Thankless in Death
Grade : C

I came into Thankless in Death from a slightly odd perspective: With two exceptions, I haven’t read a single book in months, which is a very long sabbatical for me. When I came back in to read the latest Eve Dallas, the re-entry shock almost gave me whiplash. You see, I’ve read every single one of the In Death books and liked many of them. But to my overwhelming surprise, this book kinda sucks.

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It is impossible to evaluate this futuristic New York series in isolation. Each book does not stand alone; they are meant to be read as part of a trajectory. But the trajectory has plateaued; the development has stagnated. Judged on its own merits, but also in the shadow of almost 40 other books written in less than twenty years, this latest one does not show up well.

First and foremost, the book is built around a fatal flaw: that of the stultifying killer. This is a huuuuuge problem when a) everyone knows he’s the killer, and b) the book is spent with Eve staying one step behind, and c) we are offered in-depth, lengthy glimpses into the killer’s doings. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue – I haven’t read the series, but by all accounts Chelsea Cain’s cat-and-mouse series of the serial killer and the detective are spellbinding; it doesn’t matter that you know Gretchen is the murderer, it’s the chase and threat of Gretchen that keep readers glued to the page. But if there’s one failing I’ve noticed with Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb (besides her ludicrously prodigious output and now stagnant style), it’s that her villains are almost uniformly narrow, one-dimensional, ranting buffoons. It’s impossible to take them seriously when they’re so eeeeeevil – Mwahahahahahahaha!!!!! – despite the gruesome torture scenes. I skimmed the ramblings of Jerry Reinhold, the layabout who found his calling when he took a baseball bat to his nagging parents. The only surprise is that someone as uninteresting and dumb as he is manages to evade Eve for 400 pages.

That’s the second problem. Of course Eve will catch Jerry, and of course he’ll keep going for a while because, duh, he has the whole book in which to caper around in new togs and chainsaws. As a reader with intimate insight into his puny little mind, and intimate knowledge that there were still 350 pages to go, I knew that he would murder his way through the people who supposedly wronged him. But honestly, Eve comes off as seriously dumb when she underestimates him in the beginning. I mean, yes, we were getting tired of her Killer Mind Meld and all (that trick she pulls when she peers into the killer’s mind), but this is going in the other direction a little too much.

Eve’s magic crime reconstruction skills are indicative of my third issue with the book, those repetitions and character tics that degraded from interest to familiarity to cliche, and which are now verging on self-parody. It’s not fun anymore because nothing is new, and if a new In Death book came out every other year that would be fine. But Ms. Roberts chucks up two a year, not including the novellas. That’s a lot of Peabody squealing and McNab bopping and Feeney chewing cashews and Eve giving hard-eyed stares at dirty fuckers and the Irish wisping through Roarke’s voice. I mean, really.

In all fairness, this is still Nora Roberts, i.e. an author who has been writing for decades. Decades of writing equals decades of practice, and if practice doesn’t make perfect in this case, it at least produces relative smoothness for a doable read. But doable doesn’t cut it anymore, and read with fresh eyes, the smooth prose takes on a glibness with hints of fatigue. There’s no character conflict. I don’t really care any more. And I’m not sure that Ms. Roberts does either. So I’m going to take a break. And maybe if Ms. Roberts does as well, it will refresh us both.

Reviewed by Enya Young

Grade: C

Book Type: Futuristic Romance

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : August 30, 2013

Publication Date: 2013/09

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Enya Young

I live in Seattle, Washington and work as a legal assistant. I remember learning to read (comic strips) at a young age and nowadays try to read about 5-6 books a week. I love to travel, especially to Europe, and enjoy exploring smaller towns off the tourist track though London is my favorite city in the world.
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