Fletcherfans, once upon a time, there was a far away magical kingdom called CANADA to which Our Heroine travelled to visit her friend Jim Harlan, his mother Judith, his wife Patricia, and her friend Monica Blane. Those were the halcyon days when talk was confined to new novels and family heirloom brooches.
That night, they adjourned from the Harlan country house to the Harlan townhouse, after Jim dropped Monica at the airport and Patricia went to get her hair done. Or so they thought. Instead, a wandering butler steps in to inform Jim’s mother Judith that there was a fire at the country house and Patricia’s body had been discovered.
Fast forward six months, Jim has been arrested for the murder of his wife and JB has been summoned to return to Quebec, in the magical kingdom of Canada to act as a witness for the defence led by Oliver Quayle, Attorney At Law who is everything you could ever want in a defence attorney.
JB is a bit concerned about Quayle, particularly his insistence that she wear a straw hat with violets in it.
Fortunately Quayle is distracted first by a phone call from his ex-wife Deidre then a reminder from his assistant Barnaby Friar that he is late for an appointment.
Speaking of Barnaby…
That night JB goes to see Jim and Judith at home, to get more answers than she got from the Quaylemeister. Jim tells her that the fire was suspected to have been deliberately lit, which is how he has ended up on trial for murder. His mother orders him off to bed in preparation for the trial in the morning, and confides to JB that they didn’t really know much about Patricia before Jim married her.
Fun fact: Judith Harlan is being played by Julie Andrews, who is being played by Claire Trevor from Key Largo, which is a Bogart movie I haven’t seen yet.
Incidentally that is what she wore to Jim’s trial so if you have jury duty coming up I seriously suggest reconsidering your entire wardrobe.
The first witness for the defence is one of the policemen called to testify about the circumstances of the fire, and is torn to shreds by Quayle. The second witness, the gardener Clay McCloud testifies that he heard Jim arguing with Patricia the weekend before she died – she wanted a divorce but he said “I’ll see you dead.” Under examination from the Quayle it is revealed that McCloud had spent time in jail and was sacked the same day as the fire for allegedly stealing things. To conclude: McCloud is a bit of shady customer.
Next on the stand is the coroner, who testifies that the body was almost completely destroyed by the fire, and that identification was made only through the jewellery recovered from the scene. Also that the victim died from a massive whack to the head, and not the fire. DRAMA.
Back at the Quayle nest JB is not entirely convinced that the lawyer has got things under control. It is clear to her that Patricia died before the fire started, meaning that Jim had better get his alibi sorted. He tells her that he was with Monica Blayne, but that no one has been able to find her since the fire. JB has the audacity to ask the Quayle whether he’s tried to find Monica Blayne and he curly informs Our Heroine that her services will no longer be needed.
Jim has a private word to JB, and tells her that Patricia had been burning through money without accounting for it, and some harsh things were said as a result but that he didn’t threaten her. JB wonders why the gardener lied and pays him a visit in the guise of a reporter from the Cabot Cove Gazette. He tells her that he knows for a fact that Patricia was dead before the fire started, because when he went back to the country house to collect some backpay he saw Patricia lying on the floor.
Back in the courtroom Quayle has managed to get the coroner to say that the blow to Patricia’s head may have been caused by a falling beam. The next witness, the owner of a hotel near the airport, testifies that Monica Blayne booked a hotel room for a couple of hours for herself and Jim Harlan. Quayle wisely decides not to cross-examine this witness.
The next witness, the prosecutor announces, will be Jessica Fletcher.
The questions from the prosecutor are all straight forward, and summarise the events of the night Patricia died. Quayle, on the other hand, chooses different line, suggesting that she stole her next novel idea from Jim, that she was insane and spent time in a sanatorium, and that three of her relatives have been arrested for murder, twice in the case of her nephew Grady Fletcher. Ugh.
Character sufficiently assassinated, Quayle has no further questions and JB steps down from the witness stand. Having lunch in the cafeteria she spots the prosecutor, Annette Pirage, who sort of apologises for putting her on the stand. JB asks her if she really believes Jim killed his wife, and Annette tells her she intends to prove that Jim and Monica Blayne were in it together, despite the fact that Monica is still MIA.
In the car, JB demands some answers from Jim. He tells her that his marriage to Patricia was sinking fast, she was burning through money and even withdrew twenty thousand on the day she died that was never recovered. He confirms that he was with Monica in the hotel at the time his wife was murdered, but without Monica to back him up it’s not a great alibi.
That night JB is getting ready for bed when she gets a knock on her hotel room door. It’s Judith, apologising for the Quayle’s behaviour in the courtroom that day and to say goodbye before JB returns to Cabot Cove. JB thanks her but tells her she’s not leaving yet, even though Judith thinks it would be better. Judith tells JB that she would do anything for her son, including hire a private investigator to check up on her new daughter-in-law, who it turns out spent a year in jail in Arizona. JB correctly guesses that Monica Blayne also spent time in the Arizona jail as well.
In the morning, JB sneaks in to the Quayle nest to see if she can take a peek at the police report. Barnaby is happy to prove how influential he is in the office and shows her the report, confirming that the only way they could identify the body was through the engraved engagement and wedding rings. JB asks about the brooch she saw Patricia wearing the night of the fire but Barnaby doesn’t know anything about it. They are interrupted by the arrival of a private investigator to see the Quayle and despite Barnaby’s offer to assist the man simply tells them to tell the Quayle “Monica Blayne”, that he’ll be down the street and to bring five large.
Armed with an envelope she liberated from the Quayle nest JB pays a visit to the private investigator who has taken up residence at a bar down the street. He asks her who she is and she tells him “The name I go by in Quebec is Fletcher.” This turned into a spy movie very quickly… JB correctly guesses that this is the same private investigator Judith hired to investigate Patricia but before she can get any information out of the man the Quayle appears and the Quayle is displeased.
The next morning Barnaby informs JB that they found Monica Blayne and flew her up from NYC to testify. Unfortunately for the defence Annette Pirage gets in first and calls Monica to the stand, where she informs the jury that they were together the night of Patricia’s death but that Jim left early, saying he had something to sort out at the country house. Back at the Quayle nest Jim swears she’s lying but is interrupted by Quayle walking in, losing his mind at JB and ordering Jim and Judith into his office. While Barnaby is on the phone to Quayle’s second ex-wife, JB helps the secretary find a missing earring which turns out to a) have a lot of sentimental value and b) give JB an idea.
And now a disclaimer: for almost this entire episode I was convinced that the body they found burned was Monica Blayne and that Patricia had taken money and left to start a new life with the gardener, and that the reason that the brooch wasn’t found was because she took it, to pawn later or some such. Even when Monica Blayne turned up I thought that. Turns out I was overthinking it, and that the reason the brooch wasn’t found was because the killer took it back. For sentimental family heirloom reasons.
For his role in helping to acquit Jim Harlan (by doing what JB told him to do) Barnaby was made First Assistant to the Quayle, and the Quayle got to take on a new high-profile case defending Judith Harlan. He’s delighted to inform JB that he intends to call her as a witness in a few months time.
Stay tuned next week for the Epic Murder She Blogged Tweetathon Part The First, where I will be live-tweeting The Celtic Riddle. If you would like to tweet along, just use the hashtag #celticriddle so I can see you all fall down the rabbit hole with me. I may even put the highlights up here once I’ve sufficiently recovered.
But until then!