The Romance of Jessica Fletcher

Lisa has been running behind on everything all summer–including last week’s celebration of International Angela Lansbury Appreciation Day. Since further festivities are in order, and Angie herself is not adverse to re-runs, here’s an encore post Lisa wrote about the beloved detective who never missed a deadline: J.B. Fletcher of Murder She Wrote.

Hold on to your Liberty scarves, everyone. I just realized I have at least five things in common with my favorite TV and book detective, Jessica (J.B.) Fletcher. And they’re pretty much indisputable:

  1. I write murder mysteries.
  2. I live in a small New England town.
  3. I use my middle initial in my pen name.
  4. I own a yellow slicker, sturdy boots, and a trench coat.
  5. I do not care for radishes.

I was in my twenties, living in New York City, when the long-running CBS show Murder She Wrote first hit the air. I worked in publishing—as an editor, not an author. But even then, I wanted to be just like Jessica someday.

First and foremost, of course, J.B. Fletcher was a super-successful mystery novelist. A fictional one, yes, but for some reason I preferred to think of her as a living, breathing queen of suspense like another of my idols, Mary Higgins Clark. Jessica was smart, well-read, and considerably more observant than I, with Holmes-like powers of deduction and a keen sense of intuition, especially when it came to human nature. Not to mention, Jessica was also compassionate, kind, and committed to justice for all. What could be more important than that?

Plus, she knew her way around a Royal typewriter (I was at least three months into my publishing career before I finally mastered the IBM Selectric). Eventually she graduated to a computer and Windows 3.1 (probably more easily than I did). Oh, and here’s another thing J.B. Fletcher and I have in common: We both work at our kitchen tables.

Which brings us to Jessica’s hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine. Who wouldn’t want to live in a coastal Mayberry? We won’t even talk about J.B. Fletcher’s irresistibly charming Victorian house. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I was disappointed to learn those heartwarming, New England-y shots of “Cabot Cove” were filmed in Mendocino, California. The actual house is there, too: the present Blair House Inn.

But the interior of 698 Candlewood Lane? Originally, it was a set for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. (Ouch.) I guess that means the cozy kitchen wasn’t real. Well, no mind. Here’s another thing J.B. Fletcher and I have in common: We both drink tons of tea. Hers hot, mine iced. And, thanks to my classy grandmother, I do have some equally lovely china cups and plates. A few may be on the chipped side now.

I can’t say that, back in the eighties, I envied J.B. Fletcher’s practical-but-stylish, matronly-but-feminine wardrobe. But as I’ve gotten older, and since I’m a New Englander, I share her fondness for classic tweed blazers and warm sweaters that nicely skim the hips. I haven’t grown into those scarves yet, though.

While always humble, Jessica was highly popular and something of a celebrity in Cabot Cove. Not quite as many people have even heard of me in my own tiny town. More of them are starting to recognize me, though, thanks to the yellow knit, crime tape scarf I got one Christmas. But if any of my neighbors or our local constabulary knocked on my non-Victorian door to ask for help solving a murder, I’d probably lock myself in the basement and cower. Guess that was another thing I admired about Jessica: her courage. Even with bad guys threatening her life, which was practically every episode, she stayed cool.

As a prolific and highly professional writer, Jessica was usually on some kind of deadline or other, but she was a champion multi-tasker—and quite good at saying no, unless someone’s life was at stake. (Maybe not one of my strong points. Sigh.) And she did travel often, with all those extravagant dinners and speaking engagements and promotional trips, courtesy of her publisher.

Ah, the rock-star writer’s life. Those days are long gone, I’m afraid. On the other hand, in those same good old days, Jessica wrote as J.B. Fletcher—in part to preserve her privacy, perhaps, but more likely to downplay the fact that she was a writer who happened to be a woman.  In quite a few of those Murder She Wrote episodes, Jessica and the other female characters encountered incidents of sexism that will make you cringe. Not because they happened back then—but because they still do. Through it all, though, Jessica remained above the fray.

J.B. Fletcher would probably have a few things to say about all the changes in publishing today. But she was always a pragmatist. She didn’t always approve of her book covers, or the plot changes a new editor requested, but she let her stories do the talking. Clearly, Jessica loved her work, and she focused on creating the best books possible, backed by solid research. Yes, she watched her sales figures and general trends, but bottom line? She kept her fingers to the keyboard.

