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Secrets in Death


Secrets in Death

J.D. Robb’s In Death novels featuring Eve Dallas aren’t just part of a mystery series. There is an entire culture that has sprung up around them. It’s not “Star Trek,” and there aren’t any toys, but there are book groups devoted to discussions of the stories and characters, bulletin board forums and possibly more. The participants are almost entirely women, so it’s a bit of a closed sorority, though not by exclusion or design. Certainly Robb --- the pen name for mystery author Nora Roberts --- didn’t know that her mildly futuristic romantic suspense series set in mid-21st-century New York would take on such heady trappings, let alone still be going, stronger than ever, more than two decades after the first installment, NAKED IN DEATH, released.

The series is built on a terrific concept: A couple of hood rats who have overcome dead-end environments meet, fall in love and marry. Those two would be Eve Dallas, a hard-nosed and harder-armored New York homicide detective, and Roarke, a thief turned real estate entrepreneur who owns just about anything --- nightclubs, apartment complexes, you name it. Think of a three-dimensional Monopoly game played across continents and worlds; the winner is Roarke. Robb makes their improbable marriage and relationship work, and believably so, which is part of the charm of these books. However, the attraction of each and every one is the mystery, which is always intriguing, even as it rests upon the solid foundation of expectations that Robb has established for her readers. More on that in a moment.

"[T]he mystery at the heart of the novel and the ironic manner in which the ultimate revelation occurs is what should bring mystery/thriller enthusiasts and casual fans of speculative fiction to this series."

Some of the In Death novels let the reader in on the murderer’s identity at the beginning and tell the tale of Eve as she catches up through a combination of old-fashioned, dogged police work and the information superhighway, aided, as usual, by Roarke’s assistance. After all, a guy who can own literally anything he wants has to have sources that let him make an informed judgment on whether or not it’s worth having. Others in the series keep the reader in the same dark as Eve, following over her shoulder until the “aha!” moment. The newly published SECRETS IN DEATH falls solidly into the latter category.

It opens with Eve meeting a work associate for drinks in a bar that Roarke happens to own, one in which murder most foul is committed almost at her feet, if not under her nose. The victim is Larinda Mars, whose popular gossip television program had at least one person who was not a fan. Eve and her police partner, the always excitable Peabody, quickly learn that the information on the rich and famous that Larinda served up on a daily basis constituted only a small part of what she really knew. It seems that Larinda saved the juicier tidbits for herself, blackmailing an array of subjects by bleeding them for money payments while being careful not to cause anyone to hemorrhage. It was a clever but unscrupulous practice that apparently resulted in her demise when one of her targets decided that enough was enough. The act seems to have been meticulously planned rather than impulsive.

Eve’s investigation quickly establishes that there are a large number of potential suspects, past and present. One of them, however, was set off. By what? And why? Those are only a couple of the questions that Eve, Peabody and the ever-present Roarke (after all, the blood that was spilled was on his floor, as he hastens to remind Eve throughout the book) must resolve.

Does Robb engage in formula writing in SECRETS IN DEATH? Yes, to an extent. But what she does quite well and carefully here is to provide certain elements, from book to book, that her readers expect (I easily could say “demand”) to form a solid foundation for the story. One can count on at least two intimate scenes involving Eve and Roarke; a number of wardrobe presents from Roarke to Eve (always perfect, of course); and sharp-elbowed repartee between Eve and Somerset (Roarke’s mentor and manservant), among other things. However, the mystery at the heart of the novel and the ironic manner in which the ultimate revelation occurs is what should bring mystery/thriller enthusiasts and casual fans of speculative fiction to this series.

There is also a bit of lagniappe for readers who purchase the hardcover edition: two crossword puzzles --- and not easy ones --- on the inside of the book jacket. I don’t know who thought of it, but it’s a very smart marketing ploy that probably isn’t necessary to draw readers to this extremely popular and unique series but is a well-executed effort nonetheless.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 8, 2017

Secrets in Death
by J. D. Robb

  • Publication Date: January 2, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 1250123178
  • ISBN-13: 9781250123176