Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb is the 44th book in the In Death series featuring Eve Dallas.
As I read the first three chapters of Echoes in Death, I wondered if the book was written intentionally as a jumping-on point for new readers. It certainly reads that way, catching readers up to speed on the characters, their relationships, and the futuristic setting all in the first two chapters.
Intentional or not, if you’re curious about the In Death series, yes, you can start with this 44th book.
The story opens from the point of view of a victim: Daphne Strazza, a young doctor’s wife. Injured, terrified, and convinced she’s been attacked by the literal devil, she stumbles into the street into the path of the limousine carrying Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Roarke as they head home from a charity event.
The scene in the limo before the victim stumbles into the street is an excellent introduction to Eve and Roarke’s relationship. At the same time, it provides long-time readers another glimpse into those charity/business events that Eve grumbles about attending but usually manages to find a way to miss unless they concern her work:
“Maybe you didn’t hear me tell that woman with the hair like a tower of whipped cream”—Eve demonstrated by swirling a finger over her own short, choppy brown hair—“that, no, I don’t want to chair her committee for reintegrating rehabilitated offenders into society because I was too busy tossing offenders in prison.”
“I heard you and was grateful, when she went onto to explain to you how the police were far too focused on punishment rather than reintegration, that you refrained from punching her.”
“Thought about it.”
Note: don’t let Eve fool you. It’s the hypocrisy she hates, as events of this book prove that she has compassion for even those who’ve committed violence.
After Eve and Roarke get the victim to a hospital, there comes a sequence familiar to anyone who reads police procedurals or watches them on television: the examination of the crime scene.
It’s here that we see many of the futuristic elements of our setting, from Eve’s use of Seal-It to prevent contamination of the crime scene to the high tech security system to the damaged droids left behind by the murderer who raped and tortured Daphne and tortured and murdered the husband.
Robb performs a complex juggling act during this scene, juxtaposing a horrible crime while adding elements of humor that break up the grim circumstances. And these circumstances are so grim as to be bleak, which we see when Eve discovers the crime scene:
Blood and death … and flowers.
She found all three in the spacious suite with its wide bed flanked with high posts of burnished gold. Like the floor, drops and smears of blood marred the knotted white linens. A chair with gold finish lay with its back broken and trailing duct tape—bloodied and ragged. Trampled white lilies swam in a pool of blood or scattered bruised petals over the white and gold carpet.
A large vase of deeply cut crystal had spilled its flowers and water over the carpet and lay smeared with blood and gray matter.
For those who consider these books to be “light” because J.D. Robb’s alter ego writes romance, I submit you haven’t been paying attention.
The arrival of Peabody—Eve’s partner and the Watson to her Holmes—ushers in that welcome dose of humor that helps break the tension of the scene. While Eve concentrates on reconstructing the crime in her mind, Peabody gets all the best lines, especially when noting that Eve is investigating in the dress and shoes she wore to the gala. Without that humor, this book would be darker than your average episode of Game of Thrones.
Other crime story elements soon play out in the story as Eve interviews witnesses, tracks down physical clues that might lead to the murderer, and uncovers similar crimes where other couples have been tortured for hours with the husbands forced to watch while their wives are repeatedly raped.
What tends to separate this series from other police procedurals—either in novels or on television—is how it treats the victims of these crimes. They’re never props, living or dead. Despite the inevitable violence of each book, Robb masterfully captures the tragedy of its aftermath. For example, in Echoes in Death, when the murderer strikes again and another couple is killed, Eve realizes the room with the paint swatches on the walls inside their home was meant for a baby the couple was expecting.
If the victim is lucky enough to make it out alive, they’re allowed the hope of recovery, as we see with the arrival of Daphne’s sister to her bedside. By this time, the readers know that Daphne’s marriage was abusive, something that was hinted at in the first few chapters.
“He’s dead,” Tish said flatly, laying her hands on Daphne’s face again when Daphne flinched. “He’s dead Daphne, so that’s done. It’s done, and you’re not pushing me away. You’re not pushing me away again. Daphne, we’re your family.”
Tears swirled in Daphne’s eyes, spilled over. And broke with sobs as she clung to Tish.
“It’s going to be okay,” Tish murmured. “I promise. I’m here now. I’m here.”
While the torture she underwent at the murderer’s hands heightened Daphne’s trauma, she’s allowed the hope of recovery and the comfort of family. Eve, too, needs the comfort of her family, particularly Roarke, as the type of crime (rape and torture) brings her childhood memories of torture and rape at the hands of her father to the surface—the “echoes” of the title.
Those echoes remain for Eve, but she can handle them now because she has family: Roarke, Peabody, psychiatrist Dr. Charlotte Mira, and the members of her detective bullpen who help solve the crimes.
For long-time readers, there are some fun moments. First, Eve and Roarke have redecorated their bedroom, which thrills Roarke but confuses Eve. She’s unused to having this kind of luxury even after two years of marriage. There’s a terrific sequence as she attempts to pick out clothes in her new closet:
It was more a damn room than a closet to her eye. Sure, everything was set up in order, and that helped. All the fancy duds and the fancy stuff that went with them had their own area. She didn’t even have to acknowledge their existence, and sure as hell didn’t intend to use the closet comp to have them sliding forward on their magic rods, or to preview on screen how this sparkly dress went with those ridiculous shoes.
Intimidating, she thought again, and just a little embarrassing.
She stared at the line of jackets. Why did she have so many jackets? If you just had a couple, choosing wasn’t a problem. But there had to be more than a hundred jackets, all arranged in color groups, the blacks leading to the grays, the grays leading to the blues and right down the line.
It could give a person a headache.
(Yes, there might be a sex scene or two, as well.)
There are also threads that might be tugged at later in the series, such as the introduction of Baxter’s former lover in the form of another detective as well as several new characters like the couple running a production studio for vids that may play a part in coming novels. This series is like that; people walk onto the scene and make an impression, and they are not forgotten by the author.
I admit, I sorted out the identify of the murderer about three quarters of the way into the story (or, rather, my guess proved correct), but there’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, which was a delight. Echoes in Death is a fast-paced mystery with romantic elements that shows that this series has lost none of its forward momentum, even after so many entries.
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Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.