RogerBW's Blog

Concealed in Death, J. D. Robb 08 April 2014

Concealed in Death is the forty-eighth story of J. D. Robb's In Death series, and a huge improvement on its immediate predecessor Thankless in Death. It drops many of the science-fictional trappings of the setting to deliver a powerful and well-told story.

Indeed, apart from some very minor details, there's nothing happening here which couldn't be placed into a contemporary-set story about abused and runaway children. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing; the world-building in this series has often been a bit on the shaky side. The solution to the central puzzle, of who killed twelve young girls fifteen years ago and walled up their bodies in an abandoned building, is never seriously in doubt; but at least this time we don't get a killer's-eye view.

A few of the long-term characters get some interesting moments, but there's less effort to squeeze in lots of them than there was in Thankless in Death; in particular there's a sequence involving the shady past of protagonist Eve Dallas' long-term friend Mavis which, while not contradicting what we've learned about her before, puts it in a somewhat different light.

There's also a new character brought in who seems likely to recur, a forensic anthropologist with whom Dallas butts heads in a minor way. She seems to be competent at her job, and it's pleasant to see Dallas not automatically making a friend-for-life or an enemy-for-life: there's no particular reason for Dallas to dislike her, but they still have to work together, and their relationship is left unresolved for now.

The events of Origin in Death and Celebrity in Death are still resonating; Dallas has a reputation as a good cop among people who've seen the popular film made about one of her higher-profile cases.

Overall a great improvement on Thankless in Death, and I'm glad to see that Robb hasn't lost her spark.

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 10:10am on 08 April 2014

    It's out? You got it from Wycombe Library didn't you? Do you know how long I've been....

    Never mind. One of the troubles with the series is that the author isn't an SF writer or a detective story writer really. She's a romance writer and she's more interested in character than the mechanics of the setting. The same could be said of Lois McMaster Bujold but she is at least competent. (Actually with her fantasy novels she's well above competent...)

    Nonetheless, I'm going to read it and enjoy it because Robb has the gift of storytelling and that's not something you find everywhere, not even in all published authors.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:23am on 08 April 2014

    Nope, ebook.

    I agree; the more she tries to do skiffy stuff as a core part of the plot the more it breaks down, because she doesn't have the world-building background that's part of the SF tradition. When the stories can rely on being in a vaguely Blade-Runner-ish "futuristic" city they hold together reasonably well; when interplanetary travel becomes a factor, it all gets a bit more shaky.

    Some of the plots have been decent 'tec stories, though; I'm probably better than many people at spotting whodunnit before it's revealed, and I didn't always succeed. (This is why I object so much to scenes from the PoV of the criminal: they deprive me of that puzzle-solving enjoyment.) They're not masterpieces of twisty logic like Christie's best, but they compensate for this by having decent characters; this many books in, I have a fair amount of emotional capital invested in the protagonists, and this pays dividends even when the crimes they solve aren't excessively complex.

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