Book Review: Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans and Murder (1994) and Murder, She Wrote: A Little Yuletide Murder (1998)
By Donald Bain
The Christmas episode of the show was fairly lackluster, so I suppose it's fair that the novels match. These two brief books are part of a long-running spin-off series that apparently someone will continue to write until society crumbles. (Seriously, Book 47 is available for preorder.)
The two books have a few things in common. The author can write passable lines of dialogue and narration, but there's no build from scene to scene and the story as a whole is utterly forgettable.
Both books seem determined to raise but refuse to sensitively address social issues (drug addiction and teenage pregnancy, respectively).
Most bizarrely, both books feature a minor subplot about someone asking Jessica to write a true-crime novel about the events going on. Unless this was a running gag in all the books, it seems strange not to reference the first event, given the other superficial similarities. (Both books feature the death of a Santa, the first a man raising money on a street corner, the second a farmer who always played Santa in the town festival.) You might think that I'm the only person who's going to read the second (first by some counts) and tenth books in this series back-to-back and notice this, but they were re-released as one volume in 2009.
In any rate, in Manhattans and Murder, Jessica Fletcher is in New York City for the holiday to promote her latest book. She runs into a man she recognizes (somehow, a man she barely knew, under a Santa suit) who left Cabot Cove under a cloud long ago and later went into witness protection. He asks her to return the next day to talk, and she does so, only to witness him being shot.
This leads to an increasingly far-fetched series of happenstances and clues that build to another murder and a stand-off that isn't actually tense at all. In the meantime, Jessica promotes her book, does some Christmas shopping, and actively deceives the NYPD in a way that seems completely unreasonable. At least she adopts the cat that belonged to the young woman who was killed possibly because of her meddling.
You can check reviews from people who know the tv show better for all the important character traits the writer got wrong.
In A Little Yuletide Murder, a man "everyone loved" who played Santa was killed just before the yearly Christmas festival. A man no one likes is blamed for the crime, and there are a few red herrings and a lot of tangents about food. I also want to slap a big red warning on this book for some ugly language in the middle about rape and abortion. I almost stopped reading entirely, but - no surprise - it ended up not really going anywhere.
There are far better mysteries (even fluffy ones) to spend your time on, these were both incredibly dull, with thin caricatures instead of characters and tedious plots.