RogerBW's Blog

Festive in Death, J. D. Robb 13 November 2015

2014 SF/mystery; forty-ninth (roughly) of J. D. Robb's In Death series. Just before Christmas, a personal trainer is found in his home, with a nasty head wound and a knife in his chest. He seems to have been a thoroughly nasty person, but for Eve Dallas the homicide cop's job is still the job.

The trainer, Trey Ziegler, seems to have been sleeping with pretty much all his female clients in return for money (and while this is a world with legalised prostitution, he isn't one of the Licenced Companions who are allowed to do that). So did one of them kill him, or one of their husbands or boyfriends, or one of the other people he annoyed?

The suspects are established fairly early on, and most of them are left in play for most of the book. I did find that one of them stood out for me and turned out to be the villain, but it may not be as obvious if you don't think the way I do. There are lots of mildly unpleasant people, and some rather nice ones. The characters are the real strength of this series, and they're thoroughly well-handled.

Some of the recurring cast also get a look-in; Robb is wisely not trying to shoehorn all of them in this time, and this time it's mostly Peabody (who, unlike Dallas, loves the holiday-season feeling), and Trina the hair and body stylist who's one of the people to find the corpse. Roarke, Eve's husband and the richest man in the world, is more of a background presence, though he shows up for some sex scenes and to provide moral (-ish) support. Eve is dragooned into helping to organise his Christmas party, and while she doesn't exactly enjoy it she does finally find that it's not the utter terror she'd been anticipating.

Like Concealed in Death, this book downplays the science fiction elements in favour of an old-fashioned mystery, and I think Robb's stronger here than when she's trying to work at the more SF end of the setting. I particularly liked the way the various strands of Eve's life were blended: she doesn't get everything neatly wrapped up just before the Christmas party, but has to go back and do more digging afterwards.

What's perhaps lacking is a sense of tension: there's no build-up of feeling that the killer's going to strike again, because it's immediately apparent that this was a personal motivation. Dallas and the other good guys never seem as though they're in danger.

One could start the series here, but a significant part of my enjoyment comes from drawing contrasts with the earlier versions of these characters and seeing how they've changed and grown. This is the sort of thing that in a single book generally seems facile and trite, but in a long-running series there can be small incremental changes which add up to a major shift in personality.

Followed by Obsession in Death.

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