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JD Robb

REVIEW: Fantasy in Death by JD Robb

REVIEW: Fantasy in Death by JD Robb

Fantasy in Death by JD RobbDear Ms. Robb:

This is a difficult review for me to write, because something happens in Fantasy in Death that many will likely regard as insignificant, but which for me changed the series in a fundamental way. Several books ago, Jane noted that Eve did something at the end of Creation in Death that seemed completely out of character for her. Whether blip or character shift, only time would resolve, and for me, with this book, it's resolved in favor of a frustrating change in Eve's character. Readers who see Eve as any different or who don't find the change I see concerning will probably find Fantasy in Death a much more satisfying book than I did. Especially if they are enjoying the stronger mystery/procedural focus the series has recently acquired.

When techno boy wonder Bart Minnock is found dead in his locked holo room, burned, bloody, and alone except for the disk of the new game his up and coming company, U-Play, is readying for sale, the NYPSD and Eve Dallas are stumped. There was no sign of tampering with Bart's droid, his apartment, or the lock on the holo room, and no record of any visitors since he came home from work the previous day. As soon as the e-team tries to retrieve the game disk from the hard drive, it self-destructs, a safety measure Bart had in place to deter spying and stealing. How could a guy who seemed to have no enemies and whose biggest competition was the man who had generously helped Bart build his business (Roarke) be murdered? How could anyone actually get in that room to murder him?

These mysteries generally run one of two ways: Eve has a suspect in mind from the beginning and spends the book setting him/her/them up, or she is working to narrow down a broad field of suspects before revealing the killer near the end of the book. Fantasy in Death is of the second variety, and it is an effective suspense builder, as the way Bart died is so closely connected to who might have done it. From Bart's girlfriend to his three partners to game company competitors to the kids in his building who played various games with him, there are numerous people around Bart who could have been responsible, even though it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting a guy like Bart dead. Affable, honest, brilliant, non-threatening, and young, Bart is a rather unlikely murder victim. In fact, was it even murder that took his life?

For the past handful of books, I have been noting a decided shift toward a bigger emphasis on the mystery and police procedural aspects of the series. While Robb has always woven the relationship and mystery elements together, the past few books have featured Roarke and Eve working together on these cases, almost like partner detectives, with Roarke's own world-domination a footnote at best and any battles between them erupting in the context of the case or over a somewhat mundane issue. I will return in a bit to the main conflict between Eve and Roarke in this book, because it connects to my most substantial problem with Fantasy in Death, but in terms of their personal life more generally, Nadine's book launch is the primary "life event" featured in this book (and note that the book is launched in print hardcover!), allowing Trina to make her usual terrorizing appearance, Leonardo to design a fab dress for Eve, and the extended gang of friends to dress up and mingle at the launch party. These appearances are becoming routine (Eve feels compelled to say something nice about Mavis's baby Bella, Peabody gets to dress up and be complimented by Roarke, etc.), although they are reassuring in regard to series continuity.

As for the mystery, I actually guessed the method early on, although it took me a while to catch on to the responsible party. Fantasy in Death felt current to 2010 in its specific focus on gaming and on the changing technologies we are, even now, seeing around us. I have always wanted the more futuristic aspects of the In Death world to be more directly featured in the books (as they were in the beginning), and Fantasy in Death delivers on this a bit more than quite a few of the recent books have. I enjoyed all that quite well, and even though I caught on pretty quickly to what was going on, it was still fun to watch Eve's brain sift through various suspects and theories. I've always found her most compelling when she's in "cop mode," and there's a great deal of that in this book.

Where I had real issues was in the way Eve's moral compass, the aspect of her that has been so powerfully inflexible since the beginning of the series, has, in my opinion, gone inexplicably wonky (well, I think there is an explanation, but I'll get to that). I still remember the huge battle Eve and Roarke undertook in Purity in Death over whether "justice" as Eve or Roarke sees is should prevail over the limits of the law and Roarke tells her how "black and white" she is. Or when, later in the book, she makes a deal with a dirty cop who took the law into his own hands to bring down his confederates:

She looked away from him a moment because knowing she'd try for the deal made her sick. The greater good, she told herself. Sometimes justice couldn't sweep clean.

Or what about Conspiracy in Death when Eve temporarily loses her badge and is literally inconsolable because her respect for the law is so complete and her dedication to enforcing it so fundamental to her identity. How many times in the series has Eve taken a stand to do things the "right" way, from within the letter of the law? Dirty cops have disgusted her, cops who take the law into their own hands have enraged her, and she's made many hard choices out of respect for the law. Even her use of Roarke's unregistered equipment has made her feel conflicted, although that lessened once she was able to officially bring Roarke on board to her investigative team. Any mercy she has shown has been carried out within the letter of the law, even if it was at the very edge. So, a few books ago, when Eve stepped out of that moral absolutism in regard to a suspect it was extremely shocking to me. It seemed a very clear and abrupt change of direction for a character whose identity for more than 20 books has been consistent in regard to her respect for the law.

