in the TV show with the universe in the book series, so Terrie had her work cut out for her. While I’m not as familiar with the book series as I am with the TV show, I did a little bit of research into it while preparing this blog post and I think it’s safe to conclude that, in writing Debonair in Death, Terrie did a good job of bringing together fans of the book series (who perhaps hadn’t seen the show) and fans of the show (who perhaps had never read the book series).
One thing that I found notable is the absence of Phyllis (a travel agent who is also a regular beauty parlor customer on the TV show). However, this can be explained by the fact that the Cabot Cove universe established by Donald Bain in the book series already had a much more memorable character to fill that role. Specifically, this book brings back the characters of Cabot Cove Mayor Jim Shevlin and his travel agent wife Susan.
Another thing that I found notable is Jessica’s reliance on cars to get around town. On the TV series, I got the impression that the center of town is within easy distance of Jessica’s house, so I found it curious while reading Debonair in Death that Jessica would call for a cab to drive her into town. Jessica is still shown to be fit and active in the book (she does still go jogging and bike riding, and she does her morning stretches), so it couldn’t be that she was getting too far on in years. However, in researching the Cabot Cove universe established in the book series I realized that this was included out of a desire to reference the owners of the Cabot Cove cab company first introduced The Ghost and Mrs Fletcher.
Just as in other Murder, She Wrote novels, Debonair in Death offers a lot of insight into a writer’s life. It did make me wonder what it’s like for career writers to have a chance to write about a heroine who also shares their lifestyle and is able to publicly voice some of their exasperations with the publishing business. Not necessarily related to my previous point, but rather related to Jessica’s career as a writer, the book also mentions The Belgrade Murders — which is a Jessica Fletcher novel mentioned in the episode “When Thieves Fall Out“.
Another thought I had that didn’t quite fit my previous discussion had to do with some of the character names. In the book, Coreen’s surname is given as Wilson and Deputy Floyd’s surname is given as McCallum. However, as far as I’ve been able to notice, their surnames were never explicitly given on the TV show (see for example my post on “The Skinny According to Nick Cullhane“, in which I tried to figure out the name on Deputy Floyd’s nametag). This isn’t an actual problem in terms of the consistency between the books and the TV show. However, the reason this has stuck with me is because some other wikis/websites about Murder, She Wrote do indeed list those surnames for those characters. Unfortunately, those websites don’t list the source of that information (i.e. the specific episode where it was revealed), so now I’m left wondering whether there was something I missed.
And finally, I wanted to end this post by mentioning that, in Debonair in Death, Jessica mentions shopping for a birthday gift for her nephew Grady’s wife Donna. This is perhaps a little bit of foreshadowing to the next book in the series, in which (based on the publisher’s description) Jessica pays a visit to them.
Debonair in Death has already been released in hard cover and audiobook formats, and the paperback edition is coming out tomorrow (April 5th 2022).
The next book in the series is titled Killer on the Court and is due to be released on May 17th 2022.