Monday, November 22

Naked in Death - JD Robb

Lieutenant Eve Dallas is dedicated to solving crime - as a lieutenant in the NYPD she's renown for her single-minded devotion to the task at hand. When a licenced companion, granddaughter of a Republican senator, is found not just murdered in her apartment but shot - a genuine rarity now that guns are primarily collector's items - Dallas is intrigued. When another licenced companion, this time with a very different clientele, is found the same way, Dallas knows she has a serial killer on the loose. At least as alarming is the increasing presence in the case of the planet's most eligible bachelor, Roarke.
Although she has every reason to be suspicious of him, both regarding the case and out of a sense of self preservation, Dallas is curiously drawn to the multi-billionaire, and the feeling appears to be mutual. But what interest could a refined, wealthy, suave and handsome entrepreneur have in a plain, thirty-something with no family, a background in foster care, and virtually no memory of her first eight years on the planet, or even her name?
JD Robb is better known as well loved romance writer Nora Roberts, with whom both Lynn and I have previously had mixed success. A recent thread on SmartBitches, discussing readers' most loved romance couples, revealed a strong affinity for the Dallas/Roarke relationship, which clearly starts with Naked in Death and continues through what Wikipedia indicates is well over thirty books and short stories. Ever a sucker for a good, strong romantic couple, and having discovered some of my favourite authors through SmartBitch recs, I tried the first Dallas/Roarke novel.
The "In Death" universe is set in the near future, after the Urban Revolt on 2016, the Urban wars that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, and significant legislative change, from the outlawing of guns to the legalising of prostitution. Naked in Death takes place in the late 2050's, when America has significantly recovered from these tumultuous events - the average life expectancy is somewhere between 120 and 160, and there's a vaccine to prevent cancer. Roarke conducts some of his business off world, and there are many innovative technologies.
Perhaps the import of setting the novel in the mid-future (Naked in Death was first published in 1995) is greater in subsequent novels, but I could seen the point in this first of the series. There isn't anything massively different in forensic technology, at least from an amateur's viewpoint, and I found the idea of that much change in such a short period of time - an increase in life expectancy of 50% in under a century, significant non-terrestrial commerce and colonisation - unconvincing, particularly in the aftermath of devastating upheaval and infrastructure compromise. Okay, having legalised prostitution (or 'licenced companions') and a scarcity of guns contributed to the plot, but as someone living in a country where the former is currently legal and the latter rare, needing to move ahead several decades seemed unnecessary, but I could have overlooked it.
I had greater difficulty overcoming the writing, which I found clunky and intrusive - on checking the crime scene, Dallas notes that the apartment was "Neat as a virgin... and cold as a whore." On learning that the first victim "bought it in bed" she:
only lifted a brow. "Seems poetic, since she' been bought there.".

There are big chunks of exposition, so we learn about her abusive past not through an integrated flashback, or a confidence to her new lover, but by Dallas's therapist telling her what she already knows:
"Lieutenant, we both know I'm fully aware of your background. You were abused, physically, sexually and emotionally. You were abandoned when you were eight... For two years between the ages of eight and ten, you lived in a communal home while your parents were searched for. You have no memory of the first eight years of your life, your name, your circumstances, your birthplace..."

I appreciate that Dallas needs to start out somewhat cold and distant, in order to increase the warmth and openness a relationship with Roarke apparently brings. But I found her extraordinarily difficult to warm to. More importantly, nothing about the Dallas/Roarke relationship resonated with me - I wasn't interested in either of them, I didn't feel convinced of their attraction (on either side, let alone mutual), and I got an unpleasantly stalkerish vibe about him as well.
I appreciate that Roberts is well loved by a vast number of readers, both under her own name and under pseudonym. I accept that for a number of fans this pairing is one of the most romantic is Romancelandia (a term I met through SmartBitch creators Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan). but neither of these things is true for me. - Alex

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