Nancy Grace turns on the charm for her hometown fans

This was not the fearsome Nancy Grace of prime-time television, the sharp-tongued scourge of the accused and the lawyers who defend them.

This was the warm and compassionate Nancy Grace of Macon, Ga., eager to give her hometown fans all the kind words and face time they could ask for.

Grace, who gives her name to a weeknightly current affairs program on cable channel HLN, appeared Saturday afternoon at Books-A-Million bookstore on Eisenhower Parkway to autograph copies of her latest book. A line of about 100 people snaked around the perimeter of the store when Grace made her entrance about 1:20 p.m.

“Hi everybody!” Grace called out, waving as she walked toward the chair and table set up for her at the back of the store. “I’m sorry it took me so long. I had to get the twins down.”

She referred to the boy and girl she gave birth to about a year and 10 months ago, when she was 48. Little Lucy Elizabeth and John David were sleeping at their grandparents’ house in south Bibb County during the book signing.

Grace didn’t save her maternal manner for her own children, however.

“Who’s crying?” she asked, looking up from her autographing work when she heard a fussy child somewhere in the queue. Grace put down her pen and marched down the line until she found the source of the unhappy noise. It turned out to be 17-month-old Sara Anne Davis, sitting in a stroller before her mother, Cassandra Davis of Macon.

Grace crouched down in front of Sara Anne, rubbed the child’s little bare feet and soothed her.

“You are so sweet,” Grace cooed. “Look at you with your little pierced ears! Y’all come up to the front. It is so hard when you have children.”

Toddlers weren’t the only recipients of Grace’s gentle touch. She often held hands with her fans, called them “Precious” and gazed with feeling into their eyes as she asked them about their lives.

Most of the people in line clutched hardcover copies of “The Eleventh Victim,” Grace’s just-released novel. Grace published the nonfiction “Objection!” in 2005, but this is her first foray into fiction. “The Eleventh Victim” debuted at No. 6 on the New York Times’ hardcover fiction best seller list.

The protagonist of “The Eleventh Victim” is Hailey Dean, who, like Grace, lost her fiance to a murderer and began her career as an Atlanta prosecutor. After putting a serial killer behind bars, Hailey moves to New York to start a new life as a therapist. She soon discovers that she can’t leave her past behind so easily.

Grace said writing a novel is harder than hosting a television show.

“Because I practiced law for so long, analyzing cases is second nature to me,” she said. “But I would go through long periods of time without writing anything. It took me 10 years.”

Grace said she’s a longtime Agatha Christie fan and also enjoys books by Carl Hiaasen and John D. MacDonald. She’s already working an a sequel to “The Eleventh Victim.”

Grace was accompanied to the signing by her mother, her husband and her brother. A crew from the syndicated “Rachel Ray” TV show was on hand to get video images for an upcoming appearance by Grace.

One of the more excited Grace fans at Books-A-Million was 23-year-old Leigh Anne Landis, a second-year student at Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law. Landis, who grew up in Tuscumbia, Ala,, said she has wanted to be a prosecutor her whole life and chose Mercer because Grace earned her law degree there.

“I’ve been a fan for at least 10 years, from when she was on Court TV,” said Landis, who had come with a small group of Mercer law students. They all wore handmade buttons that read “We (heart) Nancy Grace.”

“She says things exactly how it is,” Landis said. “She tells the truth, there’s no sugar-coating. I’m not Catholic, but I imagine this would be what it’s like to meet the pope.”

Mercer President Bill Underwood showed up “just to say hello” to Grace, who sits on the university’s board of trustees.

“She obviously hasn’t forgotten where she comes from, and it’s wonderful for her to come and visit,” Underwood said.

Grace may spend much of her life in fast-paced New York, but she still knows that people down South like to linger and chat. She spent about four hours at Books-A-Million.

And after Landis and the law school contingent presented her with Mercer T-shirts, Grace showed that she observes the great Southern tradition of the thank-you note.

Turning to her assistant, she asked, “Could you get their information so I can thank them for these?”