Saturday, January 9, 2016

Fictional Sleuths J. B. Fletcher and "Miz Scarlet"...Two Peas in a Pod?

Fictional character Jessica Fletcher, better known as author J. B. Fletcher, from Cabot Cove, Maine, is a retired school teacher who slogged her way through clues on the TV series "Murder, She Wrote". Fictional character Scarlet Wilson, better known as "Miz Scarlet", from Cheswick, Connecticut, is a semi-retired school teacher, and she is my inspired creation from my popular Scarlet Wilson Mystery series. So, what are the differences and similarities of these two former teachers?

Both taught high school for years and mastered that "school marm" thing long ago.

Jessica Fletcher has used her experience in the classroom to teach budding writers and even jaded cops the intricacies of mystery-solving. Some law enforcement folks even seek out the prolific best-selling author for her perspective on murder mysteries now and again, although others find her meddlesome ways to be annoying. She sometimes uses that old “I’m so disappointed in you” face with wayward cops and liars, just the way she surely did when she taught high school English.

Scarlet Wilson also has a knack for irritating trained investigators, but she does so with greater regularity. Or, as her best friend, Laurencia "Larry" Rivera, a Connecticut state trooper who works on the Major Crimes squad and deals with murder on a daily basis, has pointed out over and over again, REAL cops have to present actual evidence that can be used in a court of law. No judge is going to accept "Miz Scarlet" and her hypothetical theories about a crime. That's probably why Scarlet is constantly getting in over her head. She hates it when people dismiss her as an amateur, even though she is one. She, too, is an author. She wrote Teach Your Teenager to Think Straight, a top-ten educational guide book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. As a veteran of afterschool detention, Scarlet isn’t easily intimidated by anyone, especially if she believes the other person is wrong about the facts. That makes her feisty and very often funny when she challenges the status quo.

Both women pride themselves on being physically fit and healthy.

Jessica Fletcher doesn't drive (who among us can forget that time she got into the driverless car and nearly went over the cliff and into the Atlantic Ocean?), but she does enjoy riding her bike and jogging. In fact, she's discovered a corpse or two while out gallivanting. She’s been known to nag Seth Hazlitt when he helps himself to an extra piece (or two...or three) of pie. It’s safe to say that she’s no Raymond Chandler. You won’t find her pulling a bottle of Dewars or Maker’s Mark from her desk drawer and pouring a shot as she hunches over the old typewriter, trying to make her publishing deadline. Nor does she get tipsy when she’s out socializing. She’s too much in control of herself, her emotions, and her life to lose control. You never see her on the edge of falling apart because she applies logic to everything that goes on in her life.

Scarlet Wilson drives, but there are times some folks think she shouldn' the night she engaged in a desperate high speed chase on the Jersey Shore to evade a demonic killer.  "Miz Scarlet" grew up playing in the forest on White Oak Hill. She regularly hikes there and knows the trails like the back of her hand. She's also rather competitive, thanks to the sibling rivalry she and her older brother Bur share, but if you asked her, she'd deny it. She's an eager participant in any game of skill or strategy, and loves to match wits, but she's not, as her mother has pointed out on a number of occasions, a great partner for bridge. She’s so used to taking care of people that she sometimes forgets to focus on her own needs, especially when it comes to love and romance. Laurel Googins Wilson has no qualms about giving her daughter a shove in the right direction whenever she deems it necessary.

Both, amateur detectives, have their own modi operandi for their sleuthing.

Jessica Fletcher tackles the clues and follows the evidence trail by employing her great organizational skills as both a teacher and a mystery writer, plotting out the crime on a time line, recognizing the leads, and identifying possible suspects. She's rather methodical in tracking her killers from Point A to Point B, and often consults with her sidekick, Doc Hazlitt, when he does autopsies and injuries. She's the go-to person for Sheriff Amos Tupper, who knows he's just a small town cop when murder comes to Cabot Cove. Sheriff Mort Metzger, on the other hand, retired from a big city police department, so it took him a while to appreciate Jessica's natural instincts when it comes to crime. She often has to talk him into considering alternative scenarios once he decides he's solved the case. Jessica has a more even temperament than Scarlet does. She's steady and reliable, a trait that often develops after years of practice and experience.

Scarlet Wilson works very differently. She often gets a gut reaction, a sense of unease that she can't easily explain away. Things nag at her, driving her to react. Scarlet, with that Googins streak (her mother's family) of passion, tends to fly off the handle a little too quickly, landing her in hot water on a regular basis. Part of that reactiveness is the result of having been the target of a very dangerous man, who plotted to destroy the Wilson family. Her sidekick, Kenny "Captain Peacock" Tolliver, might have been the assistant director of public safety for Princeton University, but that doesn't make him a "campus cop", something Scarlet learns the hard way. He expects her to err on the side of caution, but that doesn't come naturally to "Miz Scarlet". And as for working with the cops, she's had her fair share of run-ins with law enforcement. Usually, Larry has to jump in and sort out the mess, but at least Scarlet gives her something to work with and that leads to the apprehension of the bad guys.

Both characters are passionate about putting bad guys behind bars and protecting society.

