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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, the most recent literary adventures starring Jessica Fletcher were written by Terrie Farley Moran.
I haven’t read many books in the series, but since starting this blog I made it a point to read and profile several of the most recent publications. Last April, I read and gave a brief review of Terrie’s second contribution to the series; and last month, I finally had some time to delve into Killer on the Court, which is Terrie’s third contribution to the series but the 55th novel in the series overall.
Book premise and plot review
Killer on the Court finds Jessica spending some vacation time on Long Island with her nephew Grady, along with his wife Donna and their son Frank. The vacation is somewhat of a working trip for Donna as it is sponsored by the family that owns the company she works for–as well as the vacation cottage they are staying at. When Donna’s boss is found pelted to death by tennis balls, some suspicion is cast on Donna as she was the one who arranged to meet him at the tennis court. In order to relieve some of Donna’s stress regarding the situation, Jessica helps local authorities investigate the murder.
Although I may be biased as a big fan of Grady and Donna on the show, Killer on the Court is one of my most favourite of the Murder, She Wrote spin-off novels. Not only did I enjoy the characters, I also enjoyed the setting — I felt like the book did a good job evoking the setting of Jamaica Bay and Rockaway Beach on Long Island without going into excessive length describing the surroundings. (In fact, it made me want to do more research about the area and virtually “visit” it using Google Street View.)
There were also aspects of the book that reminded me of other classics. For example, some of the relationships between the members of the family who own the company Donna works for reminded me of something you’d see in an Agatha Christie novel. And the sweetness of Grady and Donna’s young son Frank reminded me of Anne of Green Gables.
Finally, while I had a small suspicion about the killer at the beginning, the book very quickly convinced me to consider other suspects so that by the end of the book I wasn’t as sure about whodunnit. As a seasoned mystery reader, I was happy to find that Killer on the Court had kept me guessing right until the end.
Contribution to the Murder, She Wrote universe
As with any long-running series, the book makes reference to people and events that appeared in earlier instalments of the series. Some of the more minor references in Killer on the Court include a mention of Joshua Peabody Day (one of the founders of Cabot Cove mentioned several times in the TV series) and The Corpse That Wasn’t There (one of the titles of J.B. Fletcher novels mentioned in the TV series). Additionally, the book mentions Jessica’s visit to the Hamptons to stay with her publisher Vaughan Buckley and his wife Olga — a possible reference to A Palette for Murder by Donald Bain, an earlier novel in the book series.
The book also notably gives an explicit explanation for one glaring inconsistency between the TV series and the book series — the question of Cabot Cove Sheriff Mort Metzger’s wife. In the TV series, Mort’s wife is the never seen Adele. But in the book series, his wife’s name is given as Maureen (first mentioned by name in 1997’s The Highland Fling Murders. Since the local police investigator is meant to be a friend of Mort’s from back when he used to be a New York cop, we learn from conversation between him and Jess that at some point between Adele’s last mention in the TV series and Maureen’s first mention in the book series, Mort had divorced Adele and married Maureen.
Finally, the most notable returning characters in Killer on the Court are of course Grady and Donna and their son Frank*. In this book, Frank is 10 (almost 11) years old, which is interesting from the point of view of the series timeline. In the 1990 episode “The Szechuan Dragon“, Donna is seen to be pregnant with Frank–which would suggest that Killer on the Court is set in 2001 given Frank’s age. But at the same time, we see people using modern day technology that would otherwise suggest the book is set in 2022.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it a knack; it’s more that my mind doesn’t like inconsistencies. Unanswered questions challenge me to search for answers,” I said.Jessica Fletcher in Killer on the Court, Ch.9
Of course, this is only a problem if we are to assume that time passes the same way in the fictional universe as it does in real life — which is rarely the case in popular fiction book series (see for example the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich in which the protagonist is perennially 30 years old even though her environment moves with the times). This is just one of those inconsistencies that I can’t help but note, but (unlike Jessica) am not particularly challenged to find an answer for.
*As an aside, Frank’s full name is given as Franklin in this book — which I find interesting given that he is meant to be named after Jessica’s husband. For some reason, I always thought that “Frank” was short for “Francis”, but I’m not sure if it’s ever been revealed in the TV series either way.
Killer on the Court has already been released in hard cover and audiobook formats, and the paperback edition is coming out tomorrow (December 6th 2022).
The next book in the series is titled Death on the Emerald Isle and is due to be released on January 3rd 2023.