Stars: 3 / 5
Panning for Murder is the 28th book in the Murder, She Wrote series by Donald Bain and fictional writer Jessica Fletcher based on the popular TV Show of the same name. The book was published in September of 2007. This time around Jessica is involved with hidden treasures, cruises and murders.
The plot opens with Kathy Copeland, a long-time resident of Cabot Cove and a dear friend of Jessica Fletcher, relating the troublesome news that her sister Wilimena who was aboard the Glacial Queen - a cruise ship to Alaska - disappeared after their halt at Ketchikan. But Wilimena had been known in the past to disappear for periods of time. So, it was hard to take her disappearance a serious matter. Incidentally Jessica had booked an Inland Passage Cruise aboard the same cruise ship Glacial Queen. When Kathy comes to know of it, she imposes herself on Jessica to accompany as her travel companion so she can find out what happened to Wilimena. Much to the disappointment of Jessica that it will not be a trip free of anything including an investigation, she agrees after looking at Kathy's plight. So, they take on the cruise with an agenda totally different from what Jessica had planned for to begin with.
The thing in this situation for Jessica was that she had less belief that Wilimena "Willie" had been through some foul play. With her history of disappearances and string of marriages she was less and less confident. Then Kathy mentions that it could be because that Willie believed that a brothel madam left them with a whole lot of gold, it spurs interest in Jessica and makes her think that this time Willie is genuinely disappeared. What Kathy tells the tale upon prodding further is nothing Jessica could have imagined in her books - As young children Kathy's father left them after unable to bear the iron hand of Kathy and Willie's mother; He ran away with a contortionist, Christiana, the Human Pretzel, who had come to town with the traveling carnival; Their aunt Dolly Arthur aka Thelma Copeland was their aunt, their mother's sister; According to Willie when their mother died, Willie found papers that indicated that their aunt Dolly might have come across a sizable amount of gold panned during Alaskan Gold Rush and that now comes to them as inheritance, if the story pans out to be true.
Jessica thinks perhaps someone believed the tale to be true and might have taken advantage of Willie and perhaps cause her harm in the process. But the documentation that Willie claimed to have found was never shown to Kathy nor Willie found it again as she had lost it. Now that she had a reason, at their first stop in Seattle before boarding the cruise, Jessica takes the receipts that were found in Willie's cabin aboard the cruise, and along with Kathy visit the same places she went to based on the receipts, in the hopes of finding more to her story. Seems to be wherever they went, looked like Willie had talked about the gold and her claim to it to everyone she met. For Jessica it meant a long list of suspect pool. In the meanwhile Jessica has to complete a book signing at The Seattle Mystery Bookshop before boarding the cruise. But then a man named Walter Munro walks in with a knife and Jessica's latest book at hand claiming that it was his idea for the plot that she stole. It takes some of Jessica's wits and Seattle's finest to get the man into handcuffs before he could cause more harm. I wonder where the incident with Walter Munro will the author tie in with the plot. Well, they continue onto the cruise trying to forget the incident.
The quest for Willie and the supposed gold continues for Jessica and Kathy through the rest of the plot aboard the Glacial Queen, although they quickly find out that Willie has spoken about the gold to everyone on the cruise increasing their suspect pool further more. Is the inheritance for real? Was there indeed gold at the end of the quest? What happened to Willie? Who was stalking her on the cruise ship? Who was the man with yellow eyes following Jessica and Kathy and ended up dead on a large piece of ice at the Glaciers Bay? Who killed that man? Why was he killed? Why was he stalking Jessica in the first place?
Other characters in the plot that form bridges to complete the picture are Howard Winslow (one of Wilimena's ex-husband), Bill (the Security store guy Seattle), John Casale (An electronics store guy in Seattle), Bill Farley (Ex-Owner of The Seattle Mystery Bookshop), J. B. Dickley (Current Owner of The Seattle Mystery Bookshop), Raymond (Jessica's cabin steward aboard the ship), Captain Rasmussen (Glacial Queen's Captain), First Officer Kale (Ship's head of security), Gladys Montgomery (permanent resident on the ship), Maynard (Gladys's cabin steward), Maurice Quarle (One of the gentleman's aboard the ship who had extended attention towards Willie), John Sims (another gentleman aboard the ship who had extended attention towards Willie), Kimberly and David Johansen (a couple aboard the ship who shared Jessica's table for dinner), Bill Henderson (another companion at Jessica's table) and Detectives Flowers and Joe McQuesten (Detectives from Alaskan troopers working on the disappearance of Willie).
Although the nature of Kathy Copeland grated me a bit, I still went on with the book as I was intrigued by the whole treasure concept. :P Normally I could guess who the murderer or killer would be, but this time around I couldn’t guess till almost I reached the last two chapters. Even then I was not completely right. Oh well, it was fun still. A disappearance, a murder, an insane guy claiming you stole the plot, hunt for the gold, interesting history from where it came - all make a pretty decent package for this book. Interesting and entertaining as always.
1) The plot reminds me of two of Jessica Fletcher's TV Series episodes on a cruise ship.
b. Ship of Thieves - This was Episode 20 from Season 9.
2) All the description of different places that Glacial Queen stops along the way to Alaska made me want to take the trip myself. I have been thinking of doing this for a while. I might just do that next year. :)