The latest Tampa-inspired yarn is “Murder She Wrote: Prescription for Murder” by writer Donald Bain who shares billing with fictional detective Jessica Fletcher. Actress Angela Lansbury made Fletcher famous on the long-running CBS television series, “Murder She Wrote”.
Bain visited Tampa more than a year ago to investigate
The book is dedicated to Valrico residents James and Jeannette Vann. Its acknowledgements include residents Bain interviewed including Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda; Tampa police Major Gerald Honeywell, who since has retired; Tampa police Major Diane Hobley-Burney; Ronna Metcalf, executive director of the Life Enrichment Center; and “cigar fanciers” Marilyn and Ed Dunn, who live in Thonotosassa.
“I tell you I’m floored,” said cubist painter, James Vann. “I’m really excited about it.”
A nearly decade-long correspondence between Vann and Bain led to Tampa edging out Miami as Bain’s city of choice for what became the 39th book in the “Murder She Wrote” series. The books, which began in 1988, are based on the television show but the plots are unrelated to the TV episodes.
Instead she finds mystery, danger, political intrigue, corporate greed and, of course, murder. Tampa’s dubious distinction as “lightning capitol of the world” sets the plot in motion.
Along the way Fletcher and Hazlitt visit familiar Tampa sights including Davis Islands, Peter O. Knight Airport and Ybor City.
“I fell in love with the city,” said Bain in a telephone interview from Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Renee. “I had a great time using Tampa actually as a character.”
Reality and fiction can get blurred, such as when Fletcher speaks in the novel about teaching a writing class at the Life Enrichment Center. “It actually was Don,” said Metcalf. “He was here for one hour. It was fun.”
Bain has written about 115 books, many as a ghost writer. He has another “Murder She Wrote” novel coming out in October and has signed a contract for three more in the series.
He also was ghost writer for mystery novels by Margaret Truman, the daughter of President Harry Truman. While Truman was alive, he was not allowed to acknowledge his participation. But he is credited with the most recent book - “Margaret Truman’s Experiment in Murder.”
“I’m out of the closet,” Bain said. He is working on a new Margaret Truman novel. “I’m setting a lot of it in Tampa.”
A shared love of art and jazz launched Vann and Bain’s friendship.
Vann’s artwork is on display at District III Tampa Police Headquarters on 22nd Street where he painted a set of vibrant murals depicting East Tampa’s history. His art also is at the Lee Davis Neighborhood Center, also on 22nd.
Van grew up in New York and as a teenager sneaked into jazz clubs. As an adult he taught art to inmates at Rikers Island and elsewhere during more than 20 years as an employee of the New York Department of Corrections.
He was put in touch with Bain through a mutual friend who also was Vann’s supervisor at the corrections’ department and at one time manager for jazz artist and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Bain over the years has bought some of Vann’s cubist artwork.
Bain abandoned Miami as a locale for his book in part to meet the Vanns in person for the first time. And he was intrigued enough by Tampa’s history to think it might be ideal for the next Jessica Fletcher mystery.
“There’s kind of a funky feel to Tampa which of course appeals to writers,” Bain said.