Murder, She Wrote: Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land


Reviewed by Russell Ilg

Manuscript for Murder

“What’s the most fun you’ve ever had killing someone?”

So opens Manuscript for Murder, the second Murder, She Wrote mystery to be penned by Jon Land and lofty forty-eighth overall, placing the series in rarified air indeed. And rightfully so, given Jessica Fletcher’s status as undeniably America’s most famous sleuth. While the fabulously successful television show starring Angela Lansbury is primarily to blame for that, Land seems determined to have the books leave their own indelible mark on pop culture.

And he takes a great step toward just that end with Manuscript for Murder, a tale that adds thriller elements to already savory mind snack mix that features a more sharply seasoned Jessica herself. She’s got a bit of an edge now and so does this scintillating series entry that bears some resemblance to Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose and, especially, to the great Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer.

That’s because Manuscript for Murder focuses on just that: a book that kills. Not literally, of course, but close enough given that anyone who reads the manuscript dies, including Jessica’s longtime publisher Lane Barfield who sees the book within a book as the next Da Vinci Code that can restore him to publishing relevance. Not being one to take the murder of friends lightly, Jessica takes up the case, only to find herself marked as the next victim.

Old-school fans of the book series might raise their eyebrows at the thought of incorporating such thrills and spills into the narrative. But Land doesn’t so much reinvent the cozy formula as tweak it a bit. Cabot Cove is still Cabot Cove and the tried and true cast of recurring characters are well represented from Sheriff Mort Metzger to Dr. Seth Hazlitt to private eye Harry McGraw. Land’s dialogue hums with more rapid and pointed exchanges, true more actually to the spirit of the television show than the voluminous series of books that predated his involvement.

Watching Jessica deconstruct the clues toward trying to discern who’s behind the murders and why makes for great fun. And it’s also fun watching her take her investigation on the road to New York City as well as Washington, D.C. Rest assured, though, this is still the same doggedly determined Jessica fans have loved for over thirty years, no more jaded or less familiar, albeit honed with a sharper blade.

Manuscript for Murder stands on its own as a great mystery-thriller, packed with crackling cliffhangers and mouth-dropping moments, as riveting as it is relentless. This may not be exactly your grandmother’s or mother’s Jessica Fletcher, but in Land’s able hands the iconic Murder, She Wrote is without question the finest mystery series being written today. Call Manuscript for Murder a thriller if you want, so long as you call it not to be missed.