Book Review: Survivor in Death by J.D. Robb

Our book club’s book for June was SURVIVOR IN DEATH, the 19th in the Eve Dallas series of NYC police procedurals by J.D. Robb (also known as Nora Roberts). For anyone who hasn’t experienced this series, the key thing to know is that it takes place in New York City in the not-too-distant future (this one is set in 2059). Everyone in the club reads a wide variety of mysteries, and during our last meeting we somehow got onto the topic of J.D. Robb and we were surprised to find that none of us had ever read her before, which is surprising for someone so well regarded and ubiquitous (and prolific). So we decided to jump right in and give it a whirl.

The plot begins with a nice, innocent family being slaughtered systematically and brutally in their beds by a pair of well-trained thugs. Lt. Eve Dallas is called onto the case and jumps into it with gusto; but things get really personally when the thugs kill two of Dallas’ men, who are guarding an empty safehouse. In the meantime, one nine-year-old child survived the slaughter, and to protect her, Dallas brings her to live with Dallas and her husband Roarke, who is a multibillionaire mogul. The story revolves around Dallas’ hunt for not only the killers but also their motives.

There was a lot that we enjoyed about the book. At first the idea of a mystery set in the future didn’t appeal to some of us; we were afraid there’d be all sorts of ridiculous gadgets and technology to set up a deus ex machina ending. But Robb actually creates a very believable future, where technology is slightly advanced beyond what we know today, but in a realistic way. Certainly the machismo of the men (and women) in blue remains unchanged, and the ties that bind cops are portrayed very well. While one of us know a lot about police procedures, we were sort of fascinated by Dallas’ ability to analyze a crime scene and draw conclusions on these observations–they all made sense and were very finely tuned. The pacing is a little inconsistent, though, starting off strong but lagging in the middle, then ending with a conclusion that ties everything up just fine.

Overall we liked the book and could understand why Robb has such a loyal following. But, since we are a rather diverse lot, we did find some points to pick on. First, and strangely enough, New York City (even a NYC of the future) isn’t very well evoked, beyond a bit of name dropping regarding landmark buildings and street names. Eve is tough as nails (hiding a sensitive interior and a tortured past, as is her husband, Roarke), which gives her a lot of a good one-liners, but she often seems like a Character with a capital C rather than a real woman. Ditto for Roarke, who is darkly interesting but who, in another genre, could be the Tortured Vampire with a Sensitive Soul. The relationship between Roarke and Dallas seems real enough; but I think more of us had expected fireworks that we didn’t really see.

I think as a whole we all felt that we’d had a very good experience with this new author. And while not all of us were hooked enough to read more in the series, many of us were, and are looking forward to reading about Dallas’ earlier exploits–and her earlier interactions (pre-marriage) with Roarke.

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