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Series / Murder, She Wrote

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"You ask a lot of questions."
"I'm nosy."

Murder, She Wrote is a popular, long-running television mystery series created by Peter S. Fischer and the team of Levinson and Link, starring Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher, who lives in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine. The series aired for 12 seasons on CBS, from 1984 to 1996.

Ruthlessly formulaic, most of the show's episodes follow a standard format: a murder is discovered, Jessica starts snooping around, the police tell her to let professionals handle things, she ignores them, then deduces the murderer's identity in a "Eureka!" Moment, and finally engineers a public confession, frequently by tricking the murderer into a Just Between You and Me. And then everybody laughs. Later seasons did mess with the formula a bit, changing the mysteries from Christie-style whodunnits to Columbo-style howcatchums. All three of the show's creators were tied to Columbo.

The series was followed by a series of four made-for-TV films, aired from 1997 to 2003, and also led to a short-lived Spin-Off, The Law and Harry McGraw. Angela Lansbury has said she'd like to take one more swing at Jessica Fletcher, but no one else has shown interest. Additionally, rumors began in late 2013 that a possible reboot was in the works, with Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as a "hospital administrator and amateur sleuth who self-publishes her first mystery novel." After a lukewarm reception from fans and Lansbury herself, the idea was shelved.

An amusing interpretation, lampshaded in the show, no less, is that there is no better explanation for the sheer number of murders the lead character encounters throughout the long run of the series than her involvement in all of them. Indeed, if Cabot Cove alone were really to have suffered that many murders, it would top the FBI national crime statistics by several orders of magnitude. Not only does this one town see more homicides in a year than the entire state of Maine sees in real life, but the town has an estimated murder rate eighty-six times higher than the most murderous city in the real world, Caracas, Venezuela. Also, if you're Jessica Fletcher's friend in any capacity but not an episode regular, you're pretty much doomed either to kill someone or be killed, or be wrongly arrested for being a killer.

In an interesting cross-media spin-off, Donald Bain wrote several mystery novels inspired by the series, all of which credited Lansbury's character Jessica Fletcher as a co-writer. The series continued after his death, with Jon Land completing Bain's last work (book #47) and then taking over as main writer (with Bain's grandson as a consultant) for books 48 to 52. As of July 2020, Terrie Farley Moran has been announced as succeeding Land as the main author, from books 53 on.

Now has a character sheet. Feel free to contribute.

