Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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

I'm a bit behind on this series, because I no longer buy the books as soon as they come out - even when they come out in paperback, I prefer waiting to see if I can get them used. I got to borrow this particular book from someone - very nifty.

I love the earlier books in this series, when it seemed like each book offered something new in the relationship department, even if the mysteries weren't always stellar (Ceremony in Death is by far my least favorite of the earlier books when it comes to the mystery part). At some point, however, things started to seem a little stale. It's like Robb (or should I call her Roberts?) ran out of new relationship developments for all the core characters - as far as Eve and Roarke go, the only thing I can think of that could happen to and/or between them that hasn't happened before is a pregnancy scare or an actual pregnancy. While I would probably feel a pang of sadness if it were announced that this series was ending, I'm starting to wonder if it's maybe time for that to happen. This is not a formerly beloved series that has become a hideous chore to read, the way Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series has. Instead, this is a beloved series that has gone a bit stale.

Synopsis:

Lieutenant Eve Dallas is enjoying some time off from work with Roarke, her husband, and stressing a bit about being Louise's matron of honor when she gets called to the scene of a homicide. Deena MacMasters, the 16-year-old daughter of Captain Jonah MacMasters, a cop in Illegals, was found in her home after having been brutally raped and murdered. The evidence indicates that she knew her killer, that he was someone she trusted and had been secretly dating. Soon, it also becomes clear that Deena's killer wanted her death to be as painful as possible for her father - so what did he do that led to this kind of horrific, indirect punishment? Dallas theorizes that Deena's death has something to do with one of MacMasters's past cases, probably something where his actions somehow resulted in the death of one of the killer's loved ones.

It takes a good bit of digging, but Dallas and her team find their answers, although unfortunately not before another person is raped and murdered. In one of MacMasters's past cases, he helped put a junkie/prostitute/conwoman behind bars. Prison wasn't kind to her, and a couple years after she got out she ended up brutally raped and murdered. She happened to have a young son who grew up being told by his father that his mother's death wouldn't have happened if prison hadn't broken her - and so Deena and another were killed to punish one of the people the son has been brainwashed into thinking was responsible for his mother's death, and several other people were next in line to be raped and killed. However, Dallas, being crafty and in possession of both a good team and whatever help Roarke and his money can buy, manages to figure out which people are the killer's intended future victims, as well as the order in which he plans to kill them. That turns out to be a good thing, because Plan A, catching the killer at Deena's funeral, fails miserably. Plan B, thoroughly and invisibly protecting his next intended victim and catching him when he prepares to drug her, succeeds.

With a bit of work, Dallas even manages to nail the killer's father, although not nearly as thoroughly as she would like to. The son refuses to believe that his father has been feeding him lies for most of his life - technically, his mother going to prison for as long as she did was his father's fault, because he convinced her not to rat on him for a reduced sentence. His father was also ultimately the one behind his mother's rape and murder, having given her to some gang members who did the deed in order to save his own skin.

Her work accomplished, Dallas does her duty as matron of honor at Louise's wedding. There's lots of girlie stuff, Mavis shows up with her baby, Trina terrorizes Dallas, etc., and things end up going happily for Louise and everyone.

Commentary:

Something about the first murder in this book really got to me, made me feel horror/disgust that was the result of a combination of the age and relative innocence of the victim and the horrible way she died, raped for hours both anally and vaginally (even typing that gives me shudders). Rape seems to me like a boogie man for women, only worse, because the boogie man isn't real and rape is. Even if a woman has no personal experience with rape and knows no one who has been raped, it's inescapable. It's on the news, there are events centered around the lack of safety women feel (I'm thinking of Take Back the Night, in particular), and there are self-defense courses focused primarily on teaching women how to deal with attackers. There's a lot of fear, and, even though that fear is about more than just the possibility of being raped, rape is probably pretty high up on the list of things women might fear happening to them.

Robb has written books before with murder victims who have been raped. I can't remember if the rapes were quite as brutal and drawn-out as Deena's, but the thing about Deena that sticks with me in particular is that the guy who eventually raped her made her like him first. Sometimes Robb likes to write scenes that show the murders from the killer's eyes. I was relieved, at first, that it didn't appear that she was going to do that with Deena's murder, and then Dallas watched a tape of Deena being forced, between rapes, to recite a script the killer had written for her. Believe me, I wish Robb hadn't gone there.

One thing about the investigation that had my jaw dropping was this: in addition to her regular practice of using Roarke as an "expert civilian consultant," she also enlists Jamie Lingstrom (who first appeared in Ceremony in Death, when he earned Roarke's grudging respect by trying to break into Roarke and Dallas's home and actually managing to make it as far as the yard). Jamie is, what, 19 or 20? Yes, he's brilliant and he wants to be a cop, but he's not one yet, he's very young, and he was one of Deena's friends. Despite all of this, not one person has a problem with Dallas letting Jamie in on the investigation, to the point that he even gets to hear the details of what happened to Deena and, if I remember correctly, see crime scene photos. Wouldn't that result in potential legal problems down the line, too? All I can think is that Robb is preparing the reader for future books, in which Jamie will be a much more prominent character capable of injecting fresh new romantic subplots into the series. Either that, or Jamie is going to get a spin-off series. I'm betting on the former.  Even if that's the case, it was a boneheaded thing to do.

For me, one of the big appeals of this series is the relationships between the characters. As with other recent books in this series, there's not a lot of new and interesting stuff going on in terms of relationships. Roarke and Eve's relationship is in a comfortable holding state - that's nice and all, but I want more. I can't wait for the book where she finds out she's pregnant, although I'm sure Robb is saving that for the end of the series. Moving on. Morris sees Dallas's facade crack a little when they talk about Deena, and he figures out that Dallas has probably been raped sometime in the past, although he doesn't let her know that he knows. Dallas does the freak out thing over being matron of honor because she's afraid that her stunted girlie-girl skills and her all-consuming job will cause her to ruin Louise's wedding. Mavis shows up at the wedding with the baby and hands her over the Dallas, who does the freak out thing again.

So, all in all, not much new. I'm at least thankful that Dallas didn't have any of those dreams that magically give her the answers she needs - that's a bit woo-woo, and Dallas isn't that kind of person. I've always felt those dreams are out of character for her. The murder parts of the book had lots of the usual In Death cliches: raped victims that lead Dallas to have flashes to rapes she experienced as a child (flashes that were surprisingly mild, not that I don't appreciate that - I'm not sure there's anything new the flashback dreams can give longtime In Death readers); a surviving relative of one of the victims who tearfully, angrily blames Dallas for not understanding and not doing her best to find the killer, blame that Dallas stoically takes even though she's only pretending to have dropped the ball in order to lure out the killer; the visit to some place in the countryside to talk to people with some connection to the killer, a visit that begins with Dallas suspiciously encountering farm animals and/or wildlife (in this case, frogs, but previous books usually have cows or some other hoofed animal).

While this series is getting more than a bit stale, it's not unpleasant. I fully intend to read the next book - I just don't plan to buy it.  I do wonder, though, when Robb plans on ending this series.  I hope she ends it before it has completely outstayed its welcome - I don't want to get to the point where I hate this series as much as I once loved it.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • If you need a reminder of the "good ole days" of the In Death series (like I sometimes do after reading one of the newer books), try one of the earlier books.  I think Vengeance in Death might have a similar "child warped by the parent" story.
  • Light in Shadow (book) by Jayne Ann Krentz - Romantic suspense, in which the suspense part is much less horrific than anything in Kindred in Death. If you like Robb's writing and want something else with a mix of romance and mystery, Krentz's characters and writing remind me of Robb's books.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - Every time I write a post for a J.D. Robb book, I include this as one of the suggestions.  It's based on a manga (which I've tried but didn't like as much - it was a bit too text- and techno-heavy for me).  There are also a couple additional movies (which have newer style animation and sound effects and therefore feel a bit less dated), a TV series, and even a reworking of the original movie (I spotted it at Walmart but didn't buy it - according to the DVD box, the animation was updated a bit).  The series has a more futuristic feel than the In Death world, but it may still appeal to those who'd like something else with a strong female heroine, action, and (particularly in the TV series) a story and characters one can still connect with despite the futuristic setting.
  • Mallory's Oracle (book) by Carol O'Connell - I was stumped about what I should add to this list and tempted to end it after Ghost in the Shell.  Insead, I decided to get a bit creative with my read-alike suggestions, and I pulled this one out of the depths of my brain. I read this, or some other book in the series (this is the first in O'Connell's Kathleen Mallory series), a while back, and I remember being struck by how emotionally shut off the main character seemed.  My impression of the character made it a somewhat disturbing read.  If you long for a time when Dallas was more damaged and less steady, and if you wish she had been more damaged than she ever was, you might like this series.  Now that I've remembered it exists, I may have to try it out again - I remember enjoying it and wanting to root for Mallory, even as it seemed to me like I might be rooting for a future villain. 
  • The Maze (book) by Catherine Coulter - This is the 2nd book in Coulter's FBI series.  I've read a couple of the earlier ones, and it seems safe to say that you could read this series like the In Death series: in theory, you can jump in anywhere you want, and you'll at least be able to fully enjoy the mystery, even if all the nuances of the character relationships may escape you, although you might want to start with the first book and work from there.  In this case, the first book is The Cove, but I'm recommending this particular book because I think it would appeal to those who like the Eve/Roarke duo in the In Death books.  The two agents in this book, Lacey Sherlock and Dillon Savich, eventually end up married (possibly at the end of this book, but maybe later - I can't remember).  So, those who'd like more romantic suspense might want to try this.

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