Three in Death by J.D. Robb (SF/Crime Novella Collection, 2008).
Nora Roberts is a pretty extraordinary writer–a huge and deserved success in a variety of genres with a fistful of series written under her own name and, as in this case, using the J.D. Robb pen-name. In some ways the “in death” series (numbering over 2 dozen books) is one of her most challenging. If anyone doesn’t know, these books are near-future science fiction (set in and around 2060), with New York City detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigating murder mysteries. In addition, you get healthy doses of romance and romantic suspense as her somewhat roguish (and super, super rich) love interest/husband Roarke is an ever-present force, more often than not playing a key (if highly unofficial and sometimes legally questionable) aid to Dallas’s investigations.
The vast majority of these books are novels, but this particular title is a collection, bringing together 3 previously published novellas. Dallas has the usual stalwart support from her official partner, Sergeant Peabody, and the regular team of expert subordinates, each with his or her distinct personality (strengths, weaknesses, quirks and backgrounds).
Dallas herself and her beloved (and passionate) Roarke are both products of highly unpleasant childhoods–which makes their unwavering dedication to each other that much more potent. Their snappy couples dialogue and lusty bouts of lovemaking add still more appeal to the series–including here.
“Interlude in Death” finds an extremely reluctant Dallas ordered to deliver a speech at a police conference taking place at a fabulous space station resort that her husband (of course) owns. This discomfort soon takes a backseat to more serious concerns when a legendary retired cop with a mysterious vendetta against Roarke accused him of murder. Is Dallas’s volatile man being framed? If so, is the old cop to blame? And what makes him so bitterly determined to prove Roarke’s guilt and possibly ruin Dallas’s career?
“Midnight in Death” has Eve tracking an escaped serial killer she helped put away. The all-too-resourceful murderer is systematically eliminating all those he holds responsible for his spending years locked up in an orbital lockup for the criminally insane–with the lieutenant the ultimate target for his revenge. It all takes place around Christmas–the first the newly married cop and her billionaire husband are spending together. The killings here are spectacular and gross public displays, and the story comes to an exciting, satisfying climax.
“Haunted in Death” is perhaps the most offbeat of these 3 novellas. At the scene of a recent murder at a once-famous New York night club, Eve also finds herself needing to solve a second crime. 85 years before, a famed singing star vanished without a trace and only now has her skeletal remains been found (walled up in the very same building). Even weirder, the same gun was used in both killings! Whoever found the 1st remains, evidently took the banned weapon (it was walled up with the 1st victim) and used it, in an apparent frenzy of crazed vengeance to dispose of a descendant of the (suspected) 1st killer. Unraveling the baffling case-within-a-case is further complicated by the longstanding belief that the building is haunted (or at least cursed). Eve of course dismisses the supernatural aspect, though the author leaves just enough ambiguity to leave the reader open to either embracing or rejecting that part of things.
In sum, we have 3 typically effective and fascinating tales from a master of cross-genre fiction. Most of the futuristic elements (both technical and sociological) worked well for me. The one part I had a slight problem with was the unexplained artificial gravity clearly assumed in the orbital resort. 2060 strikes me as too near-term for them to be using anything but the expedient of rotating a station at high enough speeds to generate centripetal force, yet the way people traveled between places within the massive resort was far too Earth-like for that to be the case. This was, however, a fairly minor nit to pick overall.
As with all the several J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts books I’ve read in the past, I can wholeheartedly recommend this one for people interested in its several expertly blended genres.