#38 First Kiss ...?
***SPOILER ALERT: This blog posting contains mild spoilers for the B plot of Donald Bain’s A Fatal Feast. If you don’t want to know details of things that happen in that B plot, go forth and finish reading the book before coming back to view my commentary here.***
You don’t have to be a J&G ‘shipper (that’s fan fiction parlance for a fan who favors pairing Jessica and George Sutherland in a romantic relationship) to realize that Donald Bain’s latest MSW novel, A Fatal Feast, is a different sort of book from others he has written. After many, many books of hewing to the “just friends” status of George and Jessica’s relationship, this book unexpectedly blooms with a romantic B plot the likes of which has not been seen since George first confessed to Jessica that he was in love with her back in The Highland Fling Murders - a book that was published more than twelve years ago.
Seeing as how this is the first book to more-or-less officially declare them to be an item - even if Mr. Bain never actually comes out and says so in plain English - I proclaimed this scene at the end of Chapter 8 to be their official First Kiss:
I walked him to the door, where we kissed good night. I watched him get into the car and start the engine. He looked back at me, and for a moment I thought he was about to get out and accept my offer of a nightcap. He didn’t. He blew me a kiss and drove off.
I closed the door, leaned against it, and smiled. Despite all the recent stresses and strains, I felt truly happy. (p 94 [hardcover edition])
Not so fast, my friend Sarah responded before reminding me that George does kiss Jessica in a previous book - 2004’s A Vote for Murder. Being more familiar with that novel than I am, she was able to point me to the exact chapter and verse were it happens, a scene that I had completely forgotten about:
“Sleep tight, Mrs. Fletcher. And remember that you don’t have to single-handedly solve the murder of Miss Nikki Farlow.”
“And you remember that although you’re a big, strong Scotland Yard inspector, it doesn’t make you immortal. The crime rate in Washington, I’m told, is far above the national average.”
“Jessica, I -”
“Just don’t let anything happen to you, George. Good night.”
He leaned down and kissed me gently on the lips. “Good night.”
I stood for a moment, watching him leave the hotel. He turned just before the door and smiled.
I smiled back. (p 106 [paperback edition])
In my defense, that kiss good night happens so quickly and with so little fanfare that it was easy to forget. And if we’re going to count quick, fleeting, don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it kisses, then the actual first kiss happened at the end of 1997‘s The Highland Fling Murders:
There was that awkward moment of silence when two people who like each other very much search for final words of parting. George finally said, “I won’t put you in an awkward position, Jessica. Go on. Get out. The porter there will take your bags. We’ll be in touch.”
He said it without looking at me.
He faced me. “Yes?”
“Thank you for being you.”
My lips brushed his, and I squeezed his hand. “Until next time,” I said.
“Ay. I pray it comes fast. Safe home.”
“Yes. Safe home.” (p 288 [paperback edition])
As far as potential first kisses go, these are both pretty tame - almost dull. The near misses - times when they try to get a kiss in but are interrupted - are much richer scenes with more suspense, more emotion, more ... well, everything. Take the near miss at the beginning of A Vote for Murder:
George pulled a fresh handkerchief from his pocket, tucking it into my hand. He leaned close and placed his fingertips next to my closed eye. “Maybe we should go back into the house,” he said, “and take care of that.”
I blinked rapidly and opened my eye, dabbing tears away with his handkerchief. “It feels better now.” George’s face was close to mine. We looked into each other’s eyes. “We probably should go back anyway,” I whispered.
“In a minute,” he murmured.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.” The voice came from the direction of the French doors. George and I jumped apart.
“You didn’t,” George said, clearing his throat. “Mrs. Fletcher had a mote in her eye.” (p 51 [paperback edition])
It’s especially true for the aborted attempt in 1995’s Martinis and Mayhem, a scene which featured a very thoughtful, very moving, very substantive build-up that took them to the very brink before they were interrupted:
"You do know how much I appreciate everything you're doing for me."
"I've done nothing."
"Moving over here to the St. Francis, listening to me, understanding me."