Whether that change was a blip has, in my mind at least, been settled by Fantasy in Death. And my belief now is that Eve has changed, and the change is a function of what I see as the new series focus, namely Eve and Roarke, married detectives. Here Roarke, runs a deep security check on his own employees, because of the close professional connection between his company and Bart Minnock's (yes, of course Roarke is developing new gaming technologies). Eve objects strenuously to this search, not so much because it violates police procedure but because he does so without telling her and being told by her to do it:

"Any data from your run has to coincide with mine, and officially come from mine whether it clears your whole crew or somebody bobs to the surface."

"I know how it works, Lieutenant. I'll just get back to it then, so you can have what you need and shift it back to your side of the line." . . .

She sat brooding into her wine. She didn't know, exactly, why they were at odds. They were doing basically the same thing for basically the same reason.

Basically.

But he should've let her do it, or waited until she'd assigned him to do it. And that probably grated. The assign portion. Couldn't be helped. She was the LT, she was the primary, she gave the damn orders.

Now she was passing aggravated and heading toward pissed, she realized.

She'd just been trying to shield him a little. Wasn't that her job, too? she thought in disgust as she rose. Part of the marriage deal? So why were they fighting when she'd done her job?

So Roarke's stepping outside the strict limits of the law is now merely a challenge to Eve's authority and a frustration of marital responsibilities? While I have always enjoyed the petty struggles Eve and Roarke engage in; I even enjoy the petty aspects of Eve's character – they help make her human and relatable. But the old Eve, in my opinion, would have been worried that Roarke was himself going to take the law into his own hands, not so much whether she should have assigned the work to Roarke first.

If, indeed, the series is moving more toward Eve and Roarke as a detective team, Roarke has to become more "official," and thus his often unorthodox methods have to become more "official," and I wonder if this is why Eve has taken a turn away from her previous stance of the law above all. It makes a certain sense that this would be the case, and certainly, spending two years married to Roarke has challenged many of Eve's previously unchallenged biases. However, for me, her fundamental respect of the law and its limits has been the most defining aspect of her character, and I fear that is going to be more and more undermined as the series – and Eve and Roarke's professional partnership – moves forward.

As far as the mystery and procedural aspects of Fantasy in Death are concerned, while I can never read the interrogation scenes without counting the Constitutional violations (and yes, I assume that a society that still has some version of Miranda hasn't substantially altered the Bill of Rights), I found the book moderately enjoyable. Not the best of the series, nor the worst. Somewhere between feeling engaged and entertained and wishing for a bit more fire and novelty in the series, or between a B- and a C+.

~Janet

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
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This is a hardcover. The mass market release is set for July 2010.

REVIEW:  Strangers in Death by JD Robb

REVIEW: Strangers in Death by JD Robb

Dear Ms. Roberts:

I discovered the In Death series almost 20 books in (at the publication of Portrait in Death), so I had the opportunity to read a big chunk of Eve and Roarke’s story all at once. I was immediately and completely caught up in the fictional futuristic world, from the tumultuous adventure of Eve and Roarke’s courtship and marriage, to Peabody and McNab’s touching and funny transformation from antagonists to lovers, to the HoloRoom and AutoChef and hovering cars and every other technological transformation of half a century into the future. It really felt like one integrated story to me, and I couldn’t get enough. Now, after a few more years and almost ten more books in the series, I still feel compelled to check in with Eve and Roarke and New York circa 2060. But whether it’s the months between books or the circumstances of any long series, my enthusiasm shifts back and forth with each new book. With Strangers in Death, my experience was mixed: I loved reading about the investigation but was not so enraptured by the relationship aspects of the novel.

This time out Eve must solve the murder of Thomas A. Anders, a charming and respected sporting goods magnate found dead in his own bed in what appears to be an erotic asphyxiation gone bad. His wife was out of town at the time, suggesting that Mr. Anders had some secrets and perhaps a bit of the kink, something especially humiliating for his family and in stark opposition to his reputation for honesty, sportsmanship, and fidelity. How does Eve endeavor to solve the murder of a man who seems to have no enemies and whose death isn’t one in a string of serial murders?

Like in those wonderful old episodes of Columbo, in Strangers in Death Eve fixes on a suspect quickly, which creates a taut pleasure for the reader who gets to watch her unravel the mystery, thread by thread. Knowing who did it means little if Eve can’t prove it, especially when the high profile of a case like this makes it imperative that she tuck in every single loose end. This has probably become my favorite set-up in the series, because I so often guess the killer very early on that there’s less enjoyment for me in having Eve catch up than there is in watching her match her instinct with the evidence, hoping that she and I have both guessed right. And Eve’s in fine form here, fully confident in her suspicions and wonderfully sharp in both insight and tongue. She’s back to threatening the local addicts into keeping her POS cop car safe, smart-mouthing Summerset, bantering with Baxter (aka Detective Pig-Eater) and Morris, and sparring with Peabody:

“This is going to have to come out of my Roarke fund.” [paying off a bet to Eve] “You have a fund for Roarke? To donate to him, or to try to buy him?”
“I wish – on the buying part. It’d be a skim for McNab. We have a deal where we both get to pick one person, and if we ever got the chance to . . .” She closed her fist, pumped it while she wiggled her eyebrows. “With said person, the other of us would understand. A one-shot deal. I picked Roarke.”
“Well, he’s a superior lay, so you’d have that before I peeled the skin off your still quivering body, roasted it on an open fire, and then force-fed it to you.”
“Okay then. So . . .” Clearing her throat, Peabody turned the cube on record. “I owe Dallas, Lieutenant Meaniepants Eve, twenty dollars to be paid out of my hard-earned, under-appreciated detectives salary next payday. Peabody, Detective Churchmouse Delia.”

