Mystery 101: Words Can Kill (2019)

“Words can kill” sounds like a slogan for our times, but in this case, it’s the title of episode three in the Mystery 101 series. Our players have gathered for the “Murder We Wrote” festival organized by professor-sleuth Amy Winslow (Jill Wagner), and coincidentally, the biggest draw is her father, professor emeritus and best-selling mystery author Graham Winslow (Robin Thomas). Graham’s a little crotchety, a bit irritated-older-cousin-of-a-Bobby-Canavale-character type of guy, so when he learns that his former publisher, Betsy Crane (Marci T. House), and his long-time rival, Rick Fitch (Milo Shandel), will also be attending, he decides to go off on his new publisher, Celia Bunton (Nathalie Boltt), and withdraw entirely.

That is, until he learns that Ms. Bunton is a smoking English lady, and of course he’ll do what he needs to sell books and please his audience and secure a possible movie deal. In no time, he and Celia are pushing the boundaries of their work relationship. Old colleague Betsy, meanwhile, is setting off her own fireworks, though of a different kind. Before the first day is out, Betsy gets in an argument with everyone and ends up dead in her burned out RV. A lot of attendees make it onto the suspect list – Rick, who was grumbling about his sales; consultant Phil Jenk (Eric Keenleyside), who was owed thousands of dollars; and German superfan, Hannah (Rhona Rees), who was very protective of her favourite author. Graham, however, is the one who gets arrested. This puts a strain on Amy’s relationship with Travis (Kristoffer Polaha). He doesn’t think that Graham is the murderer, but a detective’s gotta do what a detective’s gotta do.

It’s an easy case to solve, which is why I wish the writers would drop more hints about the motive. Belatedly piecing together the killer’s reasoning is more of a cop out than it is clever. The revelation isn’t earned; the suspect was clear yet the motive obscured. This could be said of most of Hallmark’s mysteries, but I wish the writers would make this a real guessing game, one worthy of the hour and a half I’m putting in. It’s the wrong channel for that kind of challenge though, which is also why I was hoping for more romance and personal drama. Last time that came in the form of TA Bud (Preston Vanderslice) and eager beaver rookie Claire (Sarah Dugdale). The two don’t get much screentime at all and are pushed away in favor of the relationship between Amy and her dad. I’m indifferent about the shift in focus for now, but I’m not confident about the dramatic potential. This episode makes it clear that Graham is a straight arrow and going forward, he’ll do what he’s always done, and that is provide his daughter with fatherly encouragement and wisdom.

Highlight for spoilers: The lovely English lady did it because of course she did. Celia killed Betsy because the latter had rights to an Atticus Keller movie franchise and stood to make millions even though Celia was now Graham’s publisher. Celia tried to frame Rick, whose hotel room was next to hers, by placing the evidence in his closet. When he found out, he tried to both blackmail her and frame Graham. Celia killed him by luring him to a remote hiking spot and then bashing him in the head with a rock. Jenk, a corrupt cop, turns out to have been her part-time conspirator and was the one who broke into her office. Meanwhile, Arnold Van Fleet, the man killed in front of Graham’s house had nothing to do with the case. His estranged wife, Joyce aka Hannah aka super German fan, accidentally killed him because he was jealous of her infatuation with Graham.

Released: 2019
Dir: Andy Mikita
Writer: John Christian Plummer
Cast: Jill Wagner, Kristoffer Polaha, Robin Thomas, Sarah Dugdale, Preston Vanderslice, Amanda Wong, Lossen Chambers, Nathalie Boltt, Eric Keenleyside, Marci T. House, Heather-Claire Nortey, Milo Shandel, Rhona Rees
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019