The series in general contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Given who the lead is, this is inevitable. Playing drunk in "My Johnny Lies Over the Ocean" comes to mind.
    • The very first episode starts with Jessica Fletcher watching the rehearsal of a murder mystery play and calmly pointing out who did it by the end of the first act. Angela Lansbury did much the same thing at the beginning of the 1980 film adaptation of The Mirror Crack'd, in the role of Miss Marple.
    • Another one for Angela Lansbury, in "It Runs In the Family" (in which Jessica doesn't appear at all, and Angela plays Jessica's lookalike cousin Emma) Emma sings "How'd You Like To Spoon With Me?", a song Angela performed originally in an MGM musical, Til The Clouds Roll By.
    • In "Sing a Song of Murder" Angela Lansbury, also playing Jessica's cousin Emma, sings "Goodbye Little Yellow Bird" a song that Lansbury also sang in the film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1945
    • "Hooray for Homicide" features a movie producer that specializes in the slasher genre, played by John Saxon. The episode aired only weeks before A Nightmare on Elm Street came out.
    • The episode "Murder in a Minor Key" has Shaun Cassidy playing a young college student who turns Amateur Sleuth to solve a murder, a callback to Shaun's biggest role of Joe Hardy in the The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Not to mention the character's named "Chad Singer"... a reference to Shaun's pop music career.
    • "Sticks and Stones" features Parker Stevenson — aka Frank Hardy — as Michael Digby, a travel book writer/photographer. At one point Michael is trying to show his photos to a very disinterested Jessica (which is funny enough, as Parker is a professional photographer in real life), Jessica asks him if he would like to play detective for her...
      Michael: Play a detective? Me??? YEAH!!!
    • "Trial by Error": There's something really ironic about Brock Peters as a juror most steadfastly convinced that the man on trial is guilty.
    • "Birds of a Feather": Jeff Conaway as a man who used to be an aspiring actor who drove a taxi.
    • John Vernon ironically has a non-faculty role in "School for Scandal".
    • Martin Milner plays a sheriff in "Reflections of the Mind".
    • George Hearn runs a restaurant in "Trials and Tribulations".
    • Leslie Nielsen is a ship captain once again in "My Johnny Lies Over the Ocean".
    • "Something Borrowed, Someone Blue" has Betsy Palmer as the murderer once again.
    • In season 1 episode "Sudden Death" real-life football star Dick Butkus and Olympian-turned-reality-TV-personality (and former high school football player) Caitlyn Jenner (pre-transition and still credited as Bruce) play football players on fictional team the Leopards.
  • Again with Feeling: This is very common. It's often paired Jessica Fletcher having a "Eureka!" Moment. Often, she makes a casual statement about something unrelated to the crime at hand, then realize how it proves the culprit's guilt and triumphantly repeats herself before rushing off to share her findings with the police.
  • All Just a Dream: Well...more of a daydream with "The Petrified Florist". Jessica spends a tedious dinner party imagining the other guests as characters in a murder mystery she'd write. We don't find out it was all in her head until the end.
  • Always Murder: Enforced by the show's format. If the episode doesn't open with a murder and seems to start with a different crime, expect someone to turn up dead later so Jessica has to work through not only the other crimes but a murder as well. There's a few notable exceptions:
    • "Just Another Fish Story" and "Footnote to Murder": Self-defense.
    • "To The Last Will I Grapple With Thee": Suicide staged to look like murder to frame a longtime enemy for the crime.
    • "The Christmas Mystery": Attempted murder; the victim survives.
    • "Test of Wills": The victim attempted to take a gun off someone who was attempting suicide and was accidentally shot. The attempt to cover it up may push it into criminal manslaughter territory.
    • Inverted in one episode where the victim's death is thought to be the result of medical malpractice and her doctor is about to be either sued for this or arrested for manslaughter/negligent homicide. Further investigation, however, determines that she was poisoned, meaning it is a murder after all.
    • "Jessica Behind Bars" subverts this and then plays it straight. The first victim was a Guilt-Ridden Accomplice who actually committed suicide. The circumstances of her death and the pilfering of a suicide note made it at first appear to be murder. However, the second victim was in fact killed because she was a loose thread that may have led to the reveal behind why the first victim took her life.
    • "Mirror Mirror On The Wall" also toys with this. Played straight with the first victim, but the second victim (Jessica's friend Seth) survives.
    • Inverted then played straight on "Sing a Song of Murder" where after multiple attempts on her life, Jessica's cousin Emma fakes her own death. Later in the episode however, Emma's assistant is killed, the murderer mistakenly believing her to be Emma.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Jessica has no formal law enforcement or investigation training, and never acquires any throughout the series; she occasionally mentions research she does for her books, but aside from that, her skills are chiefly based on her career as an English teacher who has a deep understanding of the mystery genre, and applying her understanding of it to Real Life. Once, though, when a witness is unwilling to be questioned with Jessica present, the sheriff says he'll deputize her if necessary.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • One murder victim ( Charolette in "Trouble in Eden") turns out to have been blackmailing the more prominent men of her small town, but then it's implied she was using the money to anonymously support charities for orphans and widows.
    • The killer in the first episode is being blackmailed over a crime for which he was framed originally, and he kills his blackmailer. He only loses Jessica's sympathy because he kills someone else too.
    • Many of the inmates in "Jessica Behind Bars" are this, in that the riot and eventual hostage situation are caused mainly to stop the police from pinning the crime on fellow prisoner Mary and because of the substandard conditions they've had to endure. Well, one half, led by hotheaded Kat, want to blast their way out to freedom, while the others want Jessica to find out who really killed Dr. Matthews. Inmate Bertha even mentions that "If any of us had any brains we wouldn't be in this joint," a self-deprecating comment about their criminal pasts.
    • Possibly most actively seen with the recurring character of Gentleman Thief Dennis Stanton, who started his side career as a jewel thief as revenge on the insurance company who refused to pay out for the medical treatments that might have saved his beloved wife. He later evolves to Anti-Hero when he gives up his life of crime (except when a little breaking and entering helps him solve a case, of course!) to become an investigator for a different insurance company.
  • Asshole Victim: The vast majority of the main murder victims, with a few exceptions. Rarely is the murderer some brutal and heartless killer; he or she is almost always someone whom the victim has wronged in some way, even if the killer themselves turns out to be a jerk. This is so common that it's more unique when the victim actually didn't deserve their fate.
    • In "My Johnny Lies Over the Ocean", the episode's actual murder takes place almost halfway through the storyline, though staged as a suicide by a woman who was trying to reconnect with her biological son and later learned the stress of uncovering his adoption led to his suicide. In addition, she was also framed as being a stalker who was gaslighting his grieving widow. As it turned out, she was murdered by her husband who simply married her for her money and had in fact been the person harassing both her son and his widow in an attempt to drive his wife crazy enough that she would appear to have committed suicide.
    • One episode featured a woman being poisoned to death by her husband, who wants to collect her insurance money and run off with his mistress. At no time is she ever made out to be someone who got what was coming to her, nor is he made out to be sympathetic.
    • Played with, then averted: special mention probably goes out to Marge in "Who Killed J. B. Fletcher?" The initial scenes portray her as a bumbling burglar and identity thief who causes some major grief for poor Jessica. She turns out to be an aspiring Amateur Sleuth herself who's taking her Jessica Fletcher fandom a trifle too seriously (and her son's a politician, who doesn't need headlines about his criminal mom!). She thinks she's getting proof of a major (by small-town Texas standards) scandal; instead, she accidentally catches a pair of killers in the middle of disposing of the body. Instantly He Knows Too Much.
    • Subverted in another episode. The assumption for much of "Dead Letter" is that Bud, the victim and also a neglectful (if not outright abusive) husband, was killed in self-defense by his wife's lover when he attacked them out of jealousy, and then the building he was in was set on fire to cover it up. As it turns out, he was really murdered because he witnessed the arsonist burning the building. He, an off-duty volunteer fireman, had broken in to put out the flames and make sure there was no one trapped inside, and in the process stumbled onto his killer.
    • Averted completely in "Menace, Anyone?" The murderer Doris had a psychotic hatred for Carol and tries to kill her by blowing up her car with dynamite, but kills Carol's boyfriend by accident. She later tries planting evidence in Carol's house, and kills a police investigator who arrives moments later by stabbing him to death. It's one of the few times in the series where the killer has absolutely no reasonable chance at defending their actions, because their victims did nothing to provoke them and were simply in the way of their real target.
    • "Sing a Song of Murder" featured a mysterious assailant trying to kill Jessica's lookalike cousin Emma. The person who actually dies is simply someone to whom Emma had promised her coat after her death — and that person dies when the real murderer mistakes her for Emma when she's wearing the coat.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The police force of whatever location Jessica happens to be in (see Busman's Holiday and Bluffing the Murderer for the overlap).
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Jessica typically finds some way to bluff the murderer into seeking her out, thinking her to be alone and thus defenseless.
    • Her favorite method is to show off a piece of paper she claims is the evidence of the killer's guilt, goading a confession. Lampshaded when the sheriff asks to see the "evidence" and chuckles "you get more mileage out of a blank piece of paper than anyone I know."
  • Broken Bird: Jessica is something like this as the series begins. Seth Hazlitt makes a remark that she got into writing her first novel, The Corpse Danced at Midnight, as her way of coping with the death of her beloved husband Frank; he makes a few other comments in early seasons which imply that her grieving has been extensive, and he's trying to help her work through it. (Being a widower himself, he has some understanding of her process.)
  • Busman's Holiday: Jessica takes a lot of vacations, and death always follows her. It's entirely possible they started having her travel because Cabot Cove would have eventually run out of people.
  • By-the-Book Cop:
    • Cabot Cove's first sheriff is Amos Tupper, an honest cop and a close friend of Jessica. He retires after the fourth season.
    • Tupper is replaced by Sheriff Mort Metzger, a former NYPD detective who takes the job in the mistaken belief that the town is a peaceful place.
  • Catchphrase: Jessica has one just prior to getting neck deep in the current investigation:
    Jessica: [to current investigating officer] I know it's none of my business, but... [Insert recommendation of next investigative move].
    • She also has a variation of her Once per Episode disagreement when the current officer in charge makes the first accusation:
      Jessica: *shakes head* I'm not so sure, [officer name]...
    • Also, upon having her "Eureka!" Moment, she has a variation of the same basic quote:
      Jessica: ["Eureka!" Moment] I believe I know what happened. Excuse me... [cut to catching the culprit and getting a confession]
    • She also has a delightful habit of saying "I don't mean to intrude" while forcing her way into someone's home/hotel room/office when they don't want her there.
    • Then there's her go-to when a detective hastily guesses what happened based on only a quick glance-over of the crime scene:
      Jessica: Well, that's certainly the most obivious conclusion, detective, but have you noticed - *points out a piece of overlooked evidence that contradicts the detective's theory*
  • Caught on Tape: Too many episodes to note involve a murder taking place because the murderer learned the victim had a recording of them confessing to a crime.
  • The Charmer: Michael Hagarty, Jessica's friend in MI6, often invokes this as part of his undercover operations or other crime-fighting activities. Jessica is more often seen to be exasperated by it than anything, since he frequently uses it on her to hide his true motives for doing something.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Inevitably, at some point in an episode, the camera focuses just a little longer than necessary on something utterly random and mundane that turns out to be significant regarding the identity of the killer. Occasionally, this happens even before the actual murder does.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Ethan Cragg (Claude Akins), who appears often enough in the first season to be considered a recurring character, disappears without explanation at the start of season two. His role as Cabot Cove's resident lovable curmudgeon is filled by Dr. Seth Hazlitt for the rest of the series.
  • Clean Food, Poisoned Fork: An episode has Jessica attend a party in Hong Kong, where the host dies after dipping century egg and ginger in vinegar. It turns out that it was the glazing of the plate was laced with poison and the host died from eating it when he dipped his egg and ginger in the vinegar.
  • Clear My Name: Naturally, this happens in a lot of episodes, where an innocent man is the prime suspect of the murder (although it's usually not an intentional Frame-Up on the real killer's part), making Jessica's task twice as hard.
  • Contrived Coincidence: One episode revolves around Jessica getting sued when the plot of her latest novel is staggeringly similar to a real-life murder case. Jessica is shocked when she reads the reports from the actual case and realizes it is similar, even though she's never heard of the real case. In fact, the book is so similar that the guy who is suing her uses it to discover who actually murdered his wife, and subsequently gets killed by the same culprit: his former secretary/second wife.
  • Coupled Couples: It's indicated in a few episodes that Jessica, her husband Frank, Seth Hazlitt, and Seth's wife were this when all four were alive, and that it's the reason that she and Seth are still so close since they've both been widowed.
  • Creator Breakdown: Reversed, in-universe. The reason Jessica started writing her mysteries in the first place was to give herself an outlet to work through her grief over her husband's death. In a later episode, Seth expresses concern that she's investing too much of her time in her books and missing out on life.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Grady and Donna's son, Frankie, is named after Jessica's late husband.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A couple, although regularly appearing ones in Cabot Cove are Seth Hazlett and, later in the series, Sheriff Metzger.
    • Rarely, but Jessica herself can take the wind out of someone who thinks they can talk down to the retired English teacher who clearly doesn't know anything about solving murders or is just being an ass to her in general. One of the best examples is in "Killer Radio", where she brings up Dostoevsky to insufferable shock-jock Marcus Rule. Rule suggests that he have the famous Russian author on his show. Jessica tells him that would be impossible, as he died some time ago, but the title of one of his books would suit Rule just fine... The Idiot!
  • Death by Falling Over: "Doom With a View" and "Three Strikes, You're Out!".
  • Defrosting Ice King: Harry McGraw is incredibly cold towards Jessica when they first meet, in part due to the circumstances of their introduction. But after this first episode, they become good friends and he's more than willing to help her whenever she needs it.
  • Darker and Edgier: "Snow White, Blood Red" has the most graphic scene in any episode, where a victim is stabbed to death and hung from a showerhead. When he's discovered, the entire floor of the stall is covered in blood and it's dripping slowly down his lifeless body.
  • Dirty Cop: "Bite the Big Apple" and "Lone Witness" both have the killers turing out to be the detective Jessica was working with the entire time. Played With in "Hannigan's Wake", as the detective actively tries to misdirect Jessica's investigation to protect the killer, his son.
  • Doom Magnet: Is Jessica Fletcher visiting your town or home? One of three things is going to happen. You'll either be killed, accused of killing, or be revealed as a killer. Being accused is your best bet, as Jessica will invariably prove you innocent when she reveals the real killer.
    • Lampshaded more than once. In "Witness for the Defense," a prosecutor tries to discredit Jessica's testimony by listing her nieces and nephews who have been arrested for murder in the last two years (one of them for two different murders).
    • In certain other situations, Jessica finds herself stuck solving crimes that happened years, if not decades, before she ever entered the picture, alongside the brand new deaths that happen when she enters the vicinity.
  • Downer Ending: Naturally on a show about people dropping dead, solving the case doesn't necessarily bring peace, such as in episodes where the murderer was themselves a victim of that week's Asshole Victim, when the murder happened to cover up an even worse event, or the revelation of the killer is particularly traumatic to the survivor left behind.
    • The pilot film shows Jessica being so determined to get to the truth that she chooses to confirm that her publisher and potential new flame was the killer. She appeals to his better side to get him to turn himself in, but she's clearly heartbroken.
    • "Murder to a Jazz Beat" ends with pretty much everyone Jessica meets dead or in jail when their tough pasts catch up to them. Plus the murderer in this case was a man who discovered that the Asshole Victim was planning to kill his wife. Since she refused to believe him when he tried to reveal the plot, the murderer chose to simply kill the Asshole Victim with the poison intended for his wife. This is on top of the fact that the episode covered their extremely tough lives.
    • "Funeral at Fifty Mile" ends with Jessica convincing the true murderers to turn themselves in in exchange for not revealing that the Asshole Victim was the biological father, via rape, of the person the murderers had been trying to protect from him.
    • "Sing A Song of Murder" ends with the murderer sobbing in her father's arms as she confesses that she tried to kill the woman he loved. His tragic stare at realizing what his daughter has done and that he will lose her to jail ends the episode.
    • In "Hannigan's Wake", Jessica discovers the culprit of the sixteen-year-old murder case she solved was JR, the son of the very police chief she'd been working with the whole time. JR became a Dirty Cop a few years after graduating police school due to the stress and ended up accidentally killing the Victim of the Week over drug money he was owed by her brother. The victim's husband was falsley arrested for the crime and JR guiltily cleaned up his act afterwards, but was killed in a shootout a few years later. The chief admits he covered up the truth and let an innocent man stay in prison for sixteen years due to the love of his son; he begs Jessica to let JR's good name stand and not break his mother's heart. The episode ends with her calmly asking a friend for a ride to the police station and walking away, while the chief tearfully watches her go.
  • The Dragon: This trope doesn't usually come up, but there are some episodes where the Asshole Victim had someone who carries on their dirty work after their death, like "Murder At The Oasis", or the murderer has someone who helps them carry out their deeds, like "Jessica Behind Bars".
  • Driving a Desk: Used for pretty much any driving scene during the entire run of the show. Not really noteworthy in the early seasons when this was common practice, but it does stand out in the late seasons as Chroma Key had essentially become a standard on other shows.
  • Dude Magnet: Jessica gets a lot of attention from older gentlemen, and in one episode a college-age guy who Likes Older Women flat-out propositions her. This was at least partly because of a direct request by Lansbury. She felt very strongly that Jessica should be a realistic middle-aged woman, rather than a 'dried-up old biddy' stereotype. She still never hooked up with anyone permanently. This was possibly due to a mix of Executive Meddling and fan opinions, who never liked any of Jessica's potential love interests... at least, those who made it to the end of their introductory episode without being killed or revealed as the killer.
  • The Dutiful Son: Plenty appear, due to making good suspects.
  • Eagle-Eye Detection: Jessica's ability to pay attention to minute details is usually what reveals the killer. In one example, Jessica notices that one character has been hiding his hand in his pocket since the murder because a dog bit him after he committed it.
  • Electrified Bathtub: "Sticks and Stones", "Unauthorized Obituary", and "The Phantom Killer". There's also an electrified Jacuzzi in "The Way to Dusty Death".
  • Engineered Public Confession: The standard format has Jessica Bluffing the Murderer into confessing in the mistaken belief that it is Just Between You and Me, when she's arranged for a police officer or other responsible person to be in the next room.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Once per Episode with some minor detail that ties all the other evidence together, and leads into the confession scene. Seth and Mort lampshade it in later seasons with exasperation as they see her staring off into space, realizing she's figured it all out. Subverted in one episode when she does this... and then announces she's worked out the ending to her latest book.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: The show rolls the end credits on Jessica's laugh in roughly 99% of the episodes. The few which don't end with her laughing (such as the pilot) end instead with a freeze shot of her astonished face as she realizes something important or is taken by surprise in some way.
  • Evil All Along: Harry Pierce, a real estate agent, is a recurring character for the first half of season two, until his third appearance where he murders a woman to get his hands on her property. Lest you think he's new to villainy, he also burned a building down a year prior.
  • Expanded Universe: The novel series, which started back in 1989 and continues to the present day, with book 50 being released in 2019.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: The show had quite a few, given that the killers usually revealed themselves by saying something only the killer would know or assume.
  • Fashion Dissonance: Big hair, shoulder pads, and leisure suits abound, especially in earlier seasons. It was The '80s, after all.
  • Fictional Document: Jessica's novels; several of the titles are named in the series, such as her first book, The Corpse Danced at Midnight. Some of the actual crimes are also solved with these providing key evidence.
  • Friend on the Force: Jessica acquires a large number of friendly detective acquaintances over the course of the series, not to mention her friendships with the Cabot Cove sheriffs.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: On a retired teacher's pension, her husband's life insurance, and her book sales, Jessica is able to afford to not only maintain her Cabot Cove two-story home, but also a Manhattan apartment, and routine trips to exotic ports of call. Some of this is probably covered by her publisher, since she does go on book signing tours and such, but not all of it.