Jessica, if you’re reading this, you may be concerned I misled readers a tiny bit by using the word “romance” in my blog title. Yes, I know you’ll always be true to your late husband, Frank Fletcher, and that you and Dr. Seth Hazlitt were just friends, and ditto that guy from Scotland Yard. It wasn’t a marketing ploy, or anything. I meant “romance” in the larger sense, you see.

Anyway, I’ll keep working on being more like you. In the meantime: Next, on Murder She Wrote (theme song here)

So what’s your fondest memory of J.B. Fletcher? Share in the comments below!







38 thoughts on “The Romance of Jessica Fletcher

  1. Such “romantic” click bait, Lisa– Loved the post. Perfect for a Monday morning. Thanks.

    My favorite memory is that my brother, Fletcher, is actually named after Jessica. I am forever jealous!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Lisa! What a beautiful post! Thank you for an excellent read.
    I have a fan girl crush on Jessica. I have the entire series on DVD (although I think I need to get a new season 1, since mine seems to be wearing out.
    And I met Donald Bain several years ago at Malice, and have one of the Murder She Wrote books autographed by him. Very classy man, as was his wife.
    It’s interesting that Jessica never drove. That was written so there would be no car chases. At least not with her behind the wheel. I don’t recall if she was ever in a car involved in a car chase.
    My favorite memory of JB Fletcher? Her first episode at the NY University class as a teacher. The way she pulled a Sherlock on that cop. I wish I knew how to be that observant.
    That’s what the Chicks on the Case need to do! Collaborate on a book of Sherlock observation techniques for all us mystery readers! Teach us how to be that watchful, and where we can learn about how to make the connections with what we see. I’ve got the hat and magnifying glass at the ready! Who’s with me on this request?

    Liked by 6 people

      1. What a great idea, Hestia! Count me in, Becky! Maybe a Chicks’ short story anthology? The hardest part would be finding time between Chicks’ book deadlines, I think.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Glad you enjoyed, Hestia! Sometimes I’m afraid my observations come later, lol. I would probably be hopeless as a detective in real life. (Hmm, yes. There’s the body. Very interesting. But wait, look! Squirrel!) And I enjoyed the Jessica-in-NYC episodes, too. I think she directed them, or a lot of of them. She thought J.B. needed to get out of Cabot Cove on occasion, and join the real world.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m embarrassed to admit I never watched Murder She Wrote, though I’ve been meaning to catch up with the rest of the world and start doing so. But I did watch Angela Lansbury’s very first film some time back–Gaslight–and she was terrific in it (and SO young).

    Love the idea of Mayberry-By-the-Sea. And love that the show was filmed up the coast (a fair ways) from Santa Cruz!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Jessica Fletcher is one of my favorites! I’ve been re-watching the show lately, and it’s fun to see how technology has changed over the years. Poor Jessica looked really lost when she had to upgrade to a state-of-the-art DOS computer in a recent episode. But, as always, she handled the transition with class.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Great post, Lisa! I want to be Jessica Fletcher when I grow up! Btw, I didn’t know until recently that Angela Lansbury not only portrayed J.B. Fletcher, but a certain other mature lady sleuth named Miss Marple (in an early 1960s movie with Rock Hudson)!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. This pretty much perfect captures why I love the show. And let’s face it, Angela Lansbury’s portrayal of Jessica Fletcher was the reason we tuned in week after week. Love that character still.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I will! I think I may have seen it first on one of Marla’s famous holiday-season, mystery-fan-gift posts. Then I saw someone wearing one at Crime Bake, and I was all over google.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. What an awesomely fun post, Lisa. It brought back memories of my mom watching “Murder, She Wrote,” which she never missed. Every now and then, I’d watch an episode and loved seeing Tom Bosley in his sheriff’s role. Thanks for the memories!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I loved Tom Bosley, too! My mom was also a big fan of MSW. When she lived with me in her mid to late 90s, we watched it together again! I still have the box sets. Every once in a while I put a show on to get me back in (cheerful) mystery mood!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Lisa, this is awesome! I want to be JB Fletcher when I grow up (though I’d like to do without the widow part). How did I miss International Angela Lansbury Appreciation Day?? What is the date for that? I must put it on my calendar.
    Also, I wasn’t so crazy about that Scotland Yard guy either.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. ❤️❤️❤️ Love this post so much, Lisa!

    Murder She Wrote was on all the time at our house…hmmm…between that and the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books, it’s no wonder…

    A little while back, I caught an episode of MSW and was happily surprised to recognize Megan Mullally (Karen Walker from Will & Grace) as a guest star, so then I went a-Googling…so were Neil Patrick Harris and Bill Maher!

    Liked by 2 people

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