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Mystery author #34: Nancy Martin

Series: The Blackbird sisters
Series detective: Nora Blackbird, aided by her sisters Libby and Emma and Michael Abruzzo whom she is sort of dating but afraid to commit to
Type of investigator: Amateurs
Setting & time: Philadelphia, PA, USA; modern timeless
Type of mystery: Murder

Title: How to Murder a Millionaire
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 2002

Story: When her parents flee the country and leave her with the family farm that has a 2 million dollar tax debt on it, recently widowed Nora Blackbird needs to find a job to pay the bills. A former debutante and society wife, all she really knows how to do is plan parties and be a hostess. This turns out to be the perfect background when she is hired as a society reporter by an old friend of the family who happens to own a newspaper. But then Nora finds him dead and it turns out he was murdered. The police ask for her help, as she knows everyone involved and knows how Philly high-society works. She becomes deeply involved in the investigation when a valuable antique is handed to her to return to the dead man's estate. But several people seem to be after the antique, and Nora doesn't really know whom to trust.
Then there is Michael Abruzzo who bought part of her farm, enabling her to pay off part of the tax debt. She really should hate him for setting up a tacky used car lot down the road from her venerable old farmhouse and distrust him because he is the son of a mafia boss, but the man is just so damn delicious…

Review: I enjoyed this story on several levels. The characterizations of the sisters deftly skirt the stereotypes I feared they would turn out to be and they become real, if sometimes a bit exaggerated, persons, and the descriptions of fine parties come across as genuine, as well they might, the author having been brought up in the kind of society she describes in the book. The murder mystery was an interesting puzzle plot, and while I did correctly detect the villain before Nora did, it was interesting to see the plot unravel towards the denouement.

Rating: A great start to a mystery series with a romantic twist. 3+ stars.

Title: Dead Girls Don't Wear Diamonds
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 2003

Story: The wife of an old beau of Nora's is found murdered, and because the dead woman's father-in-law is slated as the next secretary of transportation, the FBI takes over the investigation. The local police are none too pleased, and one of them blackmails Nora into using her high-society connections to investigate the case. The dead woman had been a kleptomaniac and Nora gets into danger when she begins to investigate that as a possible motive for the woman's death. Meanwhile, her relationship with Michael Abruzzo is rocky. They are very attracted to each other, but Nora is still not ready to let got of the memory of her late husband, and Michael refuses to open up to her about his past and his family.

Review: While I did not quite enjoy this book as much as the previous one, I did like it and the mystery in this one was stronger. Too bad it had to be the same kind of killer as in the previous book. I still liked it.

Rating: Another good high-society mystery where Nora gets to use her connections to solve a murder mystery. 3 stars.

Author review: I like Martin's writing style and humour and the way she writes characters. I will definitely be on the look-out for more Blackbird sisters mysteries, if only to find out how things turn out between Nora and Michael.


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