    • Given that the show started in The '80s, with both Jessica and Frank working, the house might very well have been paid off by the time Frank died.
    • Also, a lot of those trips have Jessica being put up in a private residence by an old friend or professional acquaintance; anyone who's planned trips overseas knows that airfare can be the cheapest part of a trip compared to accommodation costs and meals.
    • To be fair, it's implied in-universe that she became a very successful writer, enjoying great sales note  movie offers note  and the like. Also, the Manhattan apartment is her residence while she's teaching at a university for a spell, and the rent may be covered by the university as part of her salary, or outright owned by the university to host visiting lecturers.
    • She must be well-off enough because in "We're Off to Kill the Wizard" she gives away the million-dollar check the victim's Rich Bitch wife wrote to her to solve the murder to his secretary he treated like crap.
  • Gender Flip: Ellery Queen as a middle-aged female.
  • Genre Blindness: There's no other possible explanation for why people continue to want to be Jessica's friends and neighbors.
  • Happily Adopted: Grady, Frank and Jessica's nephew, was orphaned young and raised by his loving childless aunt and uncle. Grady is absolutely devoted to Jessica and names his son after Frank.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Jessica is a master at subverting this trope. Often when she only has a hunch and no concrete evidence of someone's guilt, she sets things up so that the perpetrator believes it's such a situation when in fact she has the cops ready and waiting.
  • Hero of Another Story: Several episodes follow someone other than Jessica solving murders their own way, but still keeping in with the show's formula. They range from characters seen in previous episodes to someone totally different who's never been seen before. Sometimes they're even the characters from Jessica's books. As noted below, this became a bit more common in later seasons in order to lighten Angela Lansbury's workload; episodes using her characters were usually introduced by Jessica working on edits or otherwise explaining to the audience what they were about to see.
    • The most common of these were Keith Mitchell as high society jewel thief (later insurance investigator) Dennis Stanton, and Jerry Orbach as Harry McGraw (who even got his own spinoff), though he more often appeared as a Deuteragonist with Jessica.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen/Dead to Begin With: Frank Fletcher, Jessica's late husband, passed away prior to the series. Throughout the series, Jessica interacts with her multiple nieces and nephews, some of whom belong to Frank's side of the family. At one point, she even reunites with her brother-in-law and other relatives connected to the family. The only thing the viewers have as far as a description on Frank is that he and his brother looked alike and they brought in an actor to provide his voice.
    • Frank Fletcher does appear as a young man on a newsreel in "The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel."
  • Hidden Wire: Jessica does this several times as part of her Engineered Public Confessions.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Frequently used by Jessica and other characters.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In one episode, Seth Hazlitt sees his brother for the first time in many years. It eventually comes out that both Seth and his brother had fallen in love with the same woman; Seth's response was to leave town, so that his brother and the woman he loved could marry and be happy without him being in the way. He went on to have a happy marriage of his own, so he has no regrets, but he and his brother were estranged for many years as a result. Naturally, when his brother becomes the Victim of the Week, Seth is the prime suspect.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine:
    • Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach (Harry McGraw) were old friends from their days on Broadway. They also worked together in Beauty and the Beast as the voices of Mrs. Potts and Lumiere, respectively. In addition, occasional guest star David Ogden Stiers also co-starred in Beauty and the Beast as well, voicing Cogsworth.
    • Tom Bosley as Amos Tupper is also notable, since he played Angela Lansbury's husband in The World of Henry Orient.
    • Angela's costars from "Sweeney Todd," Len Cariou and George Hearn, both show up as regular guest stars: Len as Michael Hagarty, the MI5 agent, and George as various characters.
    • Hurd Hatfield, her costar from "Dorian Gray," also shows up in a few episodes.
  • Identical Grandson: Jessica has a British cousin named Emma, also played by Angela Lansbury. In the episode "Runs in the Family", only Emma is featured, with Jessica not appearing at all, and Emma proves to be a rather good sleuth herself.
  • Insurance Fraud: The episodes featuring Dennis Stanton usually start as a case of insurance fraud that then escalate to murder.
  • It's Personal: In one episode, Metzger finds the man who was responsible for the deaths of his old partner and his wife. For years, he's wanted to put his partner's murderer behind bars and he manages to find him. Unfortunately, since he has a very good motive for killing the victim, he's a primary suspect in the murder case.
  • Just Between You and Me: Some of the not-so-nice killers always confess to Jessica or someone else in the belief that they are alone, just before trying to kill them.
  • Knight Templar Parent: A couple of murderers kill their victims because their victim had something to do with their child's death.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Jessica and her husband Frank were childless; in a first-season episode, when speaking to a new acquaintance (who later turns out to be the murder victim), she explains that they "were never blessed that way", suggesting that they wanted children but couldn't have them for whatever reason.
    • There is one episode which has Jessica helping a young man whose mother claims that Frank was the father of her son. In the end she confesses that she lied in order to get Jessica's help.
  • Little Old Lady Investigates: If Agatha Christie's Miss Marple is the most famous example of this trope, Jessica Fletcher is arguably the second most famous, as well as the most famous TV variation.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Many of the murders are done for loved ones, but there are a few where the affections made the culprit quite loopy.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: A good chunk of the murders are played out like this. They either make it look like a tragic accident or suicide even.
  • More Criminals Than Targets: Cabot Cove has a murder rate that far surpasses even the most dangerous inner cities in the world. Given that Jessica reliably catches the (alleged) murderers, their numbers have to be replenishing with amazing speed.
  • Mystery Magnet: People drop dead around Jessica everywhere she goes. Everywhere. It's creepy.
    • A The BBC radio show called More or Less in 2012 calculated that Cabot Cove has a murder rate of 149 per 10,000; by comparison, the most murderous place in the world at the time, Honduras, had a murder rate of 91 per 10,000, making Cabot Cove the deadliest place in the world. And that's not counting the murders that happen outside Cabot Cove...
    • Lampshaded in "One Good Bid Deserves Another" when police lieutenant Casey threatens to arrest Jessica if he finds her near another body. "If murder were a disease," he tells her, "you'd be contagious."
    • Lampshaded again by Sheriff Metzger, a former New York cop who, after a year as the sheriff of Cabot Cove, asks Jessica, "What goes on in this town? I've been here one year and this is my fifth murder!"
  • Mystery Writer Detective: Jessica Fletcher, of course.
  • Nephewism: Jessica had no children, but many nieces and nephews. Grady Fletcher was the main repeater among them. As noted above, it's explained in a few episodes that Grady was orphaned as a little boy and was raised by Jessica and Frank; as their surrogate son, he had good reason to be a repeater.
    • Jessica's other repeating relatives were a niece and nephew-in-law, played by Genie Francis and Jeff Conaway, who had a continuing thread about him wanting to be in the entertainment business.
  • Never the Obvious Suspect: Usually played straight, especially if the accused is a friend or relative of Jessica's. Occasionally it's subverted, such as in "Deadpan", where the elitist theatre critic accused of murdering his rival turns out to have done the deed and framed himself in order to make it look like someone else did it.
  • New Neighbours as the Plot Demands: Complete with one of the new characters dying in the episode they are introduced. Seems like Cabot Cove is the murder capital of the east coast.
    • They poked at the edges of the trope; there were a number of recurring Cabot Covers beyond Jess, Doc Hazlitt and the sheriff, and even two episodes where one of these recurring characters was the murderer, which the Genre Savvy know isn't supposed to happen.
  • The Not-Love Interest: Jessica and Seth, despite the occasional hints that there actually is an attraction.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Jessica doesn't hesitate to play up her "little old lady" image to get information out of people. In a few instances she even plays a drunken floozy with surprising skill, which may be justified since Jessica has a history of theater in her background.
  • Occam's Razor: One case has a nasty version of this until you realize that the woman who made this 'mistake' is that episode's perp and is shifting blame away from herself. Before The Reveal, it's just jarring. Basically, Jessica returns home to hear her phone ringing, but it disconnects before she can answer it. Soon after, she's subpoenaed to appear in front of a federal court over the disappearance of a person she doesn't know. Does the prosecutor just accept that Jessica doesn't know who it is and that it's a wrong number as Jessica finds out while snooping around the victim's office? No, she charges Jessica with contempt of court and has her thrown in jail for a night. Even if she was just trying to frame someone else, if the prosecutor had just gone along and admitted that it was a wrong phone number rather than haul Jessica to the witness stand, she would've gotten away with it.
  • Officer O'Hara: Lt. Timothy Hanratty in "No Accounting for Murder" and "Smooth Operators."
  • Oireland: "The Celtic Riddle", "Nan's Ghost", "A Killing in Cork", "Another Killing in Cork", "The Wind Around the Tower", and "To the Last Will I Grapple With Thee" (set in New York but involving an Irish blood feud)...
  • Ominous Owl: Especially in later seasons. (Also ominous loons and wolves sometimes, but mostly pre-murder hoots from nearby woods.)
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Andy Broom is the name of young hotel employee who befriends Jessica and is accused of murder in “A Little Night Work” in season 5. Andy Broom is also the name of the recurring deputy under Sheriff Metzger for the last couple of seasons of the series.
  • Pac Man Fever: Surprisingly averted for a show focused on murders and generally populated by adults who are focused on anything but video games (save one episode where the murder occurred at a virtual reality game developer). In one early episode, Jessica's friend Ethan is playing a Spy Hunter arcade game. When footage of the game is shown, it is perfectly accurate, complete with the player's hands making movements and the vehicle on screen matching them.
  • Parasol of Pain: Gentleman Thief Dennis Stanton has an umbrella that's a Sword Cane, and can launch darts out of the tip. Since he prefers to avoid bloodshed, he generally has other uses for it. It "makes an excellent club", he's had lockpicks built into the handle, and he frequently uses the hook to trip people up.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Jessica and Seth have this dynamic. They obviously care about each other, but there's little to no indication of anything romantic between them. At least one episode implies that when their spouses were alive, the four of them were close friends who spent a lot of time together.
  • Playing Drunk: Jessica, in a few episodes, as noted above.
  • Police Are Useless: Often, but not always. Generally, if a police officer/federal agent/other law official is willing to listen to Jessica, they're portrayed as sensible and helpful; sometimes they even readily welcome her help in the case, such as an inspector in a season 4 episode who was a big fan of Jessica's and had read most of her books. The useless ones are those who tell her to stay out of their way. Some of the cases are justified (officers in rural areas may never have actually investigated a murder and Jessica actually has more experience doing so, like in "No Laughing Murder" where the New Meat constable's senior partner is having surgery and the only "officer" he has to help him is his mother) while others are not (Faraday in "Murder, She Spoke" is so condescendingly misogynistic that it doesn't occur to him that a woman could have committed a murder note ).
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: In everything but intent. When Angela Lansbury started to tire of the pace of a weekly network show, a strategy was devised that would allow the network to do a full season without Lansbury having to do a full season. Slightly more than half of the episodes of the season would be full adventures of Jessica Fletcher. The remainder would be Poorly Disguised Pilots, for which Lansbury, as Fletcher, would film bookend sequences, explaining the new character we'd be seeing for the next hour. Sometimes these were Jessica's own fictional characters, but other times they were friends or relations of Jessica's, such as Dennis Stanton. They weren't really intended to spin-off any of the characters — although if any were exceptionally successful, why not?
  • Pretty in Mink: Some furs show up.
  • Put on a Bus: Sheriff Amos Tupper retired when Tom Bosley left to star in Father Dowling Mysteries.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Most of the sheriffs/police chiefs tend to be this. While they can be gruff and impatient with Jessica, they do want to do their job and catch the killer.
  • Red Herring: Usually Once per Episode there will be someone who seems all too obviously the killer. They hated the victim, they are angry individuals, they have a shady record, they certainly have means and motive, they made some kind of threat to the victim, and/or they're the first one implicated by evidence (which incidentally is almost a guarantee for Jessica to prove their innocence, or have them end up murdered by the true culprit).
    • Played with once with Kate Mulgrew in her third appearance. The killer actually speaks during the murders and sounds like a disguised version of Kate's distinct breathy voice. Kate played the killer in two previous episodes, so it seemed likely that she'd be it again.
  • Redemption Equals Death And Making Up With Jessica: Preston Giles.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Almost Once an Episode, or more. One notable example Jessica herself wasn't present for is in in "Jessica behind Bars" when The assistant warden trying to comfort the doctor after she gets asked some inquisitorial questions by their boss initially seems like a moment of kindness, but by the ending, is revealed to have been a nervous appeal to an accomplice not to crack under interrogation. In "Dear Deadly," the advice columnist's firmness in going to bat for her editor initially makes her seem like a Benevolent Boss, but it's later revealed that she's just a figurehead, and he's been writing the column for her since the beginning.
  • Right Behind Me
  • Retool: The eighth season began with Jessica moving to New York City to take up a temporary teaching position at a college. J. Michael Straczynski had taken over as head writer for the series alongside a new producer, so the decision was made to move away from Cabot Cove as a way to refresh the series. Episodes set in Cabot Cove were still produced, but not to the same extent as the first seven seasons.
  • Scoundrel Code: Dennis Stanton is a Gentleman Thief who, after going straight, became a recurring character. During his burgling years, he maintained his own strict code of conduct: never steal anything his victims couldn't afford to lose, never steal anything of sentimental value to the victim, and only steal items insured by a specific insurance company. The last one is for personal revenge, as the company in question refused to pay for a treatment that could have saved his wife's life.
  • Script Swap: Done in one episode with an aging actor whose memory is so bad he has to rely on the teleprompter. While this looks like an Engineered Public Confession, it is actually a ploy on Jessica's part to trick the real killer into exposing themselves.
  • Series Continuity Error: In season 2, Joshua Peabody is described as a popular legendary war hero for the town of Cabot Cove, albeit one whose existence has never been officially confirmed and is described as a myth in-universe. In season 11, however, Peabody is presented as being as "Cabot Cove's most famous patriot" who did indeed exist and even has relatives that still live in town.
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: The show relishes having unexpected or seemingly unblemished characters turn out to be the killers; but every now and then, there's someone with motive and opportunity who seems a little too good to be true but is in fact innocent and an ally. Examples include Cynthia Broussard in "Big Easy Murder," Clare in "The Bottom Line is Murder," Harcourt Fention in "The Committee," Mickey Shannon in "Murder at the Oasis," Arthur Constable in "It Runs in the Family," Peggy Evans in "Frozen Stiff," and Inspector Kyle in "Paint Me a Murder."
  • Strictly Formula: Mostly played straight, though it should be noted that this was subverted from time to time. Earlier seasons, strangely enough, played with the formula more than later ones.
  • Summation Gathering: Seen in a number of episodes where there are multiple suspects; Jessica gathers them all in one room to present her evidence and try to force a confession.
  • Swiss-Army Weapon: As noted elsewhere on the page, Dennis Stanton's umbrella. It has, among other things, a dart launcher in the tip, and the handle seems to have both a blade attachment and a lock pick. That's not including Stanton's own expertise with it as a weapon on its own.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: By no means all of them, but a fair amount (especially spouses of victims, such as Emily Griffith from "A Killing in Cork," whose Corrupt Corporate Executive husband hasn't slept with her in years, or occasional victims of Domestic Abuse). One unusual example of a victim being this is Tommy Vonn from "Murder in Tempo," a rock star who cheats on his wife and bandmate, but ultimately comes off as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who really does love the local girl he is romancing, and a recovering alcoholic who refuses a lucrative bribe to cancel an environmental benefit concert and was trying to make things up to his wife (who was also fed up with their marriage) by planning to let her take over as lead singer in the band.
  • Sympathetic Murderer:
    • Frequently killing the Asshole Victim. Sometimes it's self-defense or accidental. A few notable examples:
      • In "Murder Takes The Bus", the victim is a convicted bank robber freshly released from prison. During the robbery he had killed a teenage girl, and when her father confronts him he insults her, driving the father to strangle him to death. Jessica admits she feels bad for the killer, and suggests that he could make a good case for temporary insanity.
      • In "A Very Good Year For Murder", the victim was a professional hitman. Jessica's friend had actually invited the hitman to his house as part of an admittedly foolish Thanatos Gambit, but then the hitman's sloppy attempt at murder badly injures the man's son instead, prompting the old man to off the hitman himself, confess everything to Jessica, and then attempt suicide. It's especially notable in that Jessica herself says that she would refuse to testify about his confession, as she sees no need for him to go to jail (he's terminally ill).
    • Occasionally subverted, also, when the murderer loses the audience's sympathy by trying to frame someone else or trying to kill Jessica. A notable example happens in the very first episode, when the killer murders his blackmailer. Jessica admits she might have felt sympathy for him except that he then killed a second, completely innocent person, just to throw her off his trail.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: More than a few people have mentioned that Jessica Fletcher could be considered an American Miss Marple. This is especially hilarious because Angela Lansbury has played both roles. In fact, the opening of "The Murder of Sherlock Holmes" is practically a direct lift from the opening of The Mirror Crack'd, the film in which Lansbury played Miss Marple.
  • Truth in Television: Jessica's maiden name (MacGill) was taken from the real maiden name of Angela Langsbury's own mother, Moyna Macgill.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Some of the murderers suffer from this. Preston in "Death Stalks the Big Top" is possibly the most notable example.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Seth Hazlitt and Mort Metzger seem to drive each other absolutely crazy; nevertheless, they've always got each other's backs.
  • Wham Line: It's impossible to count the number of killers who have Jessica alone and at their mercy, gloating on the murder and how as soon as she's dead, they're free and clear...and then Jessica calmly calls out "did you get all that, Detective?"
  • What the Hell, Hero?: All of the Nice Guy characters get moments like this. In particular, Seth inexplicably takes an instant dislike to a new doctor at the hospital for seemingly no other reason than that the guy is much younger than him, frequently and unfairly accusing him of not caring about his patients, and holding him responsible for the death of one of his former patients, who appears to have died due to an error the young doctor made. Jessica, who suspects foul play, gently but firmly tells Seth that he's behaving wrongly, and that if the woman was in fact murdered, the other doctor certainly doesn't deserve to have his career and reputation ruined over someone else's misdeed.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: There were several of these, as well as a number of Hero of Another Story episodes, in the later seasons; they were crafted in order to give Lansbury a break from the grueling shooting schedule.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: Naturally, as with many Murder Mystery stories, the victims in various episodes are quite often universally despised and shown abusing multiple characters before their death, to provide more possibilities for who might have done the deed.
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: In one episode, after solving a mystery that occurred at a mystery series production studio, the producer trails after Jessica and suggests making a weekly mystery series written by her, about her exploits. Jessica says it's the worst idea she's ever heard.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Sheriff Metzger. He's a perfectly competent lawman from New York who follows the general procedure that the most likely suspect is the one who did it (a process that in real life often holds true). Unfortunately, he's in a murder mystery series where it's always the least likely suspect who committed the crime.
    • A lot of the members of the police force that Jessie works with are the same if they aren't completely useless.
  • Yandere: A few murderers either murder the object of their obsession or people they assume are in the way to their "love".
  • You Just Told Me: Another way Jessica would identify the killer is the fact that they would accidentally let slip some minor detail only the killer would know. For instance, in the second episode, "Deadly Lady", four sisters are accused of murdering their father. One sister's shoes are found at the scene. After she's cleared, suspicion turns to the others, one of whom says it couldn't be her because the two wore different sizes and she didn't wear pink. Jessica never mentions that the shoes were pink. The sister actually lampshades where she slips.

