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Highland Park author Martin knows her audience

| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Pittsburgh author Nancy Martin
Nancy Martin's book 'A Little Night Murder'

When asked if she tries to achieve anything with each of her novels, Nancy Martin says, “I want the reader to turn the last page with a smile on her face.”

The female pronoun is intentional.

Martin recognizes her books, including the new release “A Little Night Murder: A Blackbird Sisters Mystery” (New American Library, 384 pages) aren't likely to appeal to men.

“Nobody writes for everybody,” the Highland Park resident says. “I decided a long time ago, I needed to know exactly who my reader is to make her happy. Yes, it's a woman, and I've even gotten very specific. Her name is Janet, she's over 40, she's very busy, an educated woman, maybe a teacher or a retired teacher. She knows something about the world, is sort of sophisticated, but she wants to read something on the beach or in the bathtub.”

Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont will host a book-launch party for Martin's book at 3 p.m. Aug. 2.

As the title implies, “A Little Night Murder” has a theatrical aspect. Nora Blackbird, the sanest of the three Blackbird sisters, is a society columnist for a Philadelphia newspaper. Nora is spending time at the estate of her friend, Lexie Paine, who was just released from prison after serving time for manslaughter.

Next door, Boom Boom Tuttle, the widow of famed Broadway composer Toodles Tuttle, is hoping to relaunch her career when her daughter Jenny turns up dead from ingesting too many energy drinks combined with diet pills.

When it's clear it's not a natural death, Nora gets involved while also dealing with her pregnancy, her wealthy Australian editor who has a crush on her, and her fiance, Michael “Mick” Abruzzo, formerly (according to him) of a noted Philadelphia crime family.

Not to mention Nora's off-kilter sisters, Libby and Emma, both of whom are prone to wild streaks.

“I have an aunt who is a psychoanalyst, and she says the three Blackbird sisters are my id, my ego and my super ego,” Martin says, laughing. “She's probably right.”

While the Blackbird Sisters books — now numbering 10 — are set in Philadelphia, Martin has another series based in Pittsburgh featuring Roxy Abruzzo (she's Michael's fictional half-sister), who sometimes serves as a debt collector for her uncle, a crime boss.

Martin, who grew up in Jefferson County and lived in Indiana, Pa., until moving to Pittsburgh in 2001, admits it took her a while to get a feel for writing about Western Pennsylvania.

“I decided that Pittsburghers worked hard and played hard,” Martin says. “Once I latched onto that idea, it was easier to write about Roxy and Pittsburgh as a city and a setting.

“For the Blackbird sisters, I knew I wanted to write about class, and that didn't fit Pittsburgh as a theme. But when my husband and I were visiting Bucks County, it made perfect sense for those thematic ideas.”

Because Martin's series are released by different publishers, she's unable to write a print book that brings the Abruzzos together. She has written two self-published novellas about Mick Abruzzo (released as ebooks) and plans to bring Roxy into his world.

But no matter the format or series, the goal remains the same: The last page has to produce that smile, and Martin admits she's been humbled by some of the feedback she gets. At least once a month, Martin receives a letter or email from a woman who has read one of her books with a dying mother or relative.

“Honestly, that has really affected me so deeply to be a part of people's lives at such an important turning point,” Martin says.

Rege Behe is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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