Reviewed by Russell Ilg
“Well, at least I wasn’t murdered.”
So opens Murder in Red, Jon Land’s third effort writing as Jessica Fletcher for the eternal Murder, She Wrote series and one he pulls off with literary alacrity so smooth and suave that I almost forgot he cut his teeth on the more hardcore thrillers he continues to dazzle us with. In fact, I’d venture to say that under his steady hand Jessica Fletcher has come to resemble his Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong without the gun, given that she, too, is relentless in her pursuit of justice.
And there’s plenty of it for her to pursue in Murder in Red, starting with the suspicious death of a close friend Jessica thought she knew far better than she actually did. Secrets, of course, have long been a staple of the mystery genre. In this series, though, more than anything Land has managed to deftly blend the more modern material of Michael Connelly or Robert Crais’s hardboiled mystery writing within the fabric of a classic cozy. Think Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade if Chandler and Hammet respectively had written them as women. Purchase here.
And the mystery presented in Murder in Red, involving a potentially sinister private hospital that opens up shop on the shores of our beloved Cabot Cove, might have been right up their alley as well. Jessica comes to suspect that Clifton Care Partners and its smarmy founder Charles Clifton is somehow complicit in the death of Mimi Van Dorn. Van Dorn, it turns out, is a hotbed of secrets, including a quadriplegic son whose got his secrets of his own, along with more than his share of skeletons in his closet. When he turns up dead too, of an apparent suicide, Jessica steps in to teach yet another bevy of law enforcement interests about her keen powers of observation.
At the heart of a mystery lies a dementia-riddled ex-police chief who tests even Jessica’s mettle to sort through the morass of his words in search of a coherent meaning that might yield the clues she needs. And there’s also a visit to a Big Pharma concern to probe the truth behind secretive clinical trials underway at Clifton Care, one of which might be the sole hope for the only man Jessica has ever been romantically inclined toward in the wake of her beloved husband Frank’s death.
See what I mean? Land knows how to pile on the plot but shows a more disciplined grasp of the material and a more seasoned hand in dispensing it for the Murder, She Wrote audience. This is still your mother’s Jessica Fletcher, only updated to fit a more 2019 sensibility and still with Sheriff Mort Metzger, Dr. Seth Hazlitt, and private eye Harry McGraw along for the ride. The cliffhanger rich, rocket-fueled pacing makes the pages fly by until there are no more left to turn. Murder in Red is a classic mystery in every sense of the word, Agatha Christie as channeled through John D. MacDonald. Sumptuously sizzling reading entertainment that is not to be missed.