Specific episodes contain examples of:

    open/close all folders 

     Season One; episode 2: Deadly Lady 

  • Faking the Dead: In "Deadly Lady", the father of the family fakes his death to get a guy he thinks is a Gold Digger chasing one of his daughters to give himself away. Unfortunately, the murder actually happens.
  • The Living Dead: "Deadly Lady" invokes it when the girls are identifying the body. It's extremely obvious that Ralph's actor's eyes are twitching — he's forcing them closed as a corpse. There's even some subtle breathing!


     Season One; episode 7: Hit, Run and Homicide 

  • Murder by Remote Control Vehicle: In "Hit, Run and Homicide", the murderer uses a remote controlled station wagon to run over a pedestrian. While bicycling about a wooded area, Jessica discovers the murder weapon and decides to take a closer look at the station wagon's inner workings. Once inside, however, she becomes trapped when someone in a van operates the remote control device to lock her inside, to activate the automobile's engine, and to steer her away at a dangerous speed, en route to an overhang above the rocky seacoast.

     Season Two; episode 16: Murder in the Electric Cathedral 

  • Took a Third Option: Reverend Willie John Fargo at the end of "Murder in the Electric Cathedral". Rather than keeping Carrie McKitterick's money for himself or giving it all back to her asshole son and grandson (who forged a phony will by making Carrie sign it after she died), Willie John uses the money to start a charity fund in Carrie's name.

