Book Review: Murder, She Wrote: Killing in a Koi Pond by Jessica Fletcher & Terrie Farley Moran
By John ValeriJune 21, 2021
Murder, She Wrote: Killing in a Koi Pond by Jessica Fletcher & Terrie Farley Moran is the 53rd entry in the long-running series, where a friend’s husband dies while Jessica Fletcher is in town visiting, turning her much-needed vacation into a murder investigation.
The indomitable Jessica Fletcher has a new writing partner: Agatha Award-winner Terrie Farley Moran. This is the second change in authorship of the venerable series since Donald Bain, who wrote the initial 46 books (often in collaboration with his wife, Renee Paley-Bain), passed away in 2017; then, Jon Land—best known for penning action-oriented thrillers—stepped in for six entries, bringing a bit of edge to cozy Cabot Cove. Now, Moran (the Read ‘Em and Eat and Scrapbooking mysteries) makes her debut with June’s Killing in a Koi Pond.
As the book opens, we find Jessica in Columbia, South Carolina, where she’s come to catch up with her old college friend Dolores, who recently married brash businessman Willis Nickens. The two reside at Manning Hall, a grand estate complete with a koi pond, putting green, gardens, and staff, which presents the perfect opportunity for some rest and relaxation before a travel-weary Jessica returns home. But as anybody familiar with the author/amateur sleuth knows, where she goes, trouble soon follows. Out for a morning jog after her first night as the Nickens’ houseguest, she discovers Willis dead in the koi pond, a white river rock inexplicably positioned inches from his head.
Dolores, having finally found happiness as a wife and grandmother to Willis’s granddaughter, Abby, is understandably devastated. But before she can even begin to grieve properly, she is named a person of interest in her husband’s death by Sheriff Halvorson. The spouse always falls under suspicion, but Jessica can’t help noticing that local law enforcement seems to have singled her out to the exclusion of all others. Consequently, she needs to come up with alternate suspects to divert attention elsewhere while helping her friend navigate widowhood (an experience she knows all too well, having lost her husband, Frank). Questions about the victim’s business dealings and character abound, leading to the emergence of several possible culprits; these include family, friends, and business acquaintances.
Under Moran’s authorship, the tone is more cozy and less thriller than recent installments—though she does maintain some of Land’s contributions, such as Jessica’s reliance on Boston PI Harry McGraw as an ally (the humorous banter is tamped down). Moran creates a strong sense of place and a memorable ensemble cast—including young Abby, who brings out the best in everybody when they’re otherwise tempted to be at their worst—and particularly excels at depicting a smorgasbord of Southern foods that are guaranteed to make your mouth water. Jessica is as reliable and resourceful as ever, though the circumstances sometimes dictate a take-charge attitude that can be slightly off-putting, if understandable; this lessens as the story progresses.
Overall, Killing in a Koi Pond is a solid and welcome addition to the Murder, She Wrote canon. Terrie Farley Moran has due reverence for her subject and writes with enthusiasm and knowledge. While Jessica’s travels render her interactions with series regulars such as Dr. Seth “Ayuh” Hazlitt few and fleeting—likely due to the fact that the last several books took place in Cabot Cove— November’s Debonair in Death should remedy that. In the meantime, this is a fine way to reacquaint yourself with one of the genre’s most beloved characters.