Sunday, May 10, 2009

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

Father Flores is poisoned in the middle of a Catholic funeral mass, in front of horrified mourners. Dallas and Peabody are called in to investigate, and Dallas begins to uncover evidence that Father Flores may not have been who he said he was, that he might not even have been a priest at all. So, who was he, and does his real identity have anything to do with his death?

The case looks briefly like it might take a different turn when an evangelist named Jimmy Jay Jenkins is murdered in a similar fashion. However, after Dallas figures that one out, she returns to the idea that "Father Flores" was killed because of who he once was. "Father Flores" was using information he learned during confession to blackmail some of his parishioners - it's possible his killer was one of his victims. "Father Flores" was also once part of a gang, with a tattoo that indicated he had killed someone - he might've been killed because of his past actions as a gang member. Finally, as a gang member, "Father Flores" might've been involved in bombings in the very same neighborhood in which he preached and died - he might've been killed because of that. It's up to Dallas to figure out who killed him and why and see to it that justice is served.

This mystery was twisty enough that it wasn't nearly as boring as the one in Strangers in Death, but I still found myself wanting more. As I've mentioned before in this blog, the main reason I enjoy this series is because I enjoy reading about the characters - the mysteries, if they're good, are just icing on the cake. One of the bright spots in Strangers in Death was Charles and Louise's engagement. This book didn't have much, really. Dallas had some of her usual (and increasingly boring, in my opinion) dreams, in which parts of her and/or Roarke's pasts are combined with victims and/or suspects in her current case(s). In this case, Dallas's father, the rapes she experienced as a child, and Marlena all come up, but there's nothing new. Plus, I'm to the point where these dreams of Dallas's actually take me out of the story - they just feel too contrived to me. Who actually has dreams like that? And on such a regular basis? I think Eve has at least one of these dreams every time she gets a new case.

I suppose if I'm not looking for actual character relationship moments, but rather the general character relationship feel, this book does have something worthwhile in it. Eve and Roarke are at a point in their relationship where they don't really have many big crises to work through anymore. In this book, they really realize how much they each do for each other. Robb didn't really dwell on it much, but it was kind of sweet that Eve thought to have Summerset make sure than one of Roarke's family members called him up.

Despite my complaints about the lack of really good character-related storylines, the mystery was pretty good. I could've done without the Jimmy Jay Jenkins bit - Dallas was so unconvinced that it had anything to do with her Father Flores case that I couldn't make myself believe it had anything to do with it, either, which made the whole thing feel like padding. However, it was interesting seeing the fake priest's past unfold. I had to suspend my disbelief more than a bit - could someone like this really have pulled off a con this prolonged? would people really not have noticed the areas where he slipped up? could he really have been so stupid as to allow himself to be snared by his killer? I know emotions tangled things up a bit, but still... I also had problems reconciling the fact that Father Flores seemed to be a good and popular priest with all the things Dallas discovered that he did and was doing - how could no one get even the hint of a bad vibe from this guy? Despite all that, it was still a fun and readable mystery. And, as usual, Dallas manages to get everything wrapped up so that true justice is served as much as possible. Again, that's a bit contrived, but it bothers me a lot less than Dallas's dreams.

Overall, while this was better than Strangers in Death, I'm beginning to wonder if all the best books in this series were the earlier ones. I can't say that the mysteries in those earlier books were any better than the mysteries in the later ones, but the character-related parts were definitely better. Sometimes I feel like the author is gearing up for a future book in which Dallas discovers that she's pregnant, but she doesn't seem to have many ideas any more for what to do between now and then.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Learning to Fly (book) by April Henry - Nineteen-year-old Free Meeker is heading home to tell her parents that she's pregnant when she's involved in a horrific 52-car collision. Although Free survives, a newspaper reports her as one of the fatalities before she can contact her parents. Free ends up assuming the identity of the woman whose body was mistaken as her own, but this turns out to be a dangerous decision - the woman was being followed by her abusive husband, who now thinks Free was the one responsible for helping her escape. In addition, Free is in possession of a suitcase of money given to her by one of the collision victims - a suitcase which belongs to some very unforgiving drug dealers. Those who'd like another story involving an assumed identity might want to try this thriller.
  • Pope Joan (book) by Donna Woolfolk Cross - In this work of historical fiction, set in the early 9th century, a woman named Joan assumes her dead brother's identity and eventually becomes Pope John Anglicus. Those who'd like another book involving religion and assumed identity might want to try this.
  • The Big Picture (book) by Douglas Kennedy - Ben Bradford appears to have everything a guy could want - a beautiful wife, two kids, a nice home in suburbia, and a partnership in a prestigious law firm. However, Ben has always dreamed of being a photographer. When he discovers that his wife has been having an affair with a guy who happens to be a photographer, Ben snaps, kills the man, and ends up assuming his identity as a photographer. Can he get away with it and somehow be happy? Should he get away with it? Those who'd like another book involving murder and an assumed identity might want to try this thriller.

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