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Jessica Fletcher is forced to leave her beloved Maine over Christmas in order to promote her latest book in New York. In amongst the flurry of Christmas shopping, book signings and cocktail parties, she is amazed to see a familiar face dressed up as Santa Claus - someone she used to know from her hometown called Waldo. He is also surprised to see Jessica, and they hurriedly arrange a meeting for the next day. But when Jessica turns up, it is in time to see Waldo gunned down. Even worse, because he is an apparent down-and-out, the police don't seem very eager to follow the crime up. Jessica decides to take on the case, if only so that she can explain Waldo's death to his children. Will she manage to find out the truth?
The television show Murder, She Wrote, starring Angela Lansbury, is most people's equivalent of a chick flick for me - it is light, fluffy, and the fact that it includes murder is the icing on the cake as far as I am concerned. I didn't realise that it also appeared in book form, but was more than happy to give it a go, especially when I picked this book up in a charity shop for just a few pence. Written by Donald Bain (and based on the television show, rather than the other way around), the co-writer is named as Jessica Fletcher, in keeping with Jessica's role as a mystery writer.
I really like Jessica Fletcher as a character. Some suspense of disbelief is required when either watching the TV show or reading this book - she does have a rather uncanny knack of falling over dead bodies all the time, most of which are somehow linked to her personally. In this book, she comes across exactly as she does on screen, yet she is all the better for being in a book - she seems less silly, and her actions are better explained, making Jessica Fletcher seem a much rounder person. I was impressed. Donald Bain has managed to do what so few writers of successful television shows manage - they have improved on the raw material. Jessica's friendship with the two men in her life - Seth Hazlitt and Mort Metzger - is built upon well. I had always wondered how they had all met when watching the television show, and things are made much clearer here.
I was impressed by the standard of Donald Bain's writing. So many books based on a TV show rely on the show's popularity to sell, yet are badly written. This is definitely not the case here; I really felt as thought I was reading a well-crafted book. That is not to say that the language is too literary - far from it, it is perfectly straight-forward - but it felt as thought I was reading something that had a lot of thought put into it. As it is set around Christmas, there is a very festive air about it all, which I loved. I will almost certainly read it again a bit closer to Christmas.
I am not sure whether the story itself is based on an episode from the television show - if it is, then I haven't seen it. Regardless, it is a good one. Some will find it rather too convenient that Jessica always manages to be at the right place at the right time, but the book is written in a light-hearted enough way to allow this, without ever really being funny, or making me cringe in the way that the television show frequently does. And the way that everything fitted together was accomplished, although not really clever. I read a lot of crime fiction, and there is undoubtedly cleverer storylines out there, but it was certainly better than average.
This is not a one-off Jessica Fletcher novel. Donald Bain has written well over twenty novels and is apparently still going strong - there is another novel due to be published next year. If they are of the same standard as this one, then I very much look forward to reading them.
I don't think you need to be a fan of the television show to enjoy this book. In fact, it is worth trying it even if you aren't, because I think it is an improved version - less fluffy and better thought-out. I still watch the television version when I have the chance and want something light to watch, but can definitely recommend the printed book if you want something a bit more involved.
The book is available from Amazon from just 33p - there doesn't seem to be a newly printed version. Printed by Signet, it has 304 pages. ISBN: 0451181425