     Season Three; episode 14: Murder in a Minor Key 

  • Amateur Sleuth: Chad Singer, assisted by his girlfriend Jenny, works to Clear Their Name of their friend Michael.
  • For Want of a Nail: the Asshole Victim was a music professor at a California university, and had spent years plagarising and selling the works of various students under a pseudonym as a side hustle. The whole matter blows up because his latest 'source' went to a bar where the piano player got an advance copy of the score for a new Broadway show... and Michael recognizes the music, since he wrote it.
  • Sequel Hook: In-universe. At the end of the episode, Jessica talks about already having an idea for a sequel also starring Chad and Jenny, starting as a road trip gone wrong. However, the episode never had a sequel.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "Murder in a Minor Key" was a variant, having Jessica recounting the plot of her latest novel set in contemporary times.

     Season Six; episode 3: The Grand Old Lady 

  • Dolled-Up Installment: "The Grand Old Lady" was revised from an unproduced Ellery Queen script, with Ellery replaced by expy Christy McGinn.
  • Fully Absorbed Finale: The "bookend episode" The Grand Old Lady was actually an unfilmed series finale script from a previously-produced and cut short Ellery Queen series, albeit with the characters slightly changed to dance around rights issues. Both series were produced by Levinson and Link, and they apparently decided not to let a good script go to waste.
  • Karma Houdini: In "The Grand Old Lady", it's heavily implied that the killer won't even be charged; on the other hand, this is late 1945 and the victim was a former Nazi whom the killer recognized because he was a former member of the French Resistance.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "The Grand Old Lady" has Jessica reminiscing about a legendary female mystery writer whom she admired (not played by Lansbury), who was involved with a real-life mystery on a cruise ship very shortly after the end of World War II. It turns out the mystery writer got the solution completely wrong — though it was a fully logical and workable theory — but no one ever told her because everyone involved had so much respect for her. The murder itself was hushed up because the Victim of the Week was a former Nazi.

     Season Six; episode 4: The Error of Her Ways 

  • Fake Static: At the start of "The Error of Her Ways", a cop gets out of a conversation with the dispatcher by repeatedly thumbing the send button on his radio to make it seem like the signal is breaking up.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: In "The Error of her Ways", the first Victim of the Week was shot by his wife, who then fainted. The murderer — having witnessed the shooting — came in to help, and saw a Briefcase Full of Money owned by the husband. Realizing the husband had been deceptive in off-screen dealings, the killer smothered him with a Vorpal Pillow. When the wife awoke, she discovered her husband dead and — assuming she had killed him — attempted to cover up the crime by making it look like a robbery gone wrong. The real murderer later killed the wife to make it look like she had committed suicide out of guilt, and to keep her from remembering the missing briefcase and realizing there was someone else there.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Used to kill the Victim of the Week in "The Error of her Ways" (who had already been shot).

     Season Six; episode 19: Always a Thief 

  • Cold Cash: In "Always a Thief", a thief hides a Briefcase Full of Money in the deep freeze of the restaurant where the murder occurred. When Dennis Stanton catches him retrieving it, he makes the obligatory 'frozen assets' joke.
  • Gardening-Variety Weapon: In "Always a Thief", the first Victim of the Week witnesses a would-be burglary and is stabbed with a gardening fork.

     Season Six; episode 22: The Sicilian Encounter 

  • Bad Habits: In "The Sicilian Encounter", MI6 agent Michael Hagerty poses as a monsignor to infiltrate a Mafia wedding.
  • My Own Private "I Do": In "The Sicilian Encounter", Michael Hagerty performs a private wedding ceremony for a couple so they can escape the attentions of an overly protective Mafia family. Of course, Hagerty is only posing as a priest...

     Season Seven; episode 3: See You in Court, Baby 

  • Amoral Attorney: The Victim of the Week in "See You in Court, Baby" is a ruthless divorce lawyer who persuades a woman to pursue a divorce she doesn't actually want.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: "See You in Court, Baby" opens with an ex-husband stealing his beloved Ferrari off his ex-wife and deliberately wrecking it. The episode ends with his release from jail and the ex-wife coming to pick him up in a new Ferrari with a bow on its bonnet.

     Season Seven; episode 4: Hannigan's Wake 

     Season Seven; episode 7: The Return of Preston Giles 

  • Caught on Tape: The murderer in "The Return of Preston Giles" accidentally records their confession on tape.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: In "The Return of Preston Giles", the murderer makes a confession to their second victim just before they kill them, not realizing that the victim had a tape recorder running on their desk as they had been recording comments on a manuscript when the killer entered the office. This results in the murderer's confession being Caught on Tape. note 
  • Revealing Injury: In "The Return of Preston Giles", Jessica realizes the Victim of the Week is the same man who attacked her in her hotel room because of the scratch marks she left on his hand when he grabbed her.

     Season Seven; episode 8: The Great Twain Robbery 

  • Book Safe: In "The Great Twain Robbery", the Victim of the Week hides the stolen page from a manuscript within the pages of another book.
  • Disguised in Drag: In "The Great Twain Robbery", the murderer sneaks up on what would be his next victim, only to discover it is a male police officer disguised in drag.
  • Dying Clue: In "The Great Twain Robbery", after being shot, the Victim of the Week crawls across the floor to pull a copy of The Scarlet Letter off the bottom shelf of his bookcase.

     Season Seven; episode 10: Murder in F Sharp 

  • It Works Better with Bullets: Dennis Stanton pulls this trick in "Murder in F Sharp". He comes up with a theory of how the murder could have been committed, but it hinges on proving the suspect could have fired a gun. Stanton pulls a Bluffing the Murderer moment by pretending to have more information than he has, and attempts to blackmail him. When the murderer pulls a gun and fires it, Stanton then reveals that he broke in the night before and switched the shells for blanks.

     Season Eight; episode 7: Terminal Connection 

  • Bloody Handprint: In "Terminal Connection", the stepson of the Victim of the Week discovers something is amiss when he finds a bloody handprint on the white wall of the beach house. He then follows a trail of handprints to find the body.

     Season Eight; episode 15: Tinker, Tailor, Liar, Thief 

  • It Was Here, I Swear!: In "Tinker, Tailor, Liar, Thief", Jessica finds a body in her hotel room. By the time the police arrive, the body has disappeared. She later finds the corpse in the service area of the hotel, only for it to disappear again before the police arrive.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: In "Tinker, Tailor, Liar, Thief", when attempting to cover up a murder, an MI-5 agent is forced to push the body out of a hotel window to make it look like he'd jumped.
  • Room Disservice: In "Tinker, Tailor, Liar, Thief", a thuggish Loan Shark forces his way into Jessica's hotel room by posing as room service.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: In "Tinker, Tailor, Liar, Thief", a seedy alley is portrayed by the presence of a couple of sleek and well-groomed pet store rats. At least they are brown and not white.

     Season Eight; episode 19: Day of the Dead 

     Season Eight; episode 20: Angel of Death 

  • Angry Guard Dog: The neighbour in "Angel of Death" owns an angry guard dog that barks at anyone who comes on his property. Its behaviour on the night of the murder provides Jessica with a vital clue; this may also be a Shout-Out to the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of Silver Blaze.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: In "Angel of Death", when it is thought that a famous playwright has been murdered, his director remarks that his final, unpublished play will have a sellout season.
  • Gaslighting: In the season 8 episode "Angel of Death", a playwright friend of Jessica's is being gaslighted to convince him that he is being haunted by the ghost of his dead wife.
  • Medication Tampering: In "Angel of Death", a playwright has his sedatives swapped for powerful anti-depressives as part of a Gaslighting scheme.

     Season Eight; episode 21: Badge of Honor 

  • Inspector Javert: In "Badge of Honor", an old friend of Seth's arrives in Cabot Cove. He is followed by a private eye named Jarvis who has been dogging him for years, convinced that he was responsible for a jewelry store robbery.

     Season Nine; episode 1: Murder in Milan 

  • Look Behind You: In "Murder in Milan", Jessica distracts a pack of paparazzi by saying "Isn't that Mel Gibson?" and pointing behind them.
  • Pool Scene: "Murder in Milan" features several gratuitous scenes set around the pool at the film festival, featuring a multitude of bikini-clad extras.

     Season Nine; episode 5: The Dead File 

     Season Nine; episode 13: Dead Eye 

  • Who Shot JFK?: In "Dead Eye", Jessica gets involved in a murder centered around a set of photo negatives that prove the involvement of an organized crime figure in the Kennedy assassination. At the end of the episode, the negatives are lost in the harbour and the mob boss dies trying to escape the police, with the implication that someone might have tampered with his brakes.

     Season Ten; episode 4: The Phantom Killer 

  • Invented Individual: In "The Phantom Killer", a struggling writer creates a fictitious agent to represent him. This lie keeps snowballing, and ends with the agent being accused of murder, at which point the writer is exposed and arrested.

     Season Ten; episode 6: Bloodlines 

     Season Ten; episode 20: A Murderous Muse 

     Season Eleven; episode 1: A Nest of Vipers 

  • This Bear Was Framed: In "A Nest of Vipers", the Victim of the Week is injected with black mamba venom. The killer then unlocks the black mamba's cage so it will look like the victim was bitten by the escaped snake.

     Season Eleven; episode 2: Amsterdam Kill 

     Season Eleven; episode 6: The Murder Channel 

  • Bound and Gagged: In "The Murder Channel", a friend of Jessica's accidentally stumbles on a plot of some thieves. The thieves kidnap and keep her bound and gagged in the back of their van as they commit the robbery.
  • Rear Window Witness: In "The Murder Channel", a friend of Jessica's witnesses a murder on her television when a mislaid cable sends a video feed from the apartment downstairs to her set.
  • Stab the Scorpion: In "The Murder Channel", one of Jessica's friends has been kidnapped and is lying Bound and Gagged in the back of the kidnappers' van. One of the kidnappers advances menacingly, takes out a switchblade and flicks the blade out. She then uses the knife to cut the victim's bonds and release her.

     Season Eleven; episode 20: Another Killing in Cork 

  • Steam Never Dies: In "Another Killing in Cork", Jessica is shown traveling through modern-day Ireland on a steam train.

     Season Twelve; episode 2: A Quaking in Aspen 

  • Phoney Call: In "A Quaking in Aspen", a woman who is having an affair pretends to be talking to her hairdresser when she is actually talking to her lover because her husband is in the room.

     Season Twelve; episode 4: Big Easy Murder 

  • Pursued Protagonist: "Big Easy Murder" opens with the first Victim of the Week being chased through the swamps outside New Orleans before being struck down with a machete.
  • Voodoo Doll: In "Big Easy Murder", a voodoo doll is placed next to the Victim of the Week to make his murder look like it was part of a series of underworld-related voodoo murders.

