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Crescent Blues Book ViewsNew American Library (Hardcover), ISBN 0451213955

In any series, the fourth book can trap a writer. Cover too much old material and loyal readers will skip paragraphs and perhaps pages of recap material. Reveal too little and new readers get lost in the mire of established characters and motives. Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die, Nancy Martin's fourth book in the Blackbird Sisters series, avoids these traps by both continuing an ongoing story arc and standing well alone.

Book: nancy martin, cross your heart and hope to die

In a very simplified version, the continuing story arc looks something like this: Nora Blackbird's wealthy parents skip town, leaving Nora with a two million dollar tax bill. Never having worked a day in her life, Nora finds a job with the local paper assisting the social pages grand dame, Kitty Keough. In her spare time she falls for reputed mob boss Mike Abruzzo and deals with her wacky sisters, the vodka-addicted Emma and the over-sexed, under-brained Libby.

Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die finds Nora racing off to cover a breakthrough in undergarments, the Brinker Bra, designed by a narcissistic and sadistic man from her high society past. The Brinker Bra, a confection in latex, stands to make Brinker millions, revolutionizing the way women support themselves. The fashion show, filled to the brim with the cream of the high society crop, holds several surprises for Nora, including her sister on a horse in little but a Brinker Bra.

Fashion show attended and reported on, Nora's largest concern revolves around her New Year's Eve party. The supposedly intimate gathering quickly balloons to an event Nora can no longer afford. Nora quickly shoves this problem to the back burner when Kitty shows up on her doorstep -- dead and hogtied. Nora faints, and when she wakes up, the cops arrest Mike for Kitty's murder on the slimmest of premises. Now Nora faces a bigger problem than an overgrown guest list: proving that her boyfriend didn't kill her boss, all the while keeping her job and keeping her sisters in check.

Martin's characters and their relationships make this book both entertaining and touching. Nora combines incredible sophistication (she knows which occasions call for Armani and which for Chanel) and hard-earned common sense (when to bring back-up and when to rely on the Mafia boys). Libby's newest venture, a marital aid business called Passions and Potions, causes Nora a good deal of embarrassment, while Emma's recent escape from a rehab hospital wreaks havoc with Nora's protective sisterly instincts.

Witty and humorous, the pages of Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die seem to turn themselves. Quick with a witty comment even as she uncovers unsavory details about those in her social circle, Nora's narration keeps the reader laughing. Gritty plot twists and complex motives keep the book from becoming too mushy and Nora's inner struggles with her feelings for Mike keep the romantics among us interested.

Ceridwen Lewin

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