In the latest entry in this USA Today bestselling series, Jessica loses a loved one to unnatural causes and sets her sights on the mysterious local hospital before more people wind up dead on arrival…
Jessica Fletcher’s favorite gin rummy partner, Mimi Van Dorn, checks into the brand-new Clifton Care Partners, a private hospital that’s just opened up shop in town, for a simple procedure—one that leads tragically, and inexplicably, to her death. Seeking justice in her inimitable fashion, Jessica decides to pursue her own investigation on the hospital and its shadowy business dealings.
On the trail of what initially appears to be medical malpractice, Jessica digs deeper and learns her friend was actually a victim of something far more sinister. Death is bad for business, but murder is even worse, and Jessica will find plenty of both as she races to bring down Clifton Care Partners before someone else flatlines…
The Big Thrill caught up with bestselling author Jon Land to discuss his latest installment in the Murder, She Wrote series, MURDER IN RED:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
That’s a simple question that requires a complex answer. I’ve heard from so many people who read my first two efforts writing as Jessica Fletcher, A Date with Murder and Manuscript for Murder, telling me how many happy memories it brought back to them of watching the television show with their mother or grandmother and how they continue to enjoy the series to this day, more than 30 years after it first went on the air. So I want long-time viewers of the series to get that same feeling from MURDER IN RED and have their love of Jessica Fletcher rekindled. On the other hand, for readers equally familiar with the book series, I hope they take away the fact that any time a new writer takes over a brand, it’s natural for that writer to put their own mark on it. So I want to do enough to make the series feel fresh, while not doing too much to make it feel diametrically opposed to the traditions established in the first 46 books by Don Bain.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
I love that question and here’s why: I think we get caught up a lot in labels associated with particular genres. And I think the greatest contribution MURDER IN RED makes is to kind of toss those labels aside. While I believe this book is still a cozy, the mystery is more edgy and complex. Beyond that, Jessica finds her own life ultmately threatened when she steadfastly searches for the killer of a longtime friend. A review in BookTrib proclaimed my last book in the series Manuscript for Murder to be “a cozy thriller.” So maybe my contribution to the genre is to have kind of invented a new one.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
Well, when I started the series I’d never written from the first person POV before, never written a book where we see the entire book unfold from a single viewpoint. As a thriller writer, I’ve always considered one of my greatest strengths to be how I’m able to juggle multiple plot lines, each with its own perspective. What surprised me in writing MURDER IN RED, and every entry I’ve done in the series, is how easy it was for me to find Jessica’s voice and let that voice and her eyes guide me along. At one point, when she’s at the scene of an apparent suicide, she notices a clue I hadn’t even thought of before writing the scene. So it’s fair to say I didn’t come up with that, Jessica did. That’s what makes her the ideal co-author! You know it’s funny, but when writing my far more complicated thrillers in the Caitlin Strong series, I’m always able to keep track of all the various plot mechanizations and maneuvers. But with the Murder, She Wrote series, I often forget exactly what Jessica has already figured out and when exactly she did so. That means I have to go back and check myself more. So the mechanizations may be simpler, but their subtlety and sheer number make it a challenge to keep everything in front of me. Especially since, like my Caitlin Strong thrillers, I never know where exactly I’m going until I get there. Good thing I’ve got a great guide, and co-writer, in Jessica Fletcher!
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
Well, I think the concept is really cutting edge and current, with a true ripped-from-the-headlines feel. It’s one thing to take on the health care industry or Big Pharma. It’s quite another to take them both on at once, as Jessica probes a sinister connection between a private, for-profit hospital chain and a pharmaceutical concern. When people say my approach to Murder, She Wrote represents an “update” or a “reboot” I believe that they’re actually referring to my making the plots, well, bigger—giving Jessica a broader canvas in which to work. What makes these books cozies is a general familiarity with the setting of Cabot Cove and the recurring characters who are greeted by readers like old friends and that hasn’t changed in my take. I’ve also seen it written, perhaps critically, that I’ve added an “edge” to the series. But people forget some of the best episodes from the TV series itself were pretty edgy in their own right. But, again, the show went off the air a generation ago and I think writing Jessica as a successful woman, living and working on her own, is the perfect template for where our culture stands today with the MeToo movement and female empowerment in general. Even mysteries and thrillers don’t unfold in a vacuum; instead, they reflect the realities of the world in which their characters live and interact and it would be disingenuous to write Jessica as if she was still living in the ’80s. With me behind the keyboard, the MSW books are still cozies, but with a present-day mindset. The way a cozy might very well read if the sub-genre had been invented in 2019.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
I’ve probably answered that question more than any other, so I want to give you a different answer than I’ve ever given before, one specific to the essence of the mystery as opposed to thriller. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and also watching those great Miss Marple movies based on another character Christie created. So I think my take on Jessica has been influenced a lot by that. To put it differently, when I’m writing a thriller I’m channeling Robert Ludlum, David Morrell, Clive Cussler or another of the writers I emulate. When I write a Murder, She Wrote book, I’m channeling Robert Crais, Michael Connolly and Harlan Coben, because they’re the absolute best in the business and I want my Murder, She Wrote mysteries to be as accessible and as widely read as theirs. The challenge is that none of their series heroes enjoy the same name and brand recognition as Jessica Fletcher, which means just about everyone who picks up MURDER IN RED is going to have expectations and preconceived notions about Jessica’s character. And my job as Jessica’s co-author is to not be a prisoner of those preconceived notions, as I strive to meet the expectations of the most ardent and die-hard series fans every step of the way.
Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 47 books, including ten titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense), Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller, and Strong Light of Day which won the 2016 International Book Award for Best Thriller-Adventure, the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller, and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery. Strong Cold Dead became the fourth title in the series in a row to win the International Book Award in 2017 and about which Booklist said, “Thrillers don’t get any better than this” in a starred review. It was followed by Strong to the Bone, winner of the 2017 American Book Fest Best Book Award for Mystery Suspense and the 2018 International Book Award for best Mystery as well as Thriller. It is followed by Strong as Steel (April ’19) about which Suspense Magazine has already proclaimed, “Get ready to sink your teeth into what just might be the best novel of 2019.”
Most recently, Jon has taken over the Murder, She Wrote book series based on the fabulously successful television show starring Angela Lansbury. His first effort writing as “Jessica Fletcher,” A Date with Murder, was published in May of 2018 and was fol-lowed by Manuscript for Murder in November of 2018 with MURDER IN RED in May 2019 and A Time for Murder in November. “Land masterfully continues the Murder, She Wrote series in a fun mystery that captures the coziness and heart of the original series with surprising thrills and chills,” the San Francisco Book Review said about Manuscript for Murder. “Jessica’s interaction with series regulars and new faces alike sparkle with her humor and wit. Everything that made the show so great is present here, but with some fantastic new additions.”
To learn more about Jon and his work, please visit his website.