Salvation In Death
Despite the name change and the shelving in the crime fiction section of the bookstore, I read J. D. Robb’s In Death series for the romance, so much so that I differentiate the novels not by the crime committed but by what happens to Eve and Roarke in their relationship. Given the considerable cross-over in readership between Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb fans, and that fact that we review her books on a romance site, I’m venturing to say that I am not alone in this.
Salvation In Death features Eve and Roarke at a happy plateau in their relationship where they are not so much learning new things about each other as they are enjoying their knowledge, and in particular the ability it gives them to offer each other support. Roarke has for the most part in this series been able to sense Eve’s every mood and work towards getting her to lean on him, share her life, and accept his place in it for the better. I always wish for more obvious balance in their relationship, and in this aspect and I’m happy to say that situations where Roarke needs Eve as much as she needs him are becoming increasingly prevalent. A subtle but memorable scene involving Roarke and a bad dream provides that touch in this installment.
The couple’s high comfort level with each other also provides us with several dialogue-heavy scenes of humorous banter between the two as well as a sex scene that surprised me with its intensity. I usually bypass the sex scenes in the series because I regard them as interchangeable and light enough on character or relationship development to be extraneous. But this one had a different feel to it from the beginning and it’s the reason I didn’t skip over. I’m glad I stuck around, even though writing this makes me feel slightly pervy.
When I’m not reading the In Death series for Eve and Roarke, I’m reading it for the setting. The second greatest Robb creation after Roarke (sigh) is New York City in 2060. Its blend of the familiar and the strange always works for me, even when I think she’s running a bit of a Jetsons parallel where her imagination is more exciting than reality (I think it’s going to take more than fifty-two years for meat, oh blessed meat, to be entirely replaced with soya. Or maybe that’s my fervent hopes taking over). That said, because the futuristic setting is so vividly painted for me, I quickly notice ideas, products or general constructs that are better placed in our present day. Salvation In Death takes place in El Barrio, New York City, and the major characters are of Hispanic descent. Despite this, their dialogue is pretty much free of any Spanish words – not even anglicised ones – and Robb also italicizes some Spanish foods such as ‘huevos’. Right now, somebody in New York City is asking for huevos and the only thing the diner, Hispanic or not, wants to know is how they like them done. In fifty-two years, the prevalence of Spanish as a language understood, if not spoken by the average American should preclude the need for italicized words.
For those who actually read the In Death installments for…the death…Salvation In Death is about a Catholic priest who is murdered by poisoned wine while standing on the altar, officiating at a funeral. Shortly afterward, Eve realizes that the priest is not a priest and is in fact a former gang member running a long con. After we learn this, the book focuses on the “why” of the man’s actions and the corollary “who” of his partners in crime. My main problem was that I couldn’t get away from the “how” of this five-year long con. Because this fake priest was a good fake priest. It was repeated several times that he married and baptized the church’s faithful but beyond the hour-long mass, marriage by the church involves counseling. He also volunteered strongly at the local children’s center and that also would involve informal counseling of the youth there. In the first quarter of the book, this fake priest according to the shocked community was a great priest. Then we learn that he may have been a great priest but he was a nasty man. I found it extremely difficult to reconcile the two.
When you’ve written twenty-seven full length novels on one couple’s life (and, oh, ten million more stand-alone and series-based romance ones by alter ego), you’re giving a lot of people a lot of joy – and a lot of familiarity. And I think it’s this familiarity that is the basis of a recurring problem I find in works by J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts: too many characters talk the same, and speak with similar rhythms. I’ve never been able to put my finger on the dialogue “formula,” but its effect is that, in my head, they all sound the same. For a tentative example – there is repetition early on in sentences and many of these are abbreviated, staccato type sentences as well:
A priest says “I’ve prayed on this. I’ve prayed since I heard this confession.”
Joe Inez, a former gang member says “I knew her…Since we were in kindergarten I knew her…”
Another person says “I want a deal. I want a deal and I’ll tell you just how she did it.”
Basically, the intonations, the rhythms all jive and if it weren’t for the content of their speech, I think they would be indistinguishable from each other. But after reading a goodly portion of the aforementioned twenty-seven novels, I would call this a minor peeve that won’t stop me reading into the thirties, forties, fifties of the these books.
Overall, Salvation In Death was a solid B for me. I continue to enjoy Eve and Roarke, their family, their friends and their city. But I’m hoping the best is yet to come.