Saturday, April 18, 2009

Naked in Death (book) by J.D. Robb

The year is 2058 - technology is a bit more advanced, but the world isn't really all that different. Eve Dallas is a tough and dedicated New York police lieutenant. She's called out on a brutal and politically sensitive case, the murder of the granddaughter of a politician with aspirations for the presidency. Sharon DeBlass, the granddaughter, had been a prostitute (Licensed Companion) and something of an embarrassment to her family, especially her grandfather, Senator DeBlass, who opposes legalized prostitution. Now it looks like she's been killed by one of her clients, shot by a gun in a time when guns have been banned for years. What Dallas finds especially chilling is that the killer has made it clear that Sharon is only the first in what will be a series of murders.

Dallas is determined to find Sharon's killer, but she seems to continuously stumble across obstacles in her path. The senator wants to keep tabs on her progress, no matter the damage this causes the investigation. The senator doesn't want his granddaughter's name linked to the other murdered prostitutes, who he considers to be of lower class. Simpson, the chief of police, enjoys playing politics more than he does doing what's best for his officers. Finally, Dallas's first, best suspect, Roarke, the richest man in the known universe, is also the first man to ever be able to get underneath her emotional defenses. In her gut, Eve knows that Roarke didn't kill Sharon and the other women, but she risks losing her badge (after all, sleeping with a possible suspect is considered unwise) if she can't get actual proof that he wasn't involved.

I've been a fan of this series for several years now - re-reading this book after having read so many of the other ones, one thing I found a little jarring was the dream Eve woke up from at the start of this book. If you know the series well, you expect that pretty much any dream she has is about her father and her terrible childhood - or, if her current case is well underway, her dream might be about the case. This time, the dream is about a case that closed before the book even began. Not an issue for new readers, but I'd forgotten about it and it threw me off a little.

It amazes me how many regular characters Robb (aka Nora Roberts) manages to introduce in this first book. There's Charles, Roarke, Feeney, Mavis, Mira, Whitney, Nadine, and Summerset. She establishes Roarke as someone who's sexy, filthy rich, and not always into legal activities. Eve is established as somewhat emotionally closed-off and driven, with a past (her father beat her and raped her when she was a child) that still causes her pain. Even with all of this, the book doesn't feel rushed, probably because Robb doesn't bother to develop many of the characters and on-going themes and issues (not that new readers will necessarily realize that these will be on-going) very much. She doesn't really need to, actually. If you read the books she writes as Nora Roberts, you know that most of her characters only really get one book to themselves. If those characters reappear, it's only as part of a supporting cast or for walk-on roles. The books she writes as J.D. Robb allow her to do something I'm not sure she's ever done before, focus on a fairly limited cast of characters for as long as she wants. At the moment, "as long as she wants" means at least 25 books and short stories.

Although I had read and enjoyed quite a few of Nora Roberts's books, it took me a while to try out the stuff she'd written as J.D. Robb. I was hesitant, I think, because I'd read some of her romantic suspense and hadn't really liked it - the romance in those books (sorry, can't remember the titles of the books that turned me off) just seemed wrong combined with fear, death, and danger. However, this book didn't hit that wrong note with me, and I ended up getting addicted to the series. I love reading about the characters and the changing and developing relationships they have with each other. I also like the subtle futuristic aspects. There's far too much futuristic romance that's just fantasy that happens to be taking place on another planet. I'd be more likely to call Naked in Death romantic suspense, but at least this book and series really does have some futuristic aspects - droid dogs, autochefs, futuristic fashion (Mavis wearing paint), cars that can hover, etc. The history is subtly "other" as well, with guns banned, prostitution legal, Urban Wars, terrorists killing of a bunch of legislators at some point in the past (Eve's past, our future), compuguard, and more. These things are different enough to be interesting, but not so outrageous that you can't imagine it all actually happening and existing.

Overall, I love this series, and this book is a nice start. Those who like contemporary police detective mysteries should find the futuristic aspects in this novel just subtle enough to enjoy this book. Those who like romance novels should enjoy the chemistry between Roarke and Eve - the only complaint I had was that it didn't seem very smart for Eve to jump into bed with Roarke when she did. However, since the chemistry between them gets developed sweetly and slowly as the series progresses, I can forgive that. The murders aren't described in vomit-inducing detail, in my opinion, but there's enough detail that it might put off some romance readers (however, Roarke and Eve never have romantic situations around death and violence - the closest they come is a passionate kiss around guns).

Before I start listing some read-alikes, I would like to mention one thing. I know not everyone who reads this book will have a copy with the same cover as mine. Mine is kind of boring, a sort of bronze color with a couple police cars. Very generic, an impression that is only reinforced by the error I recently noticed - the cars have NYPD written on them, even though Eve works for the NYPSD. Whoever put the cover together figured that contemporary police cars would be fine and didn't bother to check the details. Bad, bad.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Light in Shadow (book) by Jayne Ann Krentz - Zoe Luce is an interior decorator with secrets, one of which is that she is a psychic who can sense the emotions that permeate rooms. When she walks into a new client's bedroom, she knows immediately that something terrible happened there and hires Ethan Truax, a private detective, to investigate. As the two of them spend more time with each other, the attractive between them deepens, but how will Ethan react when he discovers that Zoe isn't who she says she is? Those who'd like another romantic suspense story, by an author with a writing style that's similar to Robb/Roberts', might want to try this.
  • The Unsung Hero (book) by Suzanne Brockmann - Navy SEAL Lt. Tom Paoletti returns to his hometown when he is put on medical leave because of a head injury. In addition to emotional complications (Tom once again becomes involved with Kelly Ashton, the girl he left behind), Tom also has to deal with the unnerving experience of catching glimpses of a terrorist he once pursued, someone who's supposed to be dead. Unfortunately, Tom's superiors won't believe him, blaming the sighting on his injury. Those who'd like another story with action and bumpy-but-intense romance may want to try this.
  • I, Robot (live action movie) - The year is 2035 and Detective Del Spooner is called out to investigate the apparent suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning, the scientist who created the robots humans now depend upon. Spooner begins to suspect that Lanning's death was not a suicide, but rather a murder committed by one of his robots. Unfortunately, Spooner can't get anyone to even consider his suspicions because all robots are programmed with the Three Laws of Robotics, the most important of which is that injure a human being or allow one to come to harm. Those who'd like another near-future murder mystery starring a tough cop with emotional issues want to try this.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhanced cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. However, those who prefer something newer might want to try the anime TV series. I suggest this title as a general watch-alike (or read-alike, if you decide to go with the manga) because the Major, like Eve, is tough, yet with a buried vulnerable side.

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