Book Review: Murder, She Wrote: Murder in Season by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land
By John ValeriNovember 24, 2020
Christmas has come to Cabot Cove, but a peaceful holiday season is not in the cards after Jessica Fletcher is pulled into a centuries-old mystery in the latest entry in this USA Today bestselling series.
Jon Land may have seemed a surprising choice to take over authorship duties of the venerable Murder, She Wrote book series following Donald Bain’s passing. After all, his novels—including an award-winning saga featuring Texas Ranger Caitlyn Strong—tend to skew more toward the thriller than the traditional or cozy mystery. Like it or not, his hybrid approach to the MSW books has ensured Jessica Fletcher’s vitality while mining the TV show for texture and tone. Land, however, will be relinquishing the reins after his sixth effort, November’s Murder in Season (the fifty-second entry overall). He’ll soon take on another Bain canon: the Capital Crimes novels, once written in collaboration with Margaret Truman.
Murder in Season opens with Christmastime in Cabot Cove, and Jessica Fletcher has finally been granted the gift of moving back into her beloved home—specifically, 698 Candlewood Lane, as is oft repeated throughout the narrative—following a near deadly fire (see Manuscript for Murder) that caused extensive interior damage. It’s just in time, too, because she’s expecting her nephew, Grady, his wife, and their young son for Christmas Eve. But before Jessica can begin final preparations for hosting, two sets of skeletal remains are found buried on her property along with an antique chest containing a cache of secret historical documents.
Before the bones can even be removed, Jessica, Sheriff Mort Metzger, and Dr. Seth Hazlitt are confronted by investigative reporter Tad Hollenbeck. Known for his work on the tabloid TV show Stalker, he’s supposedly in town to do an expose on Cabot Cove’s suspiciously high mortality rate (which has become a running joke in recent books). Ironically, not long after being rebuffed by the trio, he turns up dead of an apparent overdose in his hotel room—only Jessica suspects foul play (because murder never takes a holiday). It soon becomes evident that Hollenbeck’s death and the discovery of the bones—which are aged centuries apart—are not isolated incidents but rather related in some as-yet-unknown way.
The intersection of these mysteries seems to date back to Cabot Cove’s very first settlers, and the shocking secrets the town was founded on. The darkness of these revelations is tempered by carefully layered seasonal ambiance—which includes preparations for a local production of A Christmas Carol and the annual Christmas day Founder’s Parade as well as the simple joys of having family home for the holidays. Jessica, Mort, Seth, and private investigator Harry McGraw, who is in town from New York to assist in the sleuthing (and perhaps finally collect on all those outstanding bills) must discover if a killer has come to town—or if he/she has been there all along.
Murder in Season is the most grounded of Land’s MSW entries, though he doesn’t shy away from charting new and realistically scandalous territory with this origin story. Happily, despite the requisite crimes and other calamities that befall Jessica Fletcher and friends, Christmas in Cabot Cove is not without its cozy charms. And while this would appear to be the author’s final byline of the series, his ambitious contributions—which include penning the first prequel/sequel (A Time for Murder), and resurrecting both Harry McGraw and Amos Tupper from the TV series as well as George Sutherland as an homage to originator Donald Bain (Murder in Red)—have left an indelible mark.