Turning the Pages…

First, an apology: I was sick for a couple of weeks there and left the column in favour of bed rest. I’m sorry I didn’t let you all know where I went. Thanks to both of the readers who inquired about me. You know who you are.

I haven’t done a lot of reading in the last short while. An inability to stay conscious for more than a half-hour cramped my reading style. However, this week I finally finished something new.

Survivor in Death, one of the latest “Eve Dallas” novels from renowned author Nora Roberts (who writes this “…in Death” series under the pseudonym J. D. Robb) is a near-future science-fiction whodunnit cop story. So it must be good, right? After all, near-future science-fiction is good, and whodunnits are good, and cop stories are good…so all of them together must be fabulous!

Well…yes and no. I really like Roberts’ near-future science fiction elements. She has a much more populous New York, with some subtle futuristic touches. People eat a lot less real meat, for example, and a lot more soy ‘simulated’ meats. Fashion is futuristic; some of the descriptions of people’s outfits are wild and crazy, but not that far off from what kids are wearing today (trust me, I work in a high school!). There are other subtle (and not -so subtle) technological advances that I find interesting to contemplate on a slightly deeper level than she chooses to deal with. What, for example, would be the effect of an AutoChef in most homes? Or the sociological effect of having robots as shopkeepers? I wonder. I’m not sure Roberts does. She seems to include them as part of the “well, it’s science fiction, it must have robots” kit.

I also enjoy the story itself. Most of the novels in this series are fairly fast-paced. They involve not only solving a crime (or a series of related crimes), but also a lot about the characters. While some of these are fairly flat, cookie-cutter types, some of the characters have actual growth. Even if they are quite static, the characters are lovable (or hateable, as their role dictates). The novels are all extremely plot-driven. That’s what I need sometimes.

In this particular installment of the series, a family is murdered in their beds, except for the nine-year-old daughter who witnesses the killings from her hiding spot. Eve Dallas, New York Police and Security Department cop, goes after the killers. With her ultra-rich husband, Roarke, whose criminal background is extensive as a civilian consultant on the case (his computer skills are unmatched), Dallas hunts down the bad guys, and takes them away in the end. Sorry to put out a spoiler, there, but you weren’t really expecting anything else, were you?

The part of the novel that I really don’t like is the sex. Okay, it’s a Nora Roberts novel — what did I expect, right? Maybe I was canalized by the science fiction I read in my youth, but somehow I don’t expect characters in an science-fiction novel to be ripping the clothes from each others’ backs and indulging in some focused calisthenics, if you know what I mean. If you want a bit of action in your mystery novel, this might be up your alley, however. I guess what bothers me most about the ‘action’ is that it always has an urgent, angry feel to it, sort of an almost-rape twice per novel like clockwork. Granted, the participants are always a married couple (and it’s completely consensual), and the one initiating the almost-rape is usually the woman, but a little variety in the flavour would be nice.

All in all, this series is, to my mind, one step (perhaps a short step) up from a Harlequin “Passions”-type romance novel. It’s great brain candy, and because it involves a whodunnit, you can rationalize that you’re actually using some critical thinking skills. But, hey”?it’s fun! I wouldn’t run out and buy the whole series in hardcover. But if I happened across one I hadn’t read at the library, I’d probably take it home.

Robb, J. D. (2005). Survivor in Death. New York: Putnam.