Murder, She Wrote: A Vote for Murder
Review By: Gringo

Ahoy hoy!

So a long time ago I wrote an article about Murder, She Wrote which you can find in all its over-written glory right here. As a loose follow-up, I present to you this mini review of a book in the allegedly popular fiction series based on the television show.

That's right. After the show ended -- 12 seasons, people, 12 seasons -- Donald Bain, a long-time ghost author and small-time author in his own right, was tapped by Universal to write short novels that are essentially single episodes of the show. Except without Angela Lansbury, and with the fact that rather than 45 minutes of television (60 plus advertisements), reading one of these will take up significantly more of your time than the show ever did. Look how hilariously miserable Mr. Bain looks at the prospect of his burden:

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The basic setup is the same: retired teacher-cum-novelist (snicker, I typed "cum") Jessica Fletcher divides her time between writing inexplicably wildly successful murder mystery novels and stumbling across real murders. Fletcher inevitably ends up solving the murders, and every episode of the television show ended with a whimsical scene that invariably ended with Jessica and crew laughing their nuts off as the closing credits kicked in.

The books loosely follow the same idea, starting with Jessica finding herself in some new place, usually to promote or "research" a book -- though I find taking a cruise on the QE2, as she takes in one book, a dubious sort of research -- and then getting involved in an actual murder. She ends up solving it, and everyone goes home happy. Except the jailed murderer.

Only where the show had the presence of Lansbury to keep it mildly watchable, these books have none of that. I picked up A Vote for Murder because it was less than a dollar (therefore within my price range) and did my reviewing duty by reading the whole thing. And it's just so bland. So horribly bland, and worse, it evokes memories of the dullest kind of fan fiction.

Do not buy this book

The writing is simplistic -- detailed descriptions avoided in order to help rush the thing to print, no doubt -- and the dialogue borderline ridiculous. Written in Jessica's first-person, she often thinks things through then, in case we didn't get it, speaks them to other characters. Thanks for that. The murderer is usually impossible to guess, but that's not a good thing. It's because there's some buried or convoluted fact that would escape even the greatest detective unless they had the chance to read the whole novel and its denouement beforehand.

Guilty admission: I've read more than one in this book series. I'm going to claim it was me simply doing the duty of not judging a book on its cover (hah!) or based on one entry in the series alone. They're all pretty much irrelevant and not worth your time. Plus, the author keeps shoving his own interests and preferences into the novels even when they don't fit with the character that Lansbury cultivated. Apparently, Jessica now enjoys flying lessons; quasi-romantic liaisons with a Scottish detective (never mentioned in the television show) who routinely turns up where Jessica is staying, like an evil stalker; and her nephew Grady Fletcher -- who made several appearances in the show -- is, I understand, getting his first mention some 4,000 books into the series.

If you're interested in the plot of this book (and you shouldn't be), Jessica winds up in Washington D.C. and ends up solving a murder. Exciting. Of course, like any shlock fiction, she only ever visits tourist attractions and spends most of her time in the parts of the city that are always seen in the movies but are rarely populated by anyone, particularly the supposed locals that Jessica always ends up staying with or being shown around by.

Overall, two thumbs heartily down. If the actors and actresses who were part of the television series ever got the chance to give their impression on the books, I don't think they'd laugh like Jessica would at the end of every episode. Rather, I think they'd sneer and look at you with a patronizing eye. Now only if I had an image of that from the television show...

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