RogerBW's Blog

Apprentice in Death, J. D. Robb 30 September 2017

2016 SF/mystery; fifty-fourth (roughly) of J. D. Robb's In Death series. A sniper is shooting people in New York – at random, or with specific targets in mind? Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigates.

Let's get the major problem out of the way first: Robb has clearly never felt comfortable with the science-fiction content of these books (though when it's a major plot element it's sometimes handled very well), and here the murder weapon is a "laser rifle" which:

Strike from one of these from a distance of—say a mile? It takes two and a half seconds to go from weapon to target.

Photons go at less than Mach 2. Who knew?

But really that's not important to the plot, and some basic editing could have fixed it. This is a story about a really expert sniper who's turned serial killer, and how they got to where they are; the SF components are incidental.

It's more police-procedural action than mystery; there's some detective work at first, but the prime suspects are quickly identified (it's not as though there are many expert snipers about) and then it's a matter of tracking them down and catching them before more people get shot.

Although Dallas would probably hate to think it, one of the impressions that comes over most strongly is that she's a good coordinator: she allocates her own detectives, other police resources, and her powerful friends who want to help, so that they do the things they're most useful at and get the case cracked quickly.

There are some scenes from the killer's perspective, but not many, and they don't give away major plot points. Many of the series regular characters show up, but apart from Eve's husband Roarke they have relatively small parts; this is a story that stays focussed on the protagonist.

There's nothing particularly surprising here. The recurring characters stay in character. The criminal is caught. Eve is always right (at least about police work). I don't find these books formulaic, though; there is a strong element of predictability in them, but this far into a series that's hard to avoid.

I'm still enjoying these books, even if I tend to forget about them for a year and then discover two more have come out. Whoops, three. Followed by Echoes in Death.

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 07:50pm on 30 September 2017

    I thought "fifty-fourth"? That can't be right surely.

    And I went and looked and it said forty-third. And I don't think they're including all the short stories in that.

    Oh, good grief she does churn them out.

    I wonder sometimes why she made these SF in the first place. She doesn't use SF tropes often and she never uses them well.

    Did she just feel that a woman leading a NY homicide squad while married to a fabulously wealthy Irish ex-criminal wouldn't work as a contemporary setting? I dunno. She puts some future changes into the legal system into play but it's never made clear exactly what they are.

    Did she just look at SF and decide that was something she could do that might spice it up a bit?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:20pm on 30 September 2017

    Yeah, I think I may be including some of the shorter material in that count.

    To be fair I think that Origin in Death (the Icove case) used its SF content pretty well. That may have been Robb deciding she was out of her depth and getting knowledgeable advice, of course. But most of the stories would work as contemporary, or at least a more plausible near-future, without the hover-cars and off-world prisons.

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