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, John Valeri reviews #34, Celebrity in Death.
Lieutenant Eve Dallas isn’t much impressed by the thought of rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s elite at a fancy dinner for the cast and crew of The Icove Agenda—a film-in-progress based on one of her most celebrated cases. Nevertheless, she and her partner, the effervescent Det. Delia Peabody, find themselves making nice at director Mason Roundtree’s swanky New York pad; after all, public relations are of the utmost importance to the brass. But when an actresses is found dead in the pool, the A-list becomes the suspect list in J.D. Robb’s Celebrity in Death, the 34th book in this futuristic crime series.
Though the plot is somewhat reminiscent of Wes Craven’s horror film Scream 3 (2000), it plays better on the page than it did on the big screen—and Robb’s characters are every bit as self-aware as celluloid ones. Maybe more so. The fact that the victim—twenty-seven-year-old K.T. Harris—was portraying Peabody adds a brilliantly emotional bent to the story (it’s easy for Dallas and Co. to visualize her when viewing the corpse). Circumstances are further complicated by the fact that Harris was universally disliked, meaning that the motives for her murder are plentiful. A second, related death proves that hers was not an isolated incident—and that Dallas and Peabody are up against a ticking clock.
As always, Peabody—perhaps a better than her thespian counterparts—is the good cop to Dallas’s bad. While stereotypical of police partnerships, there is a dynamic that is both fresh and fun. Whether running down leads or interrogating persons of interest, their interactions elevate the story from mundane to sublime. Peabody’s ability to make herself empathic works particularly well here, given her ability to appeal to big egos and big insecurities—both of which tend to typify the celebrity personality. She is perhaps the unsung hero of Robb’s franchise, and this book is as much a celebration of that as anything else.
Dallas’s and Peabody’s significant others—the dashing Roarke and boyishly endearing McNab, respectively—play prominently here as well, helping to illuminate their personal lives while also augmenting professional accomplishments by virtue of their unique expertise. It’s the depth of these relationships that ensures the characters never slip into caricature, and that balances out the horrors of homicide with heart and humanity. Robb has a palpable sense of fun pitting her crew against their on-screen alter egos, thereby exposing pop culture’s deadly underbelly of ambition, greed, and jealousy.
Celebrity in Death, like the best of entertainment, is easily consumed but leaves a subtle-yet-undeniable aftertaste that demands lingering attention. While this particular narrative centers upon murder, mayhem, and manipulation in movie land, J.D. Robb never lets the reader forget that her beloved characters are the real stars.
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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.