by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of Murder She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land the 50th book in the series, and a very interesting interview with Job! Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Murder She Wrote: A Time for Murder. We also have a link to purchase it from Amazon and an indie bookstore.
Murder She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land
Review by Sandra Murphy
Ever wonder what Jessica Fletcher’s first murder case was? A curious high school reporter asks just that question during an interview and doesn’t seem to think Jessica is giving a completely honest answer. It’s a subject Jessica never discusses, and she’s able to dodge the questions.
It doesn’t take long to find out the woman was no student, and she has ties to Jessica’s past. Her questions weren’t curiosity but a personal quest. Unfortunately, Jessica can’t question her in return because the woman was murdered not long after their interview.
In reality, Jessica’s first experience with murder was twenty-five years ago, when her husband Frank was still alive, her nephew Grady was living with them, and Jessica was a permanent substitute English teacher. Even her best friends, Mort the sheriff and Seth the doctor, don’t know about that case.
With the past now part of the present, Jessica tells Mort and Seth about the long ago murder. Of course, interruptions mean it takes more than one talk to lay out all the facts and to try to see the connection to the current death. A second murder only confuses the issue even more. Will Jessica be able to figure out who did it once more or will a murderer go free to kill again?
This is the fiftieth book in the long running series. Often trying to balance a past event and the current time only confuses the reader with too many characters, abrupt jumps in time, and too much or too little information. Jon Land (with Jessica’s help, of course), manages it masterfully. Whether Jessica is remembering on her own, relating the old case to Mort, or discussing details with Seth, there’s no repetition of facts, no information dump, and no wasted words.
Keeping a series fresh, through multiple writers, and over a period of time that spans fifty books, is quite a feat. Adding a bit more risk, making her more human, letting her be vulnerable but strong, is due to Land’s careful and thoughtful updates to Jessica’s life.
This is a book that long-time fans will appreciate and enjoy. Job well done, Mr. Land!
Interview with Jon Land:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Jon: Seems like forever! I started by writing magazine articles in the late 70s when I was a junior at Brown University. My work was published back then in People Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post among several others. After I got bit by the fiction bug my senior year, I wrote my first novel, a thriller of course, as my senior thesis. It never got published, but the first book I wrote out of college did – by Zebra, now Kensington, in 1983.
KRL: What was it called and can you tell us a little about it?
Jon: Hey, great transition! It was called The Doomsday Spiral and it was published in April of 1983. Without going into detail as to content, it was basically an assemblage of a lot of different concepts, scenes and characters gleaned from other others and works I admired. All creative people learn by imitation and that’s what I was doing when I wrote this book.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
Jon: That’s a very good question and the answer is both yes and no. Yes, I have written several books not classified as thrillers, particularly a pair of inspirational books and a half-dozen in non-fiction. All of them reflect the pacing and general parameters of a thriller in terms of structure and more stylistic traits like ending every chapter with a cliffhanger of some sort and opening every chapter with a hook.
KRL: What has it been like to write the Murder She Wrote books?
Jon: I enjoyed it right from the start, especially the challenge of taking over such a massive brand with a hero in Jessica Fletcher who enjoys 100% name recognition. With the last few books, it’s become a labor of love because I’ve done some things with the series that, after thirty-five years of TV and books, have never been done before. A Time for Murder (published this past November), for example, has a flashback thread in which we meet Jessica as a young woman for the first time ever. My next book in the series, The Murder of Twelve (coming in May) is the Murder, She Wrote version of the Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None, arguably the most famous mystery of all time. That’s a high bar to strive for and I welcome the challenge, just as I welcome a kind of re-booting of the series to make the books more contemporary and story-driven. My approach has been called “the cozy-thriller.”
KRL: How many have you written and how did it come about that you would take on writing them?
Jon: I’m finishing up my sixth title, a Christmas-themed one appropriately titled Murder in Season (due out next November). I got the job because I was fortunate enough to share the same agent as the author who’d penned the first 46 books in the series, Don Bain. When Don Bain became ill and was unable to continue writing, I took over.
KRL: Were you a fan of the TV show?
Jon: Yes. I thought it was the second-best mystery show on television after Columbo. I put Miami Vice in a category all its own!) Interestingly enough the two shows boasted the same creative team in Richard Levinson and William Link. Fun fact: I believe they also wrote the original screenplay for the iconic film, Dirty Harry, which was substantially rewritten by an uncredited John Milius, after Clint Eastwood replaced Frank Sinatra in the title role.
