Nora Blackbird was living the good life among the posh blue bloods of Philadelphia’s Main Line. True, she and her two sisters were widows, likely as a result of the Blackbird curse, but time heals all wounds–even the unexpected ones.
Unfortunately, as any good reader will know, the sins of the parents are always visited upon the children. In How to Murder a Millionaire (2002), Nancy Martin‘s first Blackbird Sisters mystery, those sins come in the form of tax evasion.
“To squander the last dollar left in the Blackbird family fortune, my parents threw a lawn party that would have made Jay Gatsby proud.”
Nora’s older sister, Libby, received the family furniture. Emma, the youngest Blackbird, landed the Blackbird art collection. Nora, our narrator, received the family homestead.
“Perhaps under the impression that I was the most responsible member of the family–which only means I’m the one who never entered a wet T-shirt contest–Mama and Daddy gave me the Bucks County farm. Then they blew the country for a sunny resort that catered to American tax evaders, leaving stardust in their wake and me with a delinquent property tax bill for two million dollars.”
Trained as a debutante, with little practical experience in anything else, Nora has a problem. Desperate for money to support herself (and funnel into IRS pockets), Nora gets a job as a society columnist for the Philadephia Intelligencer working as an assistant to Philadephia’s most-hated society columnist. It’s a change that surprises most of Nora’s wealthy friends and associates, but for most part, life as a society writer is stirkingly similar to life as a debutante, the main difference being the presence of a ubiquitous pen and notebook.
As Nora learns on her first assignment, the presence of a dead body is also different. When Nora finds the host of her first party assignment, a family friend and wealthy art collector, dead, Nora feels compelled to investigate. Complications arise when tough-talking Emma and free-spirit Libby decide to help.
Meanwhile, Nora is left to deal with the ever-present back taxes on her own as she contemplates her options (and the definitely sexy, possible mobster’s son, willing to buy up the farm’s extra property).
While it isn’t always laugh-out-loud funny, How to Murder a Millionaire is quirky and entertaining. Martin creates memorable characters, especially the sisters who unsurprisingly are at the core of the plot. Her prose is light and fast moving. Nora’s narration pulls no punches describing Philadelphia’s elite and all of their foibles. Other reviewers have suggested that this novel is unrealistic–not being a Philadelphia debutant I cannot judge that for myself save to say that everything seems as plausible as a fictitious story can.
If you enjoy this novel, the Blackbird Sisters make their next appearance in Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds.