By J. D. Robb
#1 USA Today bestseller, 9/15/16
What it is: The 43rd(!) entry in the “in Death” series of crime novels by J. D. Robb, pseudonym of romance writer Nora Roberts. The series takes place in the future and centers around hardboiled NYC cop Eve Dallas. In this entry, set in 2061, she faces off against a master/apprentice pair of serial snipers terrorizing the city.
I apologize for slacking on these blog posts this week. I’ve been busy apartment-hunting, get off my back. I SAID GET OFF MY BACK!
Anyway, I didn’t like this book but it will be kind of fun to write about, since it’s one of those pop cultural pieces that totally forgoes subtlety and self-awareness in its appeals to the fantasies and anxieties of its audience, which in this case I assume consists mainly of middle-aged suburban moms. The protagonist, Lieutenant Eve Dallas, has all the toughness expected of modern working women while still enjoying the fulfilled ambitions of traditional femininity, as embodied by her husband Roarke, one of the most ludicrously perfect characters I’ve ever encountered: A chiseled, obsessively devoted Irish billionaire who can and does drop his incredibly lucrative work at the drop of a hat to assist Dallas with his brilliant coding skills (or engage in a gratuitously extensive, graphic sex scene). Dallas is of course too hard-nosed and practical to be interested in girly stuff like interior design or babies or other people’s relationships, but that doesn’t stop the book itself from indulging in such subjects for pages upon pages. She has no children of her own, but when the main villain is revealed (spoiler alert, though this isn’t really treated as a big twist) to be a sociopathic teenage girl, the main conflict plays out as the darkest possible sublimation of the tension between a mother and her snotty 15-year-old daughter.
All of that is kind of fun in its goofy wish-fulfillment way. Less endearing is the book’s hardcore law-and-order attitude. Dallas consistently views any sort of checks on police power–legal representation, minors not being tried as adults, media attention–as misguided aggravations. She is constantly, self-righteously citing her sacred responsibility to avenge the murdered dead (“Their rights trump yours,” she tells a witness complaining about being detained), while anyone living, including potential victims understandably fearful for their lives, is an ignorant and undeserving inconvenience. It’s a neat illustration of how morality gets twisted to the benefit of self-interest, especially in the realm of law enforcement: A cop’s responsibility to the dead, whose supposed need for vengeance is empowering to those tasked with achieving that vengeance (and who are no longer in a position to voice any annoying complaints), is prioritized over respect for the living, whose need for liberty and basic respect only imposes limits.
Also, this book really didn’t need to be set in the future. I assume that some of the other 42 books in this series took more advantage of the sci-fi elements inherent to the premise, but here the futuristic stuff just shows up as superficial flourishes: The snipers don’t use bullets, they shoot lasers! Criminals go to prison, but it’s on another planet! Movies aren’t movies, they’re “vids”! Could’ve really used some aliens or clones or something.