Review: Apprentice 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, Janet Webb reviews #43, Apprentice in Death.

Apprentice in Death gives us J.D. Robb at the top of her game. Each In Death book juxtaposes a methodical, futuristic police procedural with the ever-evolving relationship of New York City’s Lieutenant Eve Dallas and Roarke, her gazillionaire husband.

The setting of Apprentice in Death is decades into the future, but the vagaries of murder are, unfortunately, timeless. There’s a shooting at an outdoor skating rink: “Three shots in roughly twelve seconds, three dead—center back, gut, forehead. That’s not luck.” No, those are skilled shots.

Eve knows immediately that she has a LDSK on her hands. According to the Urban Dictionary, the initials represent “Long Distance Serial Killer; a serial killer that kills at great distances via a sniper rifle or other weapons.”

It never gets easy to tell bereaved husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends, and lovers that their lives will never be the same. Making the notifications, either in person or over a link, is one of the most difficult parts of Eve’s job.

Death changed everything, she knew, and murder added a bloody smear to the change. She had to cut through the grief—it blurred focus.

Lieutenant Dallas knows that even if the surface indicates a random tragedy—even if it appears that the victims are “ordinary, law-abiding people”—that “there was always a reason, she reminded herself. Even if the reason was bat-shit crazy.”

Stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers!

Almost instantly, Eve realizes that a weapon that is equipped to take someone out from a mile and a half away “has to be law enforcement or military.” Armed with this knowledge, Eve and her team figure out who the sniper—the former military sniper—is. Reginald Mackie, once a member of the New York City police, is the expert sniper, and, unbelievably to all concerned, his teammate is his teenage daughter Willow. Furthermore, it seems his targeting “is connected in some way to his wife’s death.” A few years earlier, Mackie’s pregnant second wife died tragically in a traffic accident. As Eve’s team investigates, the death toll mounts. All ages, all backgrounds, all inexplicably slaughtered by distant expert marksmen.

Dr. Mira, “the resident psychiatrist and profiler” for J.D. Robb’s fictional New York Police and Security Department, tells Eve’s team the rationale behind Mackie’s “bat-shit crazy” madness:

“He has reached the point where these lives mean nothing. And to have involved his teenage daughter…I would say he believes this is not only revenge but justice.”

“I think it’s more than involving her, showing her. In each incident one of the victims was also a teenager. Serial killers most usually have a type.”

It is difficult for Eve Dallas and her team to acknowledge that “Willow Mackie’s type” is teenagers. But, the crux of Apprentice in Death is the tension between nature and nurture. No one understands the self-hatred that comes from being raised by a monster better than Eve, and yet, the adult Eve saves lives—she doesn’t take them.

As longtime readers of the In Death series know, Eve Dallas had a horrific childhood that culminated in the death of her father by her hand. Eve—abused, raped, and starved—somehow grows up to become a stalwart officer of the law, and personally, her unusual union with an Irish grifter-turned-master-of-the-universe turns out phenomenally well. Eve’s realization that Willow Mackie is a stone-cold killer is the crucial ingredient of Apprentice in Death: Willow is an apprentice who surpasses her master.

A very worthy addition to the In Death canon: you’ll race to the thrilling, satisfying climax.


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Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!


  1. MaryC

    Thank you for the look back at the In Death series – I have enjoyed reading all the reviews.

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