Retired schoolteacher Jessica Fletcher is shocked to find out that not only did her nephew send her manuscript to a publisher, but it's been accepted! Jessica is caught up in a whirlwind of publicity tours, book signings, and public appearances, but everything takes a turn when she attends a costume party and a private investigator dressed as Sherlock Holmes ends up facedown in the pool, shot. Jessica initially tries to stay out of things until her nephew Grady becomes the prime suspect, and Jessica decides to take matters into her own hands while fighting her attraction to Preston Giles, the first man to interest her since the death of her husband Frank.
After a terrible storm, Stephen Earl's four daughters tell Sheriff Tupper that their father died while they were out on the boat. Jessica is only midly intrigued; she finds Ralph, the older gentleman who has offered to work for food, much more intriguing, especially since it is obvious he comes from money. The womens' stories about what happened on the boat change constantly, but once Ralph is found dead and later found to be Stephen Earl, Jessica has to help Amos wage through the inconsistencies in the four Earl daughters storylines to determine who killed their father and why.
Jessica heads to San Francisco for the wedding of her niece, Victoria Brandon, only to learn that Victoria is having second thoughts because she suspects that her fiancé, Howard, is having an affair. Although Jessica and Victoria are relieved to learn that Howard isn't cheating but rather dressing up as a woman to perform at a nightclub, the relief is short lived when Howard is arrested for murdering his boss, Al Drake, who had been refusing to pay him. The police are convinced that Drake was shot during Freddy York's act, which doesn't leave a lot of time, but Jessica is determined to prove Howard's innocence.
Jessica's first book, The Corpse Danced at Midnight, is being made into a major Hollywood motion picture, backed by producer Jerry Lydecker. Jessica is furious to see how her book is being butchered by Lydecker and his crew. She heads out to Hollywood to confront Lydecker, but things take a turn when Lydecker is found dead on stage. Jessica ends up being the prime suspect in the murder, but luckily the officer in charge of the investigation believes she's too smart to be the killer and sets her up to find the real murderer.