Book Review: Vendetta in Death by J.D. Robb
By Janet WebbSeptember 12, 2019
Lieutenant Eve Dallas must keep the predator from becoming the prey in Vendetta in Death, the newest thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling author J.D. Robb.
Vendetta in Death is futuristic fiction that casts a light on the #MeToo movement. Robb’s 49th “In Death” thriller introduces Lady Justice, a murderous vigilante who targets perpetrators of sexual violence—men who dole out pain and humiliation, leaving their victims broken and impotent. It should be noted that in Robb’s New York City, hiring a licensed companion for sex is legal and regulated, but then again, sex never is the motivation of a sexual predator.
Nigel B. McEnroy is a successful businessman, married with two children, helming his own executive headhunting business with two partners.
In business, Nigel B. McEnroy was scrupulous, exacting, ethical, and diligent.
None of that stopped him from being, in his private life, a liar, a cheat, an adulterer, and a serial rapist.
The man was unquestionably a pig, and it was time for the slaughter.
Crime fiction often straddles the dichotomy between a public persona and private acts. In Nigel’s case, it is not NYC’s Special Victims Unit (or the April 2061 version) who pursue him, it’s a woman who knows his sordid secrets. As in, to ensure capitulation when stalking the large-breasted redheads he favors, “he usually tipped a drug into his chosen prey’s drink, to ensure cooperation.”
Worse, perhaps, he had at least once (she suspected more) roofied a potential candidate for a position, one he would pass over—for a male—just to add insult to injury.
Of course, the poor girl hadn’t been able to prove a thing, could barely remember the assault, had been too afraid to accuse the son of a bitch.
But she’d heard enough from other victims, more than enough to begin her research, stalking, trailing, watching the pig in action.
The stalker sets off in character, sporting full lips, long, luxurious red hair, and sultry green eyes: “the temporary fake boobs looked and felt absolutely real,” supremely confident that Nigel will succumb to her charms. At the discreet club he favors, a sensuous redhead bumps into him, speaking French with a “throaty” accent. First names only, says tempting Solange, tossing her hair back, looking into her miniature compact, and titillating Nigel with words and gestures. When his back is turned, Solange drops her bag on the floor and Nigel bends to pick it up after setting two martinis on the table.
As he did, she spilled the contents of the vial in the compact into his drink.
“Merci.” She took the purse, slipped the compact back inside. She accepted the glass, tapped it lightly to his. “To the moment,” she said.
“And the many pleasures.”
See how the tables are turned: Nigel can’t enact his customary method of drugging his victim—it’s him that feels “oddly light-headed.” He wakes up to a nightmare. Nigel is naked, his hands are attached to a chain hanging from a ceiling, and there’s no Solange. Instead, a stranger appears: “she wore silver boots and a kind of—good God—breastplate in black leather with the letters LJ emblazoned on it in silver, like the boots.” In her hand is an electric prod, which she uses to sear his skin, telling him he’ll pay, not just for his wife and daughters, but “for every woman you’ve raped.” After torturing him for hours and extracting a confession, she kills him, saying, “Justice is served.”
Enter Eve Dallas:
As dawn broke over the city, Lieutenant Eve Dallas stood over the naked, mutilated body. The early breeze frisked through her choppy cap of hair, flapped at her long leather coat as she read the bold, computer-generated print on the sign tacked securely where the victim’s genitals had been.
He broke his vows of marriage,
and woman he disparaged.
His life he built on wealth and power,
to lure the helpless to his tower.
He raped for fun,
and now he’s done.
Eve shifted her field kit, turned to the uniformed officer, the first on the scene. “What do you know?”
Eve mutters, “Somebody was really pissed at you, Nigel.” One of the pleasures of “In Death” is anticipating the cast of characters and how they will interact with Eve and her husband Roarke. Like her right-hand-woman Peabody, who intones, “Harsh.”
Eve remembered a time, not so long before, when Peabody would have taken that look and gone green. A couple years as a murder cop brought out the sterner stuff.
Eve, Peabody, and McNab meticulously examine Nigel’s palatial apartment. They discover Nigel’s bottles of ROHYPNOL, RABBIT, “and a small one labeled WHORE.” Ian McNab blurts out: “Son of a bitch. He’s got travel vials. Go clubbing, take a vial, pick your target. Get her back here, do what you want. Lady Justice’s poem wasn’t wrong.” Not only did Nigel take his victims back to his home when his wife was out of town, but he also had an “all-directional vid cam, on a tripod, already cued for voice activation.” Peabody calls him a “slime sack,” although Eve retorts, “Yeah, but he’s our slime sack now.” It sickens Eve to watch disc after disc of women being raped and humiliated by Nigel but it’s her job.
“Perhaps Lady Justice had a point,” Roarke suggested.
“Murder doesn’t have a point, and it’s not justice.”
Investigating the Lady Justice killing causes long-suppressed experiences to surface. By-the-book Peabody asks Eve, “What would you do if a boss or superior tried the grab-ass on you?” Eve says in her first year in Homicide, a second-grade detective cornered her in the locker room. Eve “busted the asshole’s nose, bruising his balls,” but when Feeney (her first boss) crashed in, “Detective Fuckface starts going off on how I came at him.” Feeney stands up for Eve and forces the handsy detective to take early retirement, but, and here’s the rub, it could have ended totally differently.
“The fact is,” she said as she started hunting for parking, “if he hadn’t stood up for me, I’d have swallowed down what I had to swallow to stay on the job, to stay in Homicide. I could kick the fucker’s balls, but without Feeney’s backing, I couldn’t have done much else.”
Not everyone has a Feeney—a “real cop,” a “real boss,” and a “real man,”—in their corner.
The case tears Eve apart: she’s saturated in Nigel’s obsessive prurient moves—his need to control women—but she’s also submerged in the suffering of his victims. Roarke steps up for his Eve.
“It’s your job, Lieutenant, to know that, understand that, as much as it’s your job to find his killer.” Those eyes, those incredibly blue eyes, looked straight into her. Saw everything. “Empathizing with the women he used doesn’t change any of that.”
“Empathizing isn’t objectivity.”
“And bollocks to that. If feeling, relating, understanding isn’t part of the job, well then, why aren’t droids investigating?”
Lady Justice kills the next night and the night after that. Same modus operandi: a man is tortured, defiled, and left naked on the street, with a “poetic note” from Lady Justice outlining his sexual crimes. Eve zeroes in on the vigilante, feverishly working to prevent another killing. She’s pissed off as she tells Roarke, “that some have the mind-set that taking a life is some sort of act of heroism.” That’s not justice in Eve’s mind. Her moral compass demands “real justice,” which would have put Nigel behind bars, “taken away that power, that money, his freedom for years.” Subtle, unspoken analogies with 2019 abound: Vendetta in Death is a brutal story, punctuated with perceptive, thoughtful observations (and some trademark humor—everyone will chuckle at how Eve and Roarke would punish each other if they erred—knowing full-well that’s not in the cards for this legendary couple).