     Season Twelve; episode 5: Home Care 

  • Dying Clue: In "Home Care", Jessica's friend Maggie is able to identify her killer by pointing to a descriptive phrase in the book she's holding when she dies.

     Season Twelve; episode 6, 7: Nan's Ghost 

  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: In "Nan's Ghost", the killer fakes a haunting around an old castle to keep the locals away while he searches for a lost treasure.

     Season Twelve; episode 8: Shooting in Rome 

  • Vehicular Sabotage: The killer tampers with the gearing on a stunt car to kill the stuntman driving it in "Shooting in Rome".

     Season Twelve; episode 9: Deadly Bidding 

  • Accidental Bid: In "Deadly Bidding", Charlie Garret is bidding on a painting, but drops out when the bidding passes $100,000. However, when he attempts to signal Jessica, he actually bids $400,000 and wins the auction.
  • Anachronistic Clue: In "Deadly Bidding", Jessica identifies a journal purportedly written by Arthur Conan Doyle is forgery because it mentions a visit to Ellis Island in 1926. Ellis Island closed in 1924.

     Season Twelve; episode 14: Murder in Tempo 

     Season Twelve; episode 16: Murder Among Friends 

     Season Twelve; episode 23: Mrs. Parker's Revenge 

     Season Twelve; episode 24: Death by Demographics 

  • Take That!: The final episode, "Death by Demographics", knocks on the reason for the show being death-slotted: its lack of appeal to the 18-39 demographic. The episode itself is about a radio station manager who fires every employee over a certain age and changes the station's classical music format to more contemporary hard rock.

     Movie 3 – The Last Free Man 

  • Identical Grandson: Jessica is revealed to have had an Identical Ancestor with similar talents — a Southern matron in Civil War times with modern views on emancipation for slaves.
  • Karma Houdini: The villains in this movie — the murderer and the people who help him cover it up, a trio of racist Jerkasses — get off scot-free (except for being on the losing side of the Civil War) due to their influence and the lack of evidence.
  • Southern Gentleman: Robert Mercer, the victim in the TV movie The Last Free Man (a Whole Episode Flashback to the beginning of The American Civil War) is a Sharp-Dressed Man, impeccably civil to even those he disagrees with, and an opponent of the war on both moral and practical grounds, with the final act also revealing that he was an Underground Railroad conductor. His father in-law Charles Hobbes is a more negative version: he stops the whipping of a slave, but only because it's making a scene, while showing signs of vicious racism and ruthlessness when there's fewer people around. In the main series, Seth's southern cousin Buford dresses and talks the part, and is a bit smarmy but not terribly flawed as far as victims on this show go.
  • Underground Railroad: The TV Movie The Last Free Man has both murder victim Robert Mercer and the slave of Jessica's ancestor involved in this.

