Martha Reed: Crime Writer Extraordinaire
Disgraced ex-police detective Jane Byrne is on the run. After surviving a brutal excessive-force civil lawsuit that scarred her with PTSD, she blows into New Orleans on her Ducati motorcycle looking for a fresh start, never expecting to uncover a hate-crime serial killer targeting NOLA’s inclusive LGBTQ community.
After reading this description of the fictional crime thriller, Love Power, I’m intrigued to meet the author, Martha Reed, who lives in Crescent Heights and retired last year as a senior project consultant for a local financial services firm.
It’s hard to imagine working in the financial world by day and writing mystery and crime fiction by night. Sort of a left-brain/right-brain dichotomy. But, Martha says it’s been the perfect balance between the analytical thinking required for the job and the creativity required to weave together a good story.
Her fascination for crime fiction was piqued early in life when her grandfather introduced her to murder mysteries. “There’s a puzzle aspect to crime fiction,” she says. “There’s always a trigger event (a villain commits a crime), and then a solution (the villain gets caught). The writer needs to figure out the middle and connect the dots.”
According to NPD BookScan, crime fiction is one of the most popular genres today – about 36 percent of all book sales fit into this category. Martha points to the wide diversity of the genre. There’s everything from cozy mysteries, like those that Agatha Christie wrote, to classic detective novels, thrillers, and realistic true-crime fiction. “Readers can find whatever flavor they’re interested in somewhere along the spectrum,” she says.
There’s also the satisfaction that comes from a story where, in the end, justice triumphs and the natural order is restored. “There is so much uncertainty in our day-to-day living and these types of stories can give us a framework for a comforting resolution,” says Martha.
Then there is the sense of a shared community, not only among the story’s characters who come together to solve the crime, but also among readers. That’s especially true in a series, says Martha, where “you can come back and check on the characters you’ve come to know, and find out what’s been going on with them. Readers like the continuity.”
Martha’s fans might find that sense of community in her John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket Mystery series. Set on the iconic island of Nantucket thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts, the series has received multiple award recognitions. Her first book in the series, The Choking Game, was a nominee in the 2015 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Awards. Her second, The Nature of the Grave, won a 2006 Independent Publisher Book Award Honorable Mention for Mid-Atlantic Best Regional Fiction, and book three, No Rest for the Wicked, was a 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award nominee.
More recently, this past August, her latest novel, Love Power was a 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Readers’ Choice Award winner. It’s a new series set in New Orleans and follows two heroines – ex-police detective Jane Byrne and a transgender sleuth, Gigi Pascoe. She’s currently working on a second book in the NOLA series, but won’t divulge any details. “No spoilers,” she teases.
She does admit, however, that the new book is turning out to be not at all what she thought when she first started drafting it. “You know the Bruce Springsteen Hungry Heart where the lyrics are, ‘I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.’ Well, sometimes you just have to go where the story takes you,” says Martha. “As I’m writing, the characters come to life and the twists surprise me. I can’t explain how it happens. I think of myself as the first reader. I’m reading the story as I’m writing it. There’s a wonderful moment about 30,000 words in where you know you’ve got it and you just need to write it out. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
In addition to several novels, Martha’s also published several short stories and articles in mystery journals. Where do her ideas come from? “I keep a messy folder of clippings,” says Martha. “When it’s time to start a new book, I’ll open the folder and see if anything looks interesting or starts to gel. It’s a game that I play, like casting a fishing net over a pond. It’s a magical process, so much fun.”
Although she always knew she wanted to be a writer, the path was anything but direct getting there. She studied journalism for two years at the University of Missouri, but realized she didn’t want to be a journalist. The next step was a BS degree in Secondary English Education from Boston University, but she didn’t want to teach English either. Instead, she worked as a financial typesetter in Dallas for 10 years, and then after moving to Pittsburgh, began a career in financial services project management.
She’d credits the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, an indie bookstore north of Pittsburgh that specializes in the mystery genre, for pointing her in the right direction. “The bookshop had a ‘Sisters in Crime’ meeting,” says Martha. “I walked in and found my people, and I never looked back. It was a real entry point for me; a doorway.”
In 2018, she attended Bouchercon, the annual crime fiction conference. That year it was held at the Vinoy on the downtown St. Pete waterfront. It was one of those perfect moments in September. “I stepped outside the hotel and looked at the marina, at the beautiful clear blue sky, and at all the people running around the park and being active. Everything clicked,” says Martha. She moved to St. Pete in January 2019. “Every day I find something else to love about living in the area,” she says. “The amazing arts community, the many coffee shops, great restaurants, and the best beaches. St. Pete has it all.”
She’s especially passionate about the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, where she’s currently a member-at-large on the board of directors. “I remember driving for the first time into downtown on I-375 on a Friday night and seeing this place that was all lit up with hundreds of people playing shuffleboard and dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire. I didn’t know what that was, but I knew I wanted to be part of it,” she says.
For a peek at some of Martha’s crime novels and short stories, go to www.reedmenow.com.
Martha is also vice president of the Florida Chapter of the Sisters in Crime, www.flgcsinc.com, a national organization that supports crime fiction writers, and she is an active member of the Florida Mystery Writers of America. www.mwaflorida.org.