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Murder, She Wrote: The Murder of Twelve


Murder, She Wrote: The Murder of Twelve

A couple of years ago, I was privileged to learn that Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land were planning a Murder, She Wrote mystery based on the classic Dame Agatha Christie novel, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Ironically, at the time, I was acting in the stage version of the novel in the role of Judge Wargrave. Do you need to have read the book to enjoy this latest effort? No, but if you are familiar with the source material, there are so many tidbits stuck inside these pages that will have you squirming with delight.

Following a well-deserved dedication to Angela Lansbury, the actress who brought Jessica Fletcher to life, there is a much-needed Cast of Characters list. Trust me, you will find yourself flipping back to this often, not only to keep all the players straight but also to try to guess who might be the murderer or the next victim. We then are treated to an opening quote before venturing any further: "Very few of us are what we seem to be.” Taken from Christie’s THE MAN IN THE MIST, it is a proper warning that prepares you for what is to come in THE MURDER OF TWELVE.

We begin in Cabot Cove on the morning of the snowstorm of the century. Jessica finds herself at Mara's Luncheonette with Sheriff Mort Metzger and Dr. Seth Hazlitt as they wonder aloud why the area suffers a once-in-a-century storm every year. But this one is different. Warnings are alerting people living in this part of the country to prepare for as much as four feet of snow before the monster storm pulls away. What an ideal setting for a locked-in/closed-door type of murder mystery! Their breakfast is interrupted when one of the deputies calls the sheriff to alert him to an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road leading into town. Normally this would not be enough to pull the town's law enforcement away while they need to help prepare for the oncoming blizzard. But the car is not completely empty. There is a corpse inside.

"I'm fairly confident that even the most astute mystery reader will find it nearly impossible to figure this one out before the dawn finally breaks and the storm eventually subsides. This is one of the most intense reads I have experienced in quite a while, and the physical setting created for the murder mystery is completely ingenious."

Further checking reveals that it’s the body of Loomis Winslow, a private eye from Boston. What brought him to Cabot Cove, and how did he die? Jessica reaches out to her own favorite private eye, Harry McGraw, for some assistance. Harry recognizes that to bring a private eye so far out of his regular territory, a search for a great deal of money had to be involved. While our trio of friends are examining the area around Winslow's vehicle, Sheriff Metzger is informed that the usually intoxicated town resident, Hank Weathers, has stumbled into the station to report that he witnessed a murder at the abandoned Cabot Company factory. The victim he describes sounds like Winslow, but he refers to the alleged killer as “Bigfoot” --- his inebriated way of indicating that the culprit was extremely tall. None of this really helps the case, and they return to Cabot Cove with the deceased as they all must meet with the town board to prepare for the storm.

Jessica will not be hunkering down in her house as it is still being repaired from a fire that occurred in a prior novel. Since then, she has been a permanent resident of the local hotel, Hill House, and for the next few days will be joined by an entire wedding party. Why this family would choose Maine in the winter over a warmer climate to have their ceremony is a point of curiosity for Jessica. Nevertheless, members of the Mulroy and Castavette families are at Hill House preparing for the wedding of Daniel Mulroy and Allison Castavette.

Constance “Connie” Mulroy, the groom’s mother, is the first member of the party to formally introduce herself to Jessica. Prior to that, Jessica was surprised by a young man entering her suite in a case of accidental hotel room keys. She later finds out that this was Tyler Castavette, the bride’s brother. Since Jessica is the only other person staying at Hill House, and she cannot leave due to the storm, Connie invites her to participate in their wedding dinner. The only problem is that the bride and groom are nowhere to be found. One person who is not expected is Heath Mulroy, the groom’s father. Heath purportedly took his own life by jumping off a New York City bridge after being accused of running a Bernie Madoff-type pyramid scheme that defrauded clients out of millions. This puts a dour shadow over the Mulroy family and gives Doyle Castavette, the bride’s father, that much more reason to look down upon his soon-to-be in-laws.

They decide to go along with the dinner. A rented SUV had been found discarded on the way to Cabot Cove, and it is assumed to be the vehicle that the bride and groom rented. However, Mark, the groom’s brother, claims that he heard from them and that they were forced to check into a motel on the way as the road became impassable due to the storm.

We now have the ideal setting for the murderous games that are about to transpire. It does not take long to start as Connie goes into some sort of seizure during the dinner. Jessica has to phone Dr. Hazlitt to walk her through how to deal with this. Connie eventually is stabilized, but is comatose and brought up to her room. Further inspection involving the manager of Hill House, a former Irish deputy named Seamus McGilray, shows that Connie was poisoned. But who would do such a thing, especially with a storm raging so fiercely outside that it would be virtually impossible for any help to reach them?

Jessica is aware that, while in the vortex of Cabot Cove, anything can happen. After that excitement, the party retires to their rooms to ride out the storm. It is only when Jessica seeks out Mark that she discovers the next victim. She locates him in the Hill House gym suffocated to death by one of the weight machines. It is now abundantly clear that they are all pawns in this game of death, and the killer has to be one of the people trapped inside Hill House. It is worth nothing that the Roman numerals I and II have been crossed out on the face of Hill House's grandfather clock --- a terrific homage to AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, in which the statue of either a soldier or an Indian is taken or broken following each murder, the numbers of each totaling how many people are trapped at their present location.

The next shoutout to Christie’s novel is revealed when Jessica asks a question regarding the slideshow of the bride and groom that is shown during the dinner. Connie has twin boys, Daniel and Mark, yet Jessica swears that in one of the photos of them as infants, there is a third crib in their room. Further investigation reveals that there was a third child, Owen, who was stillborn after the birth of his two brothers. This name had me chuckling aloud because the anonymous and never-seen host of the party on Soldier Island in Christie's book is Mr. U.N. Owen or, by some clever rereading, “Unknown.” It isn’t until another victim is found stabbed to death that the remaining patrons truly find themselves in a panic.

THE MURDER OF TWELVE, just like AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, will have you guessing and re-guessing with each passing death, but I'm fairly confident that even the most astute mystery reader will find it nearly impossible to figure this one out before the dawn finally breaks and the storm eventually subsides. This is one of the most intense reads I have experienced in quite a while, and the physical setting created for the murder mystery is completely ingenious. It is also one of the only times that you will see Jessica clearly playing the role of victim rather than trying to stay one step ahead of the murderer she is chasing.

Whether you live in a cold or warm climate, many of us are currently involved in our own personal “locked-in” scenario, which makes the reading of THE MURDER OF TWELVE that much more powerful and effective.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 29, 2020

Murder, She Wrote: The Murder of Twelve
by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land

  • Publication Date: October 27, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 1984804340
  • ISBN-13: 9781984804341