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

J. D. Robb's Desperation in Death is a gripping new thriller that pits homicide detective Eve Dallas against a conspiracy of exploitation and evil. Check out Janet Webb's review!

Homicide detective Eve Dallas stands in for victims, making their pain her own. The circumstance of their death fuels her energy to avenge them and bring them justice. No crimes affect her more deeply than sexual abuse and exploitation of children: Eve’s painful past gives her a visceral understanding. Her father repeatedly raped and terrorized her, a regime that ended with his death at Eve’s hand. Roarke, Eve’s gazillionaire husband, is fully cognizant of Eve’s brutal childhood. His life’s ambition is to love her up such that her past stays firmly in the past but that is impossible, particularly in her latest case. 

It’s late June in New York City’s Battery Park, in the year 2061. Eve stands over the body of a beautiful red-haired teenager with a spear of wood sticking out of her chest. The way the body is positioned, how the girl is dressed, and the blood on the corpse cause red flags to go up. 

“She’s Mina Cabot, from Devon, Pennsylvania. Looks like a mugging, but . . .” Eve looked back. “See how she’s laid out? Not posed or anything, but it’s still neat. Not like she took the spear in the chest and fell. And no grass stains on her clothes. No blood on the ground—we’ll have the sweepers check that, but . . . Let’s roll her.”

How and why did a girl from a loving family disappear months earlier? Eve is relentless, ruthless, and deeply curious, always digging deeper into what doesn’t make sense. Like Mina’s clothes, as Eve tells Peabody.

“Her shirt’s damp—hasn’t dried through—and TOD confirms she died during that storm last night. But the pants? They’re dry, and the blood on them? Rain didn’t hit that.”

 

“They fit her though. Well, maybe just a tad short, like she had a little growth spurt.”

 

“Her ID lists her at five-four. Morris to verify.”

 

“They’re good pants. School-uniform navy.”

 

Eve’s eyes narrowed. “‘School uniform’?”

A growth spurt? Peabody notes that the pants aren’t summer weight: How does that factor in? Eve’s grey cells engage, as she reexamines the posed corpse. She asks Peabody why the killer would bother to take Mina’s shoes, earrings, and ID, and take the time to change her pants. Eve queries Mina’s circumstances since the time of her disappearance because “she sure as hell didn’t look like a kid who’d spent any time on the streets.” When the detectives attempt to track down Mina’s simple but elegant white shirt, they come up cold: There are no labels or distinguishing marks.

Mina’s expensive, elegant clothes and beauty products convince Dallas that she was being groomed, literally and figuratively, for sex trafficking—and that whoever is investing in this high-overhead operation expects windfall profits.

The blood on Mina’s body is that of Dorian Gregg, a runaway and one of society’s forgotten waifs. Is someone trying to set Dorian up for Mina’s death? Is Dorian injured—is she still alive? Pictures show a strikingly beautiful Black girl.

J.D. Robb gives us poignant glimpses into Dorian’s hellish past. Dorian would have done anything to escape from the hellish gilded cage where she and Mina were held. 

She knew, of course she knew, her ancestors had been sold into slavery, and when she’d still gone to regular school, she’d studied about the whole damn war fought over it.

 

But this was 2061, for fuck’s sake! People couldn’t just sell people.

 

But they would. They would.

There’s a citywide manhunt for Dorian. Eve puts herself in Dorian’s brain: she gets it because she was once on the lam. Eve goes berserk when she interviews Jewell Gregg—Dorian’s hard-handed mother—and her Child Services case manager, Pru Truman. Jewell continued to take her SAHM stipend in Dorian’s absence, never bothering to have the cops search for her only child. Eve has Jewell thrown into jail. Peabody must psychologically restrain Eve, who’s furious over Dorian’s neglect by people who should have loved and cared for her. Eve wants to send Dorian’s criminally neglectful case manager to a dungeon, and new-ager Peabody gets it. 

“And if you’d told me to toss her in a cage, I’d’ve done it. Hopefully you’d have covered me when she sued our asses off for it, but I’d’ve done it either way. It’s not that she didn’t help Dorian, and who knows how many others, but that they weren’t kids to her. They were just charges. Nameless charges.”

Street people and runaways are not nameless charges to Eve. She visits Tiko, once a street thief and now a budding entrepreneur. She shows him Dorian’s picture and he remembers her, saying “Gotta look twice at that kind of fine.” Tiko sold her a Halloween colored scarf. Who else disappeared around the same time as Mina and Dorian? Timeline in hand, Eve searches for similar circumstances and finds several beautiful young girls who went missing. It can’t be accidental. Why trap and groom young girls since prostitution is legal in 2061? Simply put, there are evil people who want to control others, body and soul, who will brook no restraints. When Eve finally meets Dorian, she understands the depravity of the scheme: “the Pleasure Academy is a living nightmare where abducted girls are trapped, trained for a life of abject service while their souls are slowly but surely destroyed.”

Eve and Roarke fight over the toll the case takes. She tells him she’s the boss, that’s it’s her case to solve and although he accepts that, he goes toe to toe with her notion that he has no right to interfere.

“But I question something I can see hurts you, and I have no right? I’m to back off, have no voice, no say, no opinion? Well, bugger that. I’m your husband, not your pet.”

 

Stunned, she took a step toward him. “I never—” 

 

And he stepped back, very deliberately. “You’ve about a half hour before the Miras get here.”

Eve Dallas has a legion of smart, loyal colleagues, friends, and advocates—the capturers and exploiters of teenage girls don’t stand a chance. This is a stand-out in the “In Death” series, bringing in memories and people from earlier books (like superstar singer Mavis Freestone and street-urchin-guru Sebastian). No need to read the entire series but you’ll enjoy Desperation in Death more if you revisit the first three books.

 

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