Many of her adversaries have accused her of “meddling” and being “nosey to a fault”, while her admirers have praised her as “intuitive”. However, few can argue that the character of Jessica Beatrice MacGill Fletcher a.k.a. J.B. Fletcher is one of the world’s most famous fictional amateur sleuths. She’s been touted by AOL as among “TV’s Smartest Detectives” and ranked a lofty number 6 on Sleuth Channel’s poll of “America’s Top Sleuths”. What makes her character even more unique is that Jessica Fletcher wasn’t your “every man” P.I. like the personable Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files fame, or your sexy P.I. with the killer mustache driving an equally sexy sports car as he lived the dream in a tropical paradise like Thomas Magnum in Magnum P.I. Not even close. Jessica Fletcher was a middle-aged, down-to-earth widow and a retired English teacher who’d found fame and fortune later in life as a successful mystery writer - hardly the type of character to rate more than a second glance, let alone the type to carry a show for twelve seasons.
And carry it Jessica did – with her own brand of charm and down-to-earth hominess – thanks entirely to the exceptional talents of the indomitable Angela Lansbury, the actress who played her role for twelve seasons on Murder, She Wrote. The series aired from 1984 to 1996, with a whopping 264 episodes under its belt. It was one of the most successful and longest-running television shows in history, with close to 23 million viewers in its prime, and was a staple of its Sunday night lineup for a decade. Murder, She Wrote was also successful around the world. Since the show ended in 1996, four made-for-TV movies were released between 1997 and 2003 and it also spawned a short-lived spin-off series called The Law & Harry McGraw – and let’s not forget a computer game in 2009 with a second game released in 2012. Even more interesting is the fact that the Murder, She Wrote TV show spawned a spin-off book series, written by Donald Bain, rather than the more conventional format of the book, or series of books, spawning the television show.
The premise for the show was simple. The show revolved around Jessica Fletcher and her day-to-day life as a retired English teacher who, after being widowed in her early fifties, becomes the very successful mystery writer, J.B. Fletcher. Despite her fame and fortune, Jessica remains a resident of Cabot Cove, a cozy little coastal town in Maine. She’s practical and level-headed and doesn’t let success go to her head. At the start of season eight, more of the stories were set in New York City with Jessica moving into an apartment there in order to teach criminology part-time. As the series went on, Jessica became more worldly and elegant yet maintained her down-to-earth, likable qualities.
Murder, She Wrote went off the air in 1996, four years before the premiere of CSI and its sophisticated team of tech-savvy crime scene investigators who relied on a slew of sophisticated equipment to find their murderer. Jessica’s character relied on nothing more than her intuition, hunches, powers of observation and good old-fashioned common sense to solve murders. She invariably proved more perceptive than the official investigators, who were constantly and prematurely arresting the most likely suspect. Jessica, on the other hand, carefully pieced together the clues and asked astute questions, always managing to trap the real murderer. Jessica's relationship with law enforcement officials varied, with both sheriffs in her home town resigning themselves to having her meddle in their cases. For the most part, however, detectives and police officers did not want Jessica anywhere near their crime scenes until she was able to convince them that her theories were accurate.
During the run of the series, many of the novels that Jessica’s alter-ego, J.B. Fletcher, had written were mentioned. In one episode, her first novel, The Corpse Danced at Midnight, was made into a film and later in the series, another of her books was made into a play while yet another, A Killing at Hastings Rock, also underwent development to become a virtual reality video game.In an ironic twist of real life imitating its reel counterpart, ghostwriter Donald Bain has written a series of original novels and he shares his credits with the fictitious Jessica Fletcher.When the first novel in the series, Gin and Daggers, was published in 1989, it apparently conveyed several inaccuracies such as Jessica driving a car.Anyone who watched the series knew Jessica had never learned to drive and after an outcry from loyal followers of all things Jessica Fletcher, the book was republished in 2000 with most of the inaccuracies corrected.
With over 40 books published in the series to date, as well as a slew of fan clubs and definitive guides to the television show populating the Internet, it looks like the fictional character of Jessica Fletcher a.k.a. the successful mystery writer, J.B. Fletcher, will only continue to grow with time.
** My new murder mystery, NO HARD FEELINGS, the next in the Kate Stanton Mystery series featuring Kate Stanton, the feisty and successful semi-retired real estate broker, was published on Amazon on April 6, 2014 with its official release slated for May 23, 2014. Find out what Ellen’s been tweeting about and buy your copy at the special pre-launch price of $2.99 or go to my website at http://martatandori.com and enter the draw for your chance to win some great prizes!