Thu
Jan 12 2017 1:00pm

Review: Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb

To celebrate the upcoming release of J.D. Robb's 44th Eve Dallas mystery, Echoes in Death, we're taking a look back at every single book in the In Death series. Today, Jenny Maloney reviews #26, Strangers in Death.

Thomas Anders—wealthy businessman and family man—is found tied up and strangled with black velvet ropes in his Park Avenue apartment. His general popularity and the salaciousness of his murder combine to create a perfect storm of a public relations nightmare for Lieutenant Eve Dallas. Dallas throws the tricky work of controlling the press to her partner, Detective Delia Peabody, tossing the less experienced detective into the deep end of media interviews while Dallas handles the strange details of the case itself.

And the details are, indeed, strange. At first, it seems like something kinky gone wrong, considering the—ahem—position the body was found in: naked, tied to the bed, and surrounded by naughty adult toys. Nothing, however, is what it seems in Dallas’s world. By all accounts, Thomas Anders was a loving husband in a good marriage. No one seems to want to do him harm. 

Plus, for such a seemingly intimate crime, there are hallmarks of an organized personality behind it. Nothing is ever easy.

Strangers in Death is the 26th installment of Robb’s In Death series, and it pits Lieutenant Eve Dallas against a murderer who is conniving, plotting, and—from all evidence—unable to have committed the crime. 

There are plenty of people who would benefit from businessman Thomas Anders’s death. His nephew, whom he raised like a son, receives controlling shares of the company upon his death. His widow receives a nice chunk of change and a larger portion of the Anders company. However, everyone who could have drugged Anders, tied him up, strangled him, and left him for dead are all alibied up. 

Which means Lieutenant Eve Dallas has to listen very closely to her gut in this case. Luckily, her years of experience have taught her to spot a liar at twenty paces. She very quickly centers on Anders’s widow, Ava Anders. The evidence points to a person who knew Anders intimately—who knew his habits and routines and used that knowledge to their sinister advantage. Ava fits the bill in all particulars. 

Except for the fact that Ava was in Saint Lucia on the night of the murder, every detail points to the wife. Ava’s presence out-of-country is confirmed by several eyewitnesses, electronic records, and transportation records. 

Eve checked the transmission herself, then rechecked it. It was indisputable that Greta Horowitz contacted Ava Anders, the call originating from the house in New York and going to the room registered to Ava on St. Lucia. The transmission ran from 6:14 a.m. to 6:17 a.m.

With her eyes closed, Eve replayed the copy of the transmission provided by EDD. Ava had blocked video, but Eve did the same herself when calls came in while she was in bed. A pity though, a damn shame. It would’ve been good to see Ava’s face, to read her body language. Still, the voice was pitch-perfect—every hill and valley. Sleepy annoyance, to impatience, to shock and through to grief. Every note perfectly played.

Still…

She did a search on private transportation, and the fastest shuttle time possible from New York to St. Lucia. The results frustrated her.

Not enough time, she admitted. There just hadn’t been enough time to travel from the crime scene back to St Lucia, back to the hotel room on the island to take the call, not even if Ava had gone off book with the transportation. Physics gave her an unimpeachable alibi.

The central question of Strangers in Death swiftly moves from whodunit to howdunit? Dallas knows the widow is lying to her. She knows the widow is hiding something. She knows the widow is capable of murder. She just doesn’t know how the widow did it. And with no proof except circumstantial evidence, the trail is quickly growing cold. The longer it takes to tie down Ava’s maneuverings, the longer Ava has to destroy evidence and build up public support for her grieving widow position. 

Dallas is continually on edge in this installment—the threat that the bad guy could get away is a very real possibility. 

But Dallas is a damn good cop with a damn good team behind her. That’s what really stands out about this particular Eve Dallas novel. Rather than try to sum up how these characters respond to pressure myself, I’m going to let Detective Delia Peabody explain and end this review in her words:

“Detective,” Nadine began, “Thomas Anders was a wealthy man, a strong, visible presence in social and business circles. His prominence must bring a certain pressure onto the investigation. How does that influence your work?”

“I … I guess I’d say murder equalizes. When a life’s taken, when one individual takes the life of another, there’s no class system, no prominence. Wealth, social standing, business, those might all go to motive. But they don’t change what was done, or what we as investigators do about it. We work the case the same way for Thomas Anders as we do for John Doe.” 

“Still, some departmental pressure would be expected when the victim has prominence.”

“Actually, it’s the media that plays that kind of thing up. I don’t get it from my superiors. I wasn’t raised to judge a person’s worth by what he owns. And I was trained as a cop, as a detective, that our job is to stand for the dead—whoever they were in life.”

 

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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 MagazineShimmerSkive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.

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