KRL: That’s a fun bit of trivia, I love Frank Sinatra but have a hard time seeing him in that role. I understand that this is the 50th Murder She Wrote book, why do you think Jessica Fletcher is such an enduring character?
Jon: That’s truly a great question and I’ve probably answered it a dozen different ways, but I think I’ve finally settled on the strength of Jessica. She was so far ahead of her time as an independent mature woman, comfortable in her own skin and having achieved incredible heights in her chosen profession all on her own. She isn’t defined by the fact that she’s a childless widow living a solitary life. She’s defined as a vibrant, vital person who loves her life and cherishes all she has. If Murder, She Wrote were created today, none of this would’ve been nearly as impactful, but we’re talking way back in 1984 now and in that respect Murder, She Wrote was truly as ground-breaking as the aforementioned Miami Vice.
KRL: Can you tell us a bit about the next book?
Jon: The Murder of Twelve places Jessica inside the Hill House Hotel during a record Maine blizzard, stranded with twelve members of a wedding party who are murdered one at a time. As I said before, it’s the Murder, She Wrote version of the classic And Then There Were None.
KRL: I understand A Time for Murder takes Jessica back to before she was a published mystery author. So what was it like writing about early Jessica?
Jon: An absolute blast to imagine her as she was instead of how she is, and you know what? Like everybody else, she’s really the same! To see Jessica when she’s still dreaming of being a writer, married to a very much alive Frank, raising her nephew Grady and struggling to get published while trying to land a full-time job as a teacher-coming up with all that through reverse engineering was as much fun as I’ve ever had as a writer. A couple spoilers: Jessica meeting and working with Amos Tupper (played by Tom Bosley on the TV show) and Jessica realizing she should consider writing mysteries, instead of serious fiction, based on a high school Sophomore’s comments.
KRL: How fun! Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Jon: If you only write whenever you can, you’re not going to have a much of a career, much less publish 51 books as I have! All professional writers are professionals like anyone else trying to be successful at what they do. Period.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Jon: That’s truly one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. The reader doesn’t have a way of keeping track of what he or she is reading, so I don’t either. That’s one of the most challenging things about writing Murder, She Wrote, because so many clues and red herrings have to be planted and then tied up, nothing left dangling.
The key to writing any book, but especially a mystery like one of these, is to be a great re-writer. Get it down, go back and revise on the fly when necessary, but that first thorough read where you fix the inconsistencies and all the stuff that’s broken is the most important stage at a book.
Many writers, most even, know far more than I do when I start a book. My process of writing a Murder, She Wrote book is akin to somebody out there reading it. I don’t know where I’m going next until I get there! The best twists and turns I come up with are the ones that come literally out of nowhere.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Jon: There is no ideal time. It’s a business, and if you love the story you’re telling, the book you’re writing, it doesn’t matter when you do it.
KRL: Do you have any other books coming out soon?
Jon: The Murder of Twelve in May and my next Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong thriller, Strong from the Heart, in July.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Jon: Same ones as always: Stay relevant, keep making a living, write even better books, and finally make the New York Times bestseller list!
KRL: Writing heroes?
Jon: I’ll give you the authors who made me want to be a writer, specifically of thrillers: Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, David Morrell and Clive Cussler.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Jon: I research by need, based on the demands of the book. Google is the greatest tool for writers ever but I love seeking out and speaking with primary sources, experts who know far more than I and whom I‘m prone to asking, “This is what I want to do, or have done, so how can I make it credible?”
KRL: What do you read?
Jon: Thrillers, but that’s a very broad category!
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Jon: Jaws is my favorite movie of all time but The Godfather is the best film ever made and also near the top of my list. A movie you have to watch when you stumble upon it while flipping through the channels is the definition of a favorite. Breaking Bad was the best scripted series in history, but Game of Thrones was flat out brilliant, even the much-criticized final season. Contrary to popular belief, the battle-dominated Episode 3 of the final season, “The Long Night”, was the best TV episode ever filmed.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Jon: Have fun telling a great story. Do that and you’ll never have to doubt or question yourself, and please, finish what you start. As Yogi Berra might have said, “If you don’t finish a book, you can’t sell it.”
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Jon: Just thank-you for thinking of me!
KRL: You are very welcome! We are happy to have you here at KRL. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Jon: I’m a gym rat.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Murder She Wrote: A Time for Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “time,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 25, 2020 U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address-we will delete the emails when the contest is over. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. We delete all emails after the contest is over.
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