This is the Eve I have enjoyed and admired throughout the series – the Eve who is “the top bitch cop in New York City,” because she understands the law inside and out and has an amazing insight into people and what they try to hide beneath the surface. And when Eve’s in cop mode the novel clips along, the movements logical, the pacing sharp and even. I can never tell how revised the Constitutional protections are in Eve’s world, because they don’t always conform to current versions of the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments, so there are things during the evidence gathering, interrogation, and charging stages of the investigation that I just choose to ignore. And although I wondered at the wisdom and logic of Eve sharing her suspicions with a couple of characters, overall the investigation was the most consistently compelling aspect of the book for me, reigniting that same excitement I had during my original series glom.

What didn’t work so well for me in Strangers in Death were the parts of the story that focused Eve and Roarke’s relationship. I realize that because Eve and Roarke have been together a much shorter time than we have been reading the series that there is sometimes a disconnect between the reader’s time frame and the characters’. This is, I think, why some readers are tired of Eve’s flashbacks and the like. And the good news for those readers is that Eve doesn’t have any bad dreams in this book, nor does she get unglued by the sexual elements of the crime. That felts a bit off to me, precisely because she and Roarke have been together for a relatively short time and her emotional trauma has been portrayed as so acute. Also, while one aspect of Eve’s emotional insecurity seems to have abated, that urgent intensity between she and Roarke, the undercurrent of desperation between them, continues to be expressed strongly. And those two elements have been powerfully intertwined in the series, so to see them separate was not completely convincing to me.

I also have to admit to some reader’s fatigue of my own in regard to that relationship intensity. For example, at one point Roarke comes home to find Eve working, and — again, still — he’s bowled over by the depth of his feelings for her:

She’d taken off her jacket, tossed it over a chair, and still wore her weapon harness. Which meant she’d come in the door and straight up. Armed and dangerous, he thought. It was a look, a fact of her, that continually aroused him. And her tireless and unwavering dedication to the dead – to the truth, to what was right – had, and always would, amaze him. . .
She sensed him. He saw the moment she did, that slight change of body language. And when her eyes shifted from her comp screen to his, the cold focus became an easy, even casual warmth.
That, he thought, just that was worth coming home for.

I think that some version of this monologue has occurred at least once in every book, along with all the peaks and valleys of their lovemaking, those consistent – and dramatic – reassurances of the intensity of their physical and emotional bonds and the surprise in both of them that they really did end up happily together. Even the language feels repetitive (i.e. Roarke’s lyrically poetic face and Eve’s intoxicating whiskey eyes). I was talking to a friend about this, and she suggested that Eve and Roarke have not yet developed a lightness of being with each other, an ability to tease and take each other a little for granted. I think she’s right, and I don’t mind that in and of itself, but because some aspects of their character development in the relationship seem a bit fast-tracked while others have become somewhat repetitive, I have a hard time tuning into the relationship with the unremitting seriousness that Eve and Roarke still do.

In fact, I was incredibly relieved when they finally had a fight about two-thirds of the way through the book, because even though it was basically the same argument they have over and over (Roarke: "why can’t you trust me enough to depend on me?’ Eve: "why can’t you trust that I can take care of myself?’), it broke some of the melodramatic tension. And while I understand the vagaries of relationship evolution, sometimes it feels more like a heavy authorial hand than a natural unevenness setting the trajectory of Eve and Roarke’s relationship. Although I did chuckle with satisfaction over a reference to Magdalena (“Magdabitch” as Eve refers to her) that played nicely into the plot at one point.

Readers sometimes complain that secondary characters have become gratuitously planted in these books, and for the most part I didn’t feel that way here. Trina got a reference but no personal appearance. Louise and Charles came on scene in a way that was actually relevant to Eve’s investigation, and both Summerset and Mavis were present and accounted for but minimally obnoxious. I do have one quibble, though, which is that I’m starting to miss some of the more futuristic aspects of the series. When was the last time Eve and Roarke took a HoloTrip? Why isn’t Eve beating traffic with a patrol car capable of going vertical? I enjoyed those touches, and I think a number of them have fallen away.

When contemplating a grade for this book, I realized how divergent my reactions to the police procedural and relationship aspects of the book were. When Eve was in the groove of working, I was completely engaged in the novel, and when she and Roarke were in relationship mode, I vacillated between boredom and frustration. So in the end I decided to split that difference, awarding the procedural aspects of the book a B+ and the relationship parts a C. I have no idea how that averages out, but in the same way I couldn’t reconcile the different aspects of the book, I have no interest in trying to do so with the grades.

~ Janet

This book can be purchased in hardcover or ebook format (only in Mobipocket that I could find).