     Movie 4 – The Celtic Riddle 

The Expanded Universe novels provide examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: In book 5 (Martinis and Mayhem), while delivering a lecture to a high school class on public relations, Jessica is asked who she'd like to play her in a film version of her book. After suggesting Vivian Leigh or Jean Fontaine, Jessica adds "Of course, I'd be pleased if Angela Lansbury played me in a film version of my book."
  • Adaptation Name Change: Adele Metzger, wife of Sheriff Mort Metzger, is known as Maureen Metzger in this series, as noted when she makes her first named appearance in book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders).
  • The Alcoholic: Book 10 (Murder in Moscow) features a functioning variety with Jessica's new Russian publisher, Vladislav Staritova. He spends most of his time drinking vodka, but aside from a little slurred speech at times, is hardly ever inebriated by it.
  • The Alibi: A plot point in the solution to book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder). Jake Walthers has his brother-in-law Dennis say that Jake and Dennis were working together on repairing a fence at the time of the murder; Dennis later says this was a lie that he was intimidated into making, and that he and his sister Mary were really the ones working together. It comes out in the end that the first story was true, and that Mary is the one who shot Rory Brent.
  • Alliterative Name: Book 6 (A Deadly Judgement) features Jessica's lawyer friend Malcolm McLoon and Judge Walter Wilson.
  • Anonymous Benefactor: A toned-down version is used in book 7 (A Palette For Murder), where police Chief Cramer tells Jessica at one point that there's an influential person pressing behind the scenes for him to cooperate with her and her theories. After the mystery is solved, they're revealed to be her publisher, Vaughn Buckley, who knew he couldn't stop her from poking around and so decided to help out in his own way by encouraging the cops to accept her aid.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Turns out to be the case in book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder), where murder victim Rory Brent is ultimately revealed to have acted as a Loan Shark towards the Walthers (and had previously been involved in a group that did the same to other farmers) and was on the verge of claiming their farm when he was murdered. He also arranged for Jill Walther to go to a business that he expected would arrange for her to have an abortion (she didn't) of his own grandchild.
    • Harry Schrumm in book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead). He apparently had a habit of siphoning money from productions and "ruining careers", including that of the star of his last film.
  • Backhanded Compliment: In book 1 (Gin and Daggers), Marjorie leaves her British literary agent a sum of money while also including a footnote that she suspects that he's stolen from her as well (something the man denies) but appreciates that he's done so with more "discretion" than his American colleagues (all she leaves them is an assurance that she won't ask her estate to prosecute them for their provable embezzlement) and has also shown her some nice friendship.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: Discussed in book 10 (Murder in Moscow). While Jessica's talking with President Singleton, he mentions that the conspiracy in a book she wrote, which a small town police chief gets involved in, is very similar to one he knows of which a small town police chief got involved in; Jessica assures him that it's pure coincidence and that the only lawman she knows well (Mort Metzger, though she doesn't identify him by name), if he's involved in any conspiracy at all, is in one "to make sure he keeps getting invited to our Chamber of Commerce dinners." Singleton laughs and says that sounds like a positive conspiracy to him.
  • Black Sheep: Book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch) has William "Willy" Morrison, considered the "loser" and "family disappointment" to his family, who are always putting him down or telling him not to do or say anything. Jessica even mentally refers to him by the trope name after spending some time talking to him, and feels sorry for him after learning how his family treats him.
  • Bribe Backfire: In book 9 (Murder on the QE2), Mort mentions on the phone to Jessica that he'd had to stop a speeding tourist earlier, and that the tourist had said that being a small-town cop, Mort probably doesn't get paid much... then tried to bribe him with a twenty-dollar bill. Mort not only arrested him, he added attempted bribery to the man's existing charges of speeding and reckless endangerment. Jessica very much approves.
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), the serial killer (who's been murdering people who work on Broadway) turns out to have this problem. As Henry Hayes says, "She's incapable of divorcing fact from fiction, acting from real actions." It's one of the factors in her being declared certifiably insane and sent to a mental hospital for the rest of her life.
  • Chalk Outline: Variant in book 14 (Trick or Treachery), where the body of Matilda Swift is found in a graveyard and one of the deputies outlines the body with spray paint instead of chalk.
  • Chocolate Baby: Not so much a baby, but in book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), Jessica notes the physical similarities between teenage Pauline Morrison and one of the other guests at the ranch. It eventually comes out that he's her biological father, one of the two men her mother Veronica was cheating on her husband with.
  • Christmas Creep: Discussed briefly in book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder), as Jessica hears a radio announcement that there's only twenty-three shopping days before Christmas, and thinks to herself that "Christmas seemed to start earlier and earlier each year". She also notes that she doesn't like the trend, but doesn't dwell on it because there's nothing she can do about it.
  • Clear Their Name: Book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder) revolves around Jessica trying, successfully, to clear the name of Jake Walther, an enemy of the murdered man and the obvious suspect.
  • Coax Them Out of the Closet: In book 5 (Martinis and Mayhem) of the Expanded Universe novel series, Norman Lana is the boyfriend of the late Brett Pearl, and is revealed to have tried repeatedly to get Brett to come out to his very religious family. Norman ultimately took it a step further, threatening to call Brett's parents and inform them of Brett's sexuality, with fatal results — Brett, unable to cope with what he thought would be their response, chose to throw himself off the Golden Gate Bridge rather than be outed.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Late in book 10 (Murder in Moscow), Jessica recalls how she met George Sutherland in book 1 (Gin and Daggers), and visited his home in book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders).
    • Early on in book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder), Jessica is reminded of the events of book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders) and how she talked down the man who held two of her friends hostage, which Mary Walther feels makes her the best person to talk sense into Mary's husband Jake when he's unwilling to speak to the police in his own defense after being accused of murder.
  • Courtroom Episode: Book 6 (A Deadly Judgement) revolves around Jessica serving as a jury consultant, working for the plaintiff's defense. She drops out after realizing that he'd committed a different murder and exposing his crime to the judge.
  • Crosscast Role: In book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder), part of the plot involves Jessica being convinced to act as Santa Claus during Cabot Cove's annual Christmas festival and read stories to the children alongside Seth Hazlitt (who's also dressed as Santa).
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: In book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder), after coming home to find an intruder in her house, Jessica speaks to the police, then goes looking around to find if anything's been stolen. There isn't, but as she's on her way out, she finds one of these notes, saying "Butt out, if you know what's good for you." It turns out Robert Brent was just trying to protect Jill Walther and her secret — that she'd given birth to and then given up his daughter.
  • A Deadly Affair: Book 14 (Trick or Treachery) discusses the history of Cabot Cove, including how town founder Winfred Cabot took up with a woman other than his wife Hepzibah, and was beheaded by her with an ax in retaliation.
  • Death Glare: In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), during the children's annual Halloween pageant, Matilda Swift shoots one of these at paranormal investigator Lucas Tremaine. He gives her one right back in return.
  • Defector from Commie Land: The whole plot of book 10 (Murder in Moscow) revolves around Jessica being used as a messenger and a means to allow a Russian defector to, for her own safety, escape Moscow and travel to America.
  • Dirty Cop: Detective Alphonse Rizzi in book 2 (Manhattans and Murder), who's perfectly willing to let an innocent man die as a cover for one of his associates.
  • Disinherited Child: A variant in book 6 (A Deadly Judgement). The late James Brannigan had established a trust for his children, but included a clause stating that if his younger son William were ever to be charged with a crime involving "moral turpitude", James' older brother Jack could dissolve the trust and receive all the money himself. It's also claimed that William murdered Jack to prevent this, which is why he's on trial now. While it's proven that the rape charge was a setup on Jack's part, William still gets charged with murder after Saying Too Much and unwittingly revealing he'd killed someone other than Jack.
  • Does Not Drive: Jessica, per the TV series. It becomes a plot point in book 4 (Brandy and Bullets), when Jessica agrees to be hypnotized on stage at a club, but the hypnotist makes the mistake of trying to have her picture herself driving down a beach. She instantly recognizes something's off and has a panic attack in her trance, losing control of the car, until the hypnotist snaps her out of it (luckily, Seth was there to inform the hypnotist of the mistake).
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Referenced for laughs in book 14 (Trick or Treachery), when Jessica makes plans to meet with Mort Metzger and asks if he wants her to pick up doughnuts on the way. Mort jokingly responds with "Sure thing. Doughnuts are one of the basic food groups in law enforcement.", eliciting a laugh from Jessica.
  • Driven to Suicide: Brett Pearl, the only person to die during the events of book 5 (Martinis and Mayhem), had a fight with his boyfriend, who wanted Brett to come out to his parents. The subsequent breakup and Brett's fear of how his family would react to his sexuality led to his throwing himself off the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • In book 2 (Manhattans and Murder), Jessica thinks to herself at one point that "Every taxi driver I'd had since arriving in New York drove as though he (in one case a she) was competing in the Indy 500." Subverted with the driver she's with at that point, who's driving slowly and carefully... just when Jessica needs to be somewhere in a hurry.
    • In book 10 (Murder in Moscow), when Jessica and her publisher finally set out to the meeting with Alexandra Kozhina, they get taken there by a taxi driver who, in Jessica's words, "drove like a madman, cutting off cars and trucks and large red buses, one hand on the wheel, the other firmly pressed against the horn button." The person who seizes Jessica, locks her in the back seat of another car and drives off with her shortly after isn't much better, and nor are the drivers of the next few cabs she ends up in.
  • Embarrassing First Name: In book 7 (A Palette For Murder), Jessica becomes acquainted with police Chief Cramer in the Hamptons. When she finally asks about his first name (having never gotten it before), he reluctantly admits that his first name is "Hopeful", "Hope" for short to his friends. As he confirms, his parents were optimists.
  • Ethereal White Dress:
    • In book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders), Jessica is visiting the ancestral castle (and part-time hotel) of her friend George Sutherland in Scotland. During her first night, she spots a strange woman all in white (except for some bloodstains), who appears to be a ghost and whispers a short phrase to her — "Gie a heize", archaic Gaelic for "lend a hand" as George guesses when he hears the expression later. It turns out to be a setup — the ghost's a fake, along with everything else apparently supernatural going on.
    • In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), Jessica wears one of these as part of her costume when she dresses up as the ghost of Hepzibah Cabot for the annual Halloween party. Actress Sophia Pavlou agrees to wear one as well when Jessica hires her to pose as Hepzibah's ghost, and the real ghost wears one as well when she turns up during the event that Sophia missed out on.
  • Every Man Has His Price: In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), while investigating the murder of Harry Schrumm, Jessica learns that the theater's doorman was bribed with two hundred dollars to leave his post for a few hours, during which time Schrumm was killed.
  • Evil Matriarch: Used in book 5 (Martinis and Mayhem). The birth mother is such a monster that her daughter prefers her much nicer stepmother. This is part of why the birth mother subsequently framed the stepmother for murdering their husband.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • In book 1 (Gin and Daggers), the second "victim" fakes their own death in order to get publicity for the books they're having "posthumously" published.
    • In book 2 (Manhattans and Murder), the "victim" was being targeted by drug runners after he'd turned state's evidence against some associates of theirs, and decided to disappear, getting another man to fill in for him as a sidewalk Santa Claus and consequently be murdered in his place.
    • In book 4 (Brandy and Bullets), the third "victim" is actually working with the government to shut down a group of people who are performing hypnosis experiments on their patients, and fakes his death to get away from them and deliver the evidence to his allies.
  • Fictional Board Game: It's mentioned in the first two books that Morton Metzger has been developing a murder mystery board game (though its title isn't said) for some time; book 2 (Manhattans and Murder) has him finally send it off to Parker Brothers and get a letter back saying they're interested, while book 4 (Brandy and Bullets) mentions he's revising the rules again, at their request. Book 9 (Murder on the QE2) reveals that it's apparently been shelved, but he's written a play based on its setting instead. Book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder) ultimately reveals that the deal with Parker Brothers fell through "over certain changes requested by the company that Mort refused to make".
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Attempted in book 5 (Martinis and Mayhem). Unable to cope with the idea of being out of the closet and what he thinks will be his very religious family's response, Brett Pearl chooses to commit suicide rather than be exposed.
  • Frame-Up: In book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), the killers specifically use tools from the stables to throw suspicion on the horse wranglers (and got another person to plant a wood rasp, identical to the first murder weapon, in a spot where it would be found as part of this).
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), the investigators come to realize that the murder of Harry Schrumm was a set-up to make it look like the Broadway killer, who'd already murdered four times by the time Schrumm's body was discovered, was responsible.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), Jessica watches Detective Henry Hayes and his partner, Tony Vasile, in action and comes to the conclusion that they're using this technique.
  • Government Conspiracy: Book 4 (Brandy and Bullets) revolves around the CIA secretly backing an institute that experiments with hypnosis and seeing how effective it is at turning more creative people into their unwitting agents. Naturally, they officially deny all involvement when it's exposed, and put the blame entirely on the doctors running the place.
  • Greed: The killer's motive in book 14 (Trick or Treachery). When Tony Scott invented a formula that would fireproof clothing, his partner planned to cheat him out of it and any money it would earn. When he sold them a phony version instead (being justifiably paranoid that they were planning to cheat him), they found out and murdered him (and later Matilda Swift when they realized she was investigating the crime).
  • Guilty Until Someone Else Is Guilty: In book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder), this is why Jake Walther has locked himself in his house — he firmly believes that the town has already convicted him in their own minds and won't believe he's innocent under any circumstances, so there's no point in defending himself. This belief is only reinforced after he's taken into custody.
  • Haggis Is Horrible: In book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders), one chapter ends shortly after Jessica is told that they're serving haggis for dinner. She reluctantly admits to her host George Sutherland that "I'm afraid I might not like it." Fortunately, George just laughs it off and says that he knows of its negative reputation. He then says that they serve it once a week for those adventurous enough, but he always tells the chef to have plenty of plain roasted chicken on hand just in case.
  • Halloween Episode: Book 14 (Trick or Treachery), which takes place in late October and revolves around the Halloween season.
  • Heroic BSoD: In book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders), side-character Alicia Richardson suffers from this after a troubling and traumatic experience in London, where she and her husband Jed are taken hostage while touring the Tower of London by a man who threatens to kill them unless he gets what he wants — an hour's time speaking to Parliament, whom he wants to have words with because they ruined his family's name in 1725 (having charged one Catherine Hayes with the murder and dismemberment of her husband) and continue to do so to this day. Over a week later, even though the man was caught and subdued by the police, Alicia continues to think she's seeing the man's orange eyes wherever she's going. Jessica also experiences a lesser version after managing to rescue the Richardsons, due to the culprit having shot at her at the last minute.
  • Hopeless with Tech: Joked about in book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder) when Jessica walks in on lawyer Joe Turco, who's trying without much success to program his new fax machine. And he claims he's even worse when it comes to programming VCRs.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog:
