The wonder of Murder, She Wrote + Jonathan Evison’s “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!”


I LOVE “Murder, She Wrote.” It has to be my longest t.v. show crush, although “Supernatural”
is creeping up on it. But Jessica Fletcher (aka Angela Lansbury) is the best. Although I probably wouldn’t hang out with her too much: if you’re friends with Jessica, you’re either going to get murdered, be blamed for murder, or actually be a murderer.

There’s something soothing in the rhythms of the show, the formula of it all. Although the writers had to get really creative to think of a million and 50 ways for people to die (that show was on forever!!!). But it all reminds me of my mom and my aunt, and easier, more carefree time. A time when I was pretty much a child, a time when America was only worrying about the USSR and I was worried about whether my legwarmers matched my headband.

It was a time when old B actors actually got a chance to act again, or new B actors started up the acting ladder on network shows. Before reality TV and Dancing With The Stars, it was shows like “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Love Boat” where stars went to die, or where young stars caught the eye of someone bigger. There was an excitement over seeing the washed up actor playing a murderer, or remembering seeing a new star as a murder victim on “Murder, She Wrote.”

And Angela Lansbury?! What a professional. You wonder if she went into her trailer and rolled her eyes a lot, but she did a great job as Jessica week after week. And she was Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast!” What more is there to say, except that if you haven’t seen the original “Manchurian Candidate,” you should. Lansbury was brilliant. She’s a great actor, and quite fetching back in the day.

But back to Jessica Fletcher. That woman rode a bike around Cabot Cove, Maine a boss (although it the streets should have been littered with dead bodies and the jail overburdened with murderers). She published her first bestseller in her 50’s, and moved to Manhattan in her 60’s from small town Maine. She took everything in stride, even the solving of the most convoluted of killings. She had an old school teacher way of getting even the rascaliest of rascals to be embarrassed by their actions, and her scandalized faces were to die for.

I think there are a lot of life lessons to learn from Jessica that are worth remembering at all ages and stages of life. Here are a few:

Lesson:Don’t act boy crazy. I think JB got a lot of play with the men, but she didn’t kiss and tell. Unlike her CC (Cabot Cove) friend Eve Simpson, who acted like a slut and got branded as such. You can be boy crazy, but do it circumspectly and with some dignity. Boys, and people, will think better of you.

Lesson: stay true to your friends, and don’t discuss them. Seth Hazlett, the CC doctor and Jessica’s best friend, was a grumpy curmudgeon and either hopelessly in love with her or gay. But Jessica was always ready to help him and others in any way possible (including solving their relative’s murders or getting them out from a bogus murder charge).

Lesson: keep in touch with far-flung friends and family. She kept in touch with EVERYONE. Sorority sisters, her husband’s army buddies, distant nieces and nephews, every cop in every town. Once you were in Jessica’s world, she wasn’t letting you go (especially if you were well off). And that was hard to do pre-Facebook and e-mail. I wonder how she actually did any writing, because her (home) phone must have been ringing CONSTANTLY. And, if you kept in touch with Jessica, you were sure to have someone who would come save you in a time of need (like you or your husband was accused of murder).

Lesson: Don’t believe the obvious. JB (her writer name) was always looking deeper than the surface, and she found the real truth. Unlike the cops in most towns, it seems (most of the cops she met were inept and/or overworked).

There are m4fe1568641daf5d6c11b1335398b1940any more lessons I can learn from Jessica Fletcher. Shop local. Eat more seafood. Stock up on antiques. Use a typewriter. Keep up with the newest fads. Don’t trust the slick rich guy or the gold digging woman. Always ask one more question.

Thank you, Jessica ‘JB’ Fletcher. Your lessons reinforced everything my mom, my grandma, and my aunts taught me.

Now, onto a review of This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison. I think Harriet could have used a bit more Jessica Fletcher in her life.

Can a 78 year-old woman come to terms with her dead husband and find a way to celebrate life? Harriet Chance is going to try!

The Premise

After Harriet’s husband Bernard dies, Harriet has a chance at a little freedom. Unsure of what to do with it, the 78 year-old widow decides to take the Alaskan cruise her husband had won, much to the shock of her family and friends.

 Harriet reveals her life through a series of flashbacks, going all the way back to her birth. When her best friend backs out on the trip, Harriet goes it alone, only to be joined by her daughter at the first stop. Faced with some hard truths about her life and marriage, and having to spill some hard truths of her own, Harriet has a chance to make some peace and come to terms, but will it be enough?

My Thoughts

This book was very well written and told a compelling story, very forthright and real. I never fell in love with Harriet, although she was sympathetic, easy to relate to, and, at times, likable.

What I did love about this book was Evison’s writing. The flashback device was used very effectively, highlighting snippets of Harriet’s life in a disjointed timeline, reminiscent of the way actual memories happen. And Evison painted a picture of a real life, warts and all, making all the characters very real, if not always likable. And I think that was the point.

If you asked me what I thought when I first finished this book, I would have a given it 3.5 stars. But, after letting it simmer and stew for a few days, I’m going to move it up to a 4.5 stars. The more I think about Harriet, the more I realize her story is the story of many women told to ‘be nice’ and ‘do what you’re told.’ This story has more substance and grit than I first perceived. I think I will be thinking on it and chewing it in my mind for a long time.

Again–4.5 stars!


3 thoughts on “The wonder of Murder, She Wrote + Jonathan Evison’s “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!”

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