"I only wish we had more time together, Jessica, to develop that understanding." We stood close to each other. I looked into his green eyes, gentle, kind eyes as I remembered them being the first time we met in London, over tea at Brown’s Hotel. Even though he’d been interrogating me at the time, and had actually considered me a possible suspect in the murder of my dear friend and reigning queen of mystery writing, Dame Marjorie Ainsworth, he was kind and considerate.
"I would like that, too, George," I said, averting my gaze and pretending to rearrange books that didn’t need rearranging.
"You might have noticed, Jessica, that I'm quite fond of you.”
I continued to focus on the books. He came up behind me and said, "I know I'm not the most handsome of men. Nor am I the success that you are. I am just a copper. But I sense a certain kinship between us. It's the sort of feeling I haven't enjoyed since my wife died so many years ago."
I turned. "George," I said, "you are a very handsome man. And you are a great success. I would be less than honest if I didn't admit to strong feelings for you, too. A kinship, as you put it. But we really don't know much about each other. We really don't know each other at all."
"You make my point exactly, Jessica. All I'm suggesting is that we create the opportunity to get to know each other better. It might turn out that familiarity truly does breed contempt. But I rather think it won't. I think of you a great deal, Jessica, as I sit in my office, or take a holiday at what was my family's home in Wick. And when I do, I can't help but recite Robbie Burns to myself."
I smiled. "And what did Robert Burns write that I remind you of?"
"A small ditty - a tribute to his wife. Let me see: 'Of a' the airts the wind can blaw, I dearly like the west, For there the bonnie Lassie lives, The Lassie I lo'e best.'"
"That's - that's very touching, George."
"Ah, good old Robbie Burns. Putting into words what we feel, but cannot say."
He placed his hands on my shoulders and looked deep into my eyes. His lips came close to mine. I took a breath, and closed my eyes.
The phone’s first ring sounded as though it had been magnified a thousand times. It jolted my eyes open, and caused me to flinch. (p 145 [paperback])
This begs the question: with the near-misses getting so much ink, why are the actual times when they do kiss glossed over, thus making it difficult to identify what was, in fact, their true “first kiss?”
The most likely explanation is that if Mr. Bain were to attempt to write a genuine, significant first kiss scene, something worthy of following in the footsteps of that lovely scene in Martinis and Mayhem, it would set off the alarm bells over at Universal’s editorial censor department, resulting in it being struck from the manuscript. This is exactly what may have happened to 2007’s Coffee, Tea, or Murder, a book that clearly suffered from overzealous editing on the part of Universal. According to Mr. Bain himself, the book failed to live up to its pre-publication hype because the folks at Universal didn’t approve of what they read:
I keep trying to advance [Jessica and George’s] relationship, but MCA-Universal, which owns the Jessica Fletcher character, wields a fast and vicious blue pencil on those scenes. ... I created myriad scenes between Jessica and George, many of which had to be toned down in the final manuscript. ... I do feel, as you do, that they go to extremes, and my editor at NAL shared my disappointment that certain scenes in Coffee, Tea, or Murder? had to be cut or edited. (Donald Bain’s website Discussion Page, 2007)
It has always been my pet theory that one of the cut scenes was George and Jessica’s first proper kiss, though of course I’ll never know for sure.
The irony, then, is how Universal, after doing such a hatchet job on Coffee, Tea, or Murder, could allow so much to get by in A Fatal Feast. There is a lot of light romance-related activity going on in A Fatal Feast - at least two good night kisses that I counted, together with a lot of non-Platonic touching, a fairly intimate massage, and some unusually open discussion about marriage. It makes one wonder: where exactly is the relationship bar set on this series? Does it vary from censor to censor at Universal, or was there a thawing in their attitude towards letting Mr. Bain make Jessica and George a couple? Are they fine with everything as long as the relationship remains officially ambiguous (true to series canon), even if it’s ambiguous in name only?
Because let’s face it: you’d have to be pretty dense not to see what’s really going on in this book when you read between the lines.
Posted by jesmaine
at 1:17 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 24 October 2009 6:52 PM EDT