    • In book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders), Jessica excuses herself from an uncomfortable conversation about witches with "Excuse me, Doctor. I have to tell—something to—someone—over there."
    • Downplayed in book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder). At one point, in order to get away from a group of reporters who want to talk to her about the murder of Rory Brent, Jessica says she has to leave because she has an appointment. When Seth follows after her and asks where she's going, she claims she has to see the dentist. Seth isn't buying it because she just went a day or so before; she responds with "I feel a sudden toothache about to come on."
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: How a culprit is caught in book 6 (A Deadly Judgement). William Brannigan says he thinks the same person killed his brother Jack and his girlfriend Cynthia, because both were killed by a single stab to the heart. However, the details of Cynthia's murder were kept out of the news, meaning William could have only known how she died if he did it.
  • Improvised Weapon: In book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), the first victim — Paul Molloy — is stabbed to death with a wood rasp. The second, his wife Geraldine, is killed with another tool — a hammer specifically designed for shoeing horses.
  • The Infiltration: In book 7 (A Palette For Murder), Jessica learns after the killer is caught that one of the other people she suspected of being involved was actually a civilian who'd infiltrated the forgery ring. They turn out to be Waldine "Waldo" Peckham, who'd helped Jessica with part of the case before.
  • Inheritance Murder:
    • Discussed in book 1 (Gin and Daggers) as a motive for Marjorie Ainsworth's murder; Jessica, who found the body, was named in her will, and someone tells her that this makes her a main suspect. Naturally, she didn't do it and didn't even know she was in the will until that particular conversation — upon learning that she's an heir, she immediately voices her intention to donate her share to charity (and repeats this at the will-reading).
    • A variant in book 6 (A Deadly Judgement). The late James Brannigan had established a trust for his children, but included a clause stating that if his younger son William were ever to be charged with a crime involving "moral turpitude", James' older brother Jack could dissolve the trust and receive all the money himself. When William is charged with Jack's murder, the defense claims that Jack had threatened to dissolve the trust after William supposedly raped a woman, and William murdered him to protect his inheritance. He didn't do either of these things, as it turns out — Jack was framing William so he could claim the money for himself, and one of his co-conspirators murdered him when he reneged on a promise to share it with them.
  • It's for a Book: In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), at one point, Jessica calls the local fire department's chief to ask for information about the fire that Anthony Scott died in a year before, claiming she's doing research for a new book involving arson as a plot point and needs his technical expertise.
  • The Joy of First Flight: Book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch) kicks off with Jessica taking her first flying lesson from Jed Richardson in his Cesna. After landing, she describes it to Seth Hazlitt as "Wonderful" and "A special feeling, so free, so liberating."
  • Keep the Reward: Played with — Jessica sometimes receives money for things other than her writing, and tends to immediately donate it to a charitable cause.
    • In book 1 (Gin and Daggers), she inherits a decent sum from a friend and promptly donates it to a study center that her friend has established.
    • In book 4 (Brandy and Bullets), she's paid for holding a writing seminar and again promptly donates her payment to the local hospital.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch) has Jim Cook regularly making bad jokes, most of which tend to elicit groans from his audience.
  • Long-Lost Relative: In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), Jessica discovers that the recently deceased Matilda Swift is actually the sister of Tony Scott, whom she'd only recently reunited with when he died. His son, her nephew Jeremy, doesn't learn they're related until sometime after Matilda's murder.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Book 7 (A Palette For Murder) features multiple deaths, at least two of which were this — the victim died from a heart attack triggered by ricin, a poison that's usually only detected if the coroner is specifically looking for it, but the coroner (who isn't involved in the killings) writes them off as a normal heart attack until they're convinced to do another autopsy on one victim (and lab analysis on their cigarettes), confirming the cause.
  • Master Forger: The plot of book 7 (A Palette For Murder) revolves around an art forgery ring, who've focused on creating new paintings supposedly from a now-deceased artist.
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: In book 7 (A Palette For Murder), during a talk between Jessica and art dealer Maurice St. James, he says that "My middle name is discretion, Mrs. Fletcher."
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Book 5 (Martinis and Mayhem) revolves around Jessica meeting a woman who's in prison for her husband's murder. Jessica comes to believe she's innocent, and has proven it by the end, with the real killers and their accomplice being arrested.
  • Murder-Suicide: In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), while discussing the history of Cabot Cove, it's explained that the town's founder, Winfred Cabot, was beheaded by his wife, who then threw his head and herself into the ocean.
  • Mysterious Note:
    • In the opening chapter of book 3 (Rum and Razors), Jessica's been getting strange notes, all consisting of a single line — "GLOTCOYB", each time followed by varying punctuation (none on the first, a question mark on the second, a comma on the third, a period on the fourth and three exclamation points on the fifth). Shortly after finishing her latest manuscript, she sees a group of people outside her home, holding a banner with the same word. It turns out to be her friends Dr. Seth Hazlitt and Sheriff Morton Metzger, plus some other locals, who reveal "GLOTCOYB" is actually an acronym for "Good luck on the completion of your book". Jessica is both irked and relieved, since the pranks had actually been making her rather nervous, to the point where she answered the door that day with a fire poker in hand to ward off any potential threats.
    • In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), the play's director Cyrus Walpole gets a threatening letter saying "You're next", handed to him by the theater's security guard after an unknown person gave it to him, which he takes as an Implied Death Threat. Linda Amstead later admits she's received a similar threatening letter.
  • Operation: Jealousy: In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), while discussing the history of Cabot Cove, it's said that Winfred Cabot is supposed to have told his wife Hephzibah that he was cheating on her in an effort to make her jealous. It got him killed by her instead.
  • Out of Focus: After appearing (even if it's just a brief mention) in every previous book in the series, Sheriff Mort Metzger isn't so much as name-dropped in book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), even during the scenes set in Cabot Cove.
  • Paranormal Investigation: In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), it's revealed that a man named Lucas Tremaine has moved to Cabot Cove and opened a paranormal investigation business that also helps people get in touch with their dead relatives. Seth Hazlitt thinks it's all a load of hooey, and Jessica later proves that at least some of the supernatural effects around town are because he faked them.
  • Poisoned Weapons: Book 10 (Murder in Moscow) features one late in the book when someone, heavily implied to be a Russian agent, brushes a modified umbrella against Alexandra Kozhina (who's recently defected from their side) to poison her. Fortunately, she survives the attempt, though it's touch-and-go for a while.
  • Post-Robbery Trauma: In book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), after Paul Molloy is found dead and Jessica has to tell his wife, Geraldine has a slight panic attack and runs back inside, hiding in the bedroom and then comes out of the cabin with a revolver (she later claims it's because she heard someone in the cabin; she did, but it was just Jessica, who'd gone inside because she was worried about the other woman). She later explains to the local sheriff's department that it was her husband's, who had it because of this trope — he'd been attacked a year or so back and bought it for protection. It's never confirmed if this was true or not after it comes out that she's a government agent and their "marriage" is just a cover story.
  • Pungeon Master: In book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), Jim Cook is notorious for his groan-worthy jokes.
  • Real After All: In the final chapter of book 14 (Trick or Treachery), Jessica gets a call from Sophia Pavlou, whom she'd asked to appear as the ghost of Hepzibah Cabot... and learns Sophia never made it out to the event due to having broken her ankle. Yet the ghost still showed up, causing a stunned Jessica and Seth to realize it was the real deal who came to help them.
  • Re-Cut: Book 1 (Gin and Daggers) was originally released in 1989, but there were several inaccuracies compared to the TV series, including a scene of Jessica driving a car (in the actual series, she never learned to drive, relying on her bicycle, public transportation or rides from friends). A re-edited version was released in 2000 to fix the majority of these errors.
  • Revealing Cover Up: In book 14 (Trick or Treachery), Matilda Swift comes to down a few months before the plot starts in order to investigate Tony Swift's murder. Her own murder results in Jessica getting involved and uncovering the truth.
  • Revisiting the Cold Case: Mentioned in passing in book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch) — Jim Cook notes to Jessica that the local sheriff's department recently solved an old case involving a murder from seventeen years ago, in which the killer was already doing twenty years for armed robbery by the time they were identified as the killer.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: Book 10 (Murder in Moscow) features a variant in which the climax explains that two years prior, Alexandra Kozhina, part of a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the current Russian government, had been recruited by an American government organization. Jessica gets caught up in things when it turns out another organization, also part of the American government, doesn't know about the first group having recruited Alexandra and tries to use Jessica as a messenger to recruit Alexandra themselves.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax:
    • The events of book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders) turn out to involve this, with Evan Lochbuie, Constable Horace McKay, Malcolm James and, to some extent, his girlfriend Fiona — though she was only used to record a taped message, and didn't know what was really going on — all working to inspire fear in the locals and drive George Sutherland out of his castle so a group of investors could buy it.
    • During the climax of book 14 (Trick or Treachery), Jessica arranges for an actress to show up dressed as the ghost of Hepzibah Cabot as part of her plan to expose Tony Scott's killer.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: In book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), Evelyn Morrison takes extreme offense to being questioned over the murder of Paul Molloy and tries to convince the Cooks to speak to the sheriff's department and have him leave her family out of the whole thing, believing her family's yearly visits to the Powderhorn Ranch (and therefore financial support of it) entitle her to special treatment. The Cooks, however, decline to do so. Their decision turns out to be justified when it turns out Evelyn's daughter-in-law Veronica is one of the two killers.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), after an apparent sighting of the ghost of Marcus Drummond (for whom Drummond Theater, where the play is being staged, is named), Pamela South (who was hired to replace Jenny Forrest) declares that she's quitting and runs out of the theater. She's eventually persuaded to return after Jenny, who took back her role, is exposed as a killer.
  • Serial Killer: In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), one has been targeting people who work on Broadway, having taken out four people and posing them in ways similar to characters in the plays they're in. Most people come to believe Harry Schrumm is the killer's fifth victim. He's not — but Roy Richardson, who's murdered during the preview showing, is, with said killer turning out to be Jenny Forrest, one of the actors in the play.
  • Slashed Throat: How the victim dies in book 3 (Rum and Razors). It's noted that a victim died this way in one of Jessica's recent books as well.
  • Spiteful Will: Used in book 1 (Gin and Daggers), where murder victim Marjorie Ainsworth uses her will to insult several of her heirs, including leaving a massive debt to her sister and brother-in-law (apparently he'd spent a great deal of her money at certain establishments and now she wants him to pay the bills they sent her with his own funds), and claiming that several of her associates involved in publishing her works in both Britain and the U.S. had been stealing a portion of her royalties. It's subverted for her niece (and primary caretaker) and Jessica Fletcher, who both receive compliments and large sums from her.
  • Suicide, Not Murder:
    • In book 4 (Brandy and Bullets), after a patient at the Worrel Institute commits suicide via gunshot, a second one nearly overdoses on pills; luckily, she's rushed to the hospital, gets her stomach pumped, and survives the experience. It turns out this really was a genuine attempted suicide, rather than being caused by the Institute's experiments in hypnosis like the first victim and a later attempted victim.
    • In book 5 (Martinis and Mayhem), Brett Pearl jumps to his death off the Golden Gate Bridge the same day that Jessica was nearly pushed to her death. By the end of the book, it's been confirmed that he'd done so on purpose and the book's villains had nothing to do with it.
  • Take Me Instead: In book 8 (The Highland Fling Murders), when Alicia and Jed Richardson have been taken hostage by a man at the Tower of London, Jessica offers herself in their place, pointing out that she's a writer and can tell the man's story if he agrees. He winds up letting the Richardsons go, and only tries to shoot at them at the last minute, right after Jessica's gotten both them and herself to safety.
  • Taking the Heat: The climax of book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder) reveals that Jake Walther has been trying to take the blame for Rory Brent's murder when it's actually Jake's wife Mary who did it. In the end though, the true culprit is exposed.
  • Teen Pregnancy: This is part of the motive for murder in book 11 (A Little Yuletide Murder), where Jill Walthers is revealed to have gotten pregnant by Robert Brent during her senior year of high school. Despite his father trying to force her into getting an abortion, she instead covered up the pregnancy, gave birth and had her daughter adopted.
  • Theme Naming: The first five books all follow the same naming scheme — "(alcoholic drink) and (other word)". Jessica actually discusses this in Gin and Daggers, the first book of the series. It's later re-used for book 24 (Margaritas and Murder).
  • Time Skip: In book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), the last two pages of the final chapter jump ahead to a year later, when Jessica, Seth and some friends return to Powderhorn Ranch for another vacation — this time without any murders or other untoward happenings. It also confirms that the book's killers were found guilty and sent to prison.
  • Tuckerization: In-Universe in book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), where Jessica's new book Knock 'Em Dead includes a character named Waldine, whom Jessica's narration notes is named for her friend Waldine Peckham.
  • Two Dun It: Three, as it turns out, in book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead). Jill Factor, one of the financial backers for the play, killed Harry Schrumm because he was siphoning money she and her husband desperately needed from the production, while her husband Arnold bribed the doorman Vic Righetti and later killed and robbed him. The serial killer who's been targeting people who work on Broadway, meanwhile, is revealed as Jenny Forrest, one of the play's actors.
  • Undercover as Lovers: In book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch), Paul Molloy arrives at the Powderhorn Ranch with his wife Geraldine. It eventually comes out that they're faking it as a cover story — she's actually a government agent, while he was investigated for international arms dealing, but was let off because he agreed to help expose others who were in the same business. Unfortunately, this gets them both killed by an actual arms dealer and her associates.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: The climax of book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch) reveals that the second murder victim, Geraldine Jankowski, was actually an undercover government agent who'd come to the ranch to capture an international arms dealer.
  • Vacation Episode:
    • Book 3 (Rum and Razors) revolves around Jessica, having just finished her latest manuscript, taking a trip to the island of St. Thomas near Florida.
    • Book 7 (A Palette For Murder) revolves around Jessica, after finishing a manuscript, visiting the Hamptons in Long Island. After solving the mystery, she spends the last few days of her trip in isolation on Montauk for some much-needed rest and relaxation.
    • Book 12 (Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch) involves Jessica and Seth going to visit their friends Jim and Bonnie Cook on their ranch in Colorado after a sudden invitation.
  • Verbal Tic: Book 14 (Trick or Treachery) has Artie Sack, a local gardener for hire, who tends to say all or part of his sentences twice.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: In book 13 (Knock 'Em Dead), Jenny Forrest — a member of the cast who's recently been fired — is threatening casting director Linda Amstead with what appears to be a real knife. When Jessica tries to talk her down, Jenny turns on her and stabs her in the chest... only for the knife to be revealed as a prop with a retractable blade, a fact Jenny knew all along but Jessica didn't until that very moment.


Video Example(s):


"Murder, She Wrote" Intro

When she's not writing mysteries, Jessica Fletcher is solving them.

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Main / MysteryWriterDetective

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