Fantasy in Death
Fantasy in Death is the thirtieth book in J.D. Robb’s In Death series. That feels like a pretty big achievement, not only for Robb, but for those of us who’ve read them all. (If that includes you, go pat yourself on the back). If you have read them all, you know that there are the seminal books – the real stand-outs that move the series forward by taking Eve and Roarke’s relationship to a new level, or taking police work and mystery to a new level. Then there are other books that, while still entertaining reads with fun moments, are not the real stand-outs. I’d put Fantasy in the second group. I enjoyed the case and the familiar characters, but did not find the book to be ground-breaking.
The book begins with Bart Minnock, a youthful, exuberant owner of a video game design company coming home to work on his latest project. His game ends abruptly with his death – not just in the game death, but actual death. His girlfriend walks in the next day to find him in his holo room, with his head lying several feet from his body. Eve is called in on the case. She interviews his three partners at UPlay, all of whom seem appropriately shocked and horrified. The girlfriend also seems devastated. According to all accounts, everyone loved Bart. So why (and how) was he killed?
Since Bart was killed while playing a video game, the e-team is immediately called on the job. Though the disk self-destructs before they can remove it, they know that Bart was playing a game still in development called Fantastical. Fantastical represents a significant breakthrough in gaming technology; players sense every aspect of their imaginary surroundings is a much more realistic way. It also allows for players to create their own fantasy scenarios and tailor the game to their interests.
I know what you’re thinking: Roarke must own this company! He actually doesn’t, but you’ll be relieved to know that his own gaming company already had its own version of this idea, and is (of course) further along in development. But Roarke does know Bart and actually mentored him and helped him start his company (after an unsuccessful effort to recruit him for Roarke Industries). Roarke feels Bart’s death keenly for this reason.
The mystery plays out (literally and figuratively), and Eve zeroes in the remaining partners as the only realistic suspects. Other stuff happens (Peabody and McNab get to go to a gaming convention, Nadine has a huge splashy party for her book release). There is a dramatic end to the mystery which is interesting and a little different; it had the potential to be even better had it been a little longer.
Over all, it’s an entertaining read, but as I said earlier, it doesn’t raise the bar. Any problems are more of the nit-picky variety. I suppose the biggest one is that the reader knows exactly how Bart is killed right at the beginning of the book, but Eve and the NYPD don’t. So much of the book is spent waiting for them to learn and accept what we already know. And since we know the “how”, the “who” just seems a little less exciting.
There are some In Death conventions that are just tradition. Trina has the right to ambush Eve and give her decent haircuts, Roarke has the right to buy Eve fabulous clothes and jewelry, and Mavis and McNab have the right to dress outrageously. This is all part of the fun. And actually, Eve engages in a little role-reversal here and shows that she does have a nurturing side buried in there. But I can’t be the only one who would like Roarke to spend at least one book buying up the free world and running his financial empire, so Eve can show that she and her team are capable of solving a case without him. Right?
So Fantasy in Death is good, but not great. If you’re a long time fan, you certainly shouldn’t miss it – or any of them. But since a thirtieth book is certainly a good time for reflection, I’d be interested in hearing other opinions about which books in the series are ground-breaking for you. Mine are:
- Naked in Death
- Rapture in Death
- Vengeance in Death
- Origin in Death
- Innocence in Death
Discuss amongst yourselves.