There's no doubt that both Jessica and Scarlet want to see thieves, con artists, and killers behind bars. The difference is that Jessica tends to contain the miscreants with her cerebral gymnastics. She employs logic to solve the equation and identify the creeps and cretins. That's why she is able to confront them with confidence. That and she usually has good cops waiting in the back room, the closet, or the shadows, with their guns drawn. She doesn't normally have to worry about anyone seriously trying to whack her because something always alerts her to the danger, although she has been held against her will on occasion.

Scarlet is a little too emotional to rely solely on logic, even though she's a very logical person. She tends to sense things and relies on her intuition about people. She can get jittery when she feels that something's just not right. She has a lot of "Ah ha!" moments that leave her suddenly knowing the identity of the bad guy at the worst times, usually when he's standing only a few feet away. She is also much more "hands on" when it comes to confronting the bad guys. She has been known to thwart them with any weapon that's within reach, from her brother's favorite baseball bat (someone was trying to kill Bur) to her car (someone was trying to kill Jenny), and even once stopped a killer by stomping on his foot with her leg cast (someone was trying to kill her).

Both are unmarried and childless, but not by choice.

Jessica Fletcher, who was happily married to Frank Fletcher for years, is a widow. She and her late husband never had a chance to have kids, although some folks thought Frank had an illegitimate child while he was stationed overseas. Jessica has taken a number of relatives under her wing over the years. Frank's nephew, Grady, sent her first manuscript to a publisher and got her career as an author up and running. He is like a son to her. But she's also mentored several others, including nieces Pamela, Victoria, and Nita. She's also played a crucial role in the lives of many of her former students, encouraging them to become writers. She seems quite content to live alone, whether in her cottage on the Maine coast or her modest apartment in the Big Apple. While she does have the occasional date, she doesn’t seem overly interested in settling down again with another man, but maybe because she's been so disappointed in love after the virtuous Frank. She had one prospective lover who turned out to be a killer, another who turned out to be a con man, and let's not get into the Michael Hagarty situation....

Scarlet Wilson has never married, nor has she had children. Despite the fact that it has driven her mother bonkers, none of this bothered Scarlet until she confronted a very fiendish stalker and found herself having regrets about missing out on life's great experiences. She and her first big crush are finally rediscovering each other now that they've hooked up again. But even though motherhood has eluded Scarlet, she feels that tug of the ticking clock. Luckily, her maternal instincts kicked in when she met Jenny Mulroney, a cancer orphan, and took her under her wing. She's determined to see the teenager graduate from the University of Connecticut as a nurse, and to that end, Scarlet puts her money where her mouth is, helping to pay her sidekick's tuition. She also has given Jenny a safe place to live and the chance to earn some money as her assistant. The camaraderie of the residents and guests of the Four Acorns Inn is a testament to the desire of the Wilsons to make everyone feel at home, so much so that some folks don’t want to leave.

Both women live in small villages where life is good and people are kind, until some fool goes and ruins everything.

Jessica Fletcher lives in Cabot Cove, Maine, which occasionally looks like the murder capital of the United States, but she also ventures out into the big world, stumbling upon bodies with frightening regularity. For the most part, the people of Cabot Cove are decent, law-abiding citizens, with a desire to keep that neighborly feel alive and well, even as folks are kicking the bucket left and right. (In the real world, criminologists would converge on the tiny town, seeking to end its homicide epidemic and reassure its citizens that they are safe from further harm....)

Scarlet Wilson lives in the tiny village of Cheswick, Connecticut, and even though a few murders have taken place, she often finds herself in a position to prevent crime, a concept she embraces wholeheartedly. There are times when she faces down intruders and thugs. She's willing to go to great lengths to save lives, even if it means working around the clock, in between scrubbing toilets and making beds for the inn guests. Thus, the number of dead bodies surfacing in Cheswick is relatively limited because "Miz Scarlet" is on the case.

Both women tenaciously believe in themselves and their abilities to unravel the mysteries they confront.

Jessica never seems to doubt her own skills at taking the pieces pf a mystery and putting the puzzle together. In fact, she's often so confident, she only misses the tiniest of clues, the ones that make sense of the big picture. When she finally recognizes the significance of what she has laid out for all to see, she is triumphant as her tenacity finally comes to fruition.

Scarlet believes she can teach herself to do anything she needs to do, that she can learn whatever she needs to learn to complete the job, so she allows her impetuousness to drive the bus to her destination. Thus, when faced with a desperate situation, "Miz Scarlet" will put her nose to the grind stone and dig in until the secrets are revealed and the mystery is solved. Sometimes the only things she has left when her back is against the wall are that sheer willpower and tenacity of hers.

Gazing into my crystal ball, what does the future hold for "Miz Scarlet"?

With time, Scarlet is likely to become much more like her older (and some might say wiser) counterpart. She will probably stop chasing bad guys on foot and start mentally matching wits with them, as she heads into her fifties. But for now, she's having too much fun with the adrenaline rush of plowing through the clues to uncover the secrets to some very complex crimes.

Two of the books from the Scarlet Wilson Mystery series are “perma-free” at Amazon:

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