Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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

(There are a few spoilers in this post, so beware.)

Thomas Anders's friends and acquaintances consider him to be an all-around nice guy who loved his wife. Given that, why was he found dead, strangled, after what looks like a night of kinky fun (with someone other than this wife, who was vacationing at a resort) gone horribly wrong? It's Lieutenant Eve Dallas's job to dig below the surface and figure out what actually happened the night Anders died. Her gut instinct tells her that Mrs. Anders killed her husband, but the woman's alibi is rock solid and there's no sign she hired a professional. It's a tangled case, but Dallas doesn't plan on giving up until she's gotten justice for Mr. Anders.

For those who, like me, read this series for all of the character relationships, this book is a little bit disappointing, since hardly anything new happens with most of the characters. Dallas only has one dream that I can remember, and it's not a "my hideously awful childhood" nightmare - that was actually a relief, since I've gotten a little tired of those nightmares. However, Charles and Louise are two characters who do have new relationship developments. The two are still a couple, but, for a while there, it looks as though their relationship is doing badly. The problem turns out to be a lack of communication. Because Charles seems to be hiding things from her, Louise assumes that he plans on breaking up with her. That is definitely not the case - Charles is hiding things from her because he wants to surprise her with the news that he's retiring from his job as an LC (Licensed Companion - a legal prostitute), has gotten a license in psychology, specializing in sex therapy, and has bought a house. Charles proposes marriage, and Louise accepts.

The actual murder mystery in this book didn't really excite me too much. I don't mind books where the story is more about figuring out how the killer did it than who did it. Sure, it could've turned out that Dallas was wrong and the wife didn't really do it, but I never expected that to be the case - actually, if Dallas had been wrong, maybe the book would've been more interesting.

There was something about this book that reminded me of Origin in Death (the one about the Icove case). Both books have a murder victim who appears to be the sort of person no one would ever want to kill, and both books have a woman who seems innocent but who Dallas thinks is a little off. However, the Icove case was much more interesting than the Anders case - it's possible that this is because the Icove case touches on some very discussable issues, whereas the Anders case is just about greed and the lack of a conscience. Robb tries to make Mrs. Anders seem like a criminal genius who would have gotten away with the murder if Dallas hadn't been so tenacious. However, as the Anders case is unraveled and the giant holes in Mrs. Anders's plan are revealed, she couldn't look less like a criminal genius.

Long-time readers of Robb's books probably read them as much for the character relationships as for the mysteries. In this case, although the character stuff (Charles and Louise are getting married!) is certainly fun, there isn't very much of it. The focus of this book is on the mystery, which, as I've mentioned, wasn't really all that gripping.

Overall, I love this series, but this particular book was not an example of the series at its best.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 - like Eve, Spooner pursues his theory even though on the surface it appears impossible.
  • The Beekeeper's Apprentice (book) by Laurie R. King - This one's a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. In 1915, 15-year-old American Mary Russell, an orphan chafing in her aunt's care, meets Sherlock Holmes and impresses him with her intelligence and observation skills. He agrees to mentor her and lets her take part in a few cases, until she finally becomes part of a much more dangerous case. King's style is different from Robb's, and it takes a while before there's any romance (and it's never at the level of Robb's books - Mary and Holmes are more intellectual than romantic, and King's books are mysteries, first and second). However, those who'd like a character-oriented mystery featuring a strong female heroine and a real criminal mastermind might want to try this.

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