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, Doreen Sheridan reviews #5, Ceremony in Death.
Another deficiency in my mystery-novel education to date has been the fact that I’d never read a J.D. Robb novel before this retrospective came around. Being the conscientious sort, I thought it best to start from the beginning—despite the first book I was assigned to review being this, the 5th in the series.
I’m very glad I did, however, because a large part of the appeal of this series—both to me and, I’m sure, to the average reader who’s helped make these books such bestsellers—is the continuing evolution of the relationship between Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Police And Security Department (as New York cops are officially known in the year 2058) and the single-named billionaire, Roarke, who clawed his way out of poverty through means not necessarily legal.
But before we discuss that relationship, let’s go over the basics of the mystery in this installment: a cop friend of Eve’s and her mentor’s dies of heart failure. At his funeral, the deceased’s granddaughter Alice comes to Eve and slips her a message begging for help. While finding herself attracted to the Wiccan religion, Alice had also decided to look into Satanism “on a purely scholarly level.” Next thing she knows, she’s neck-deep in bloody rituals, living in a haze of drugs and sex. And she’s perfectly fine with that … until she walks in on the murder of a young child by the people who initiated her into their cult.
Traumatized, Alice runs back to the Wiccans who originally taught her their practice. Unable to forget the murder but also unable to find the courage to report it to the authorities, she brings the information instead to her grandfather, and is convinced that she signed his death warrant by doing so. Before you know it, Eve, Roarke, and Eve’s delightful uniformed police aide Delia Peabody find themselves navigating the worlds of white and black magic as they race to stop a murderer hiding crimes behind the cloak of religion.
There’s so much I enjoy about the In Death series. The worldbuilding in the near-future setting is excellent, and I love how Ms. Robb extends her thoughtful narrative gaze to less mainstream religions and beliefs in this novel, incorporating also her fictional movement of Free-Agers, of which Delia is a lapsed adherent. But a large part of what makes these books so good is, as I mentioned earlier, the relationships.
First, of course, is Eve’s relationship with Roarke. I’ll admit that I had a huge problem with him in the first three books, but by this novel, the abusive edges of his behavior have (mostly) been rounded off. And Ceremony in Death has one of the loveliest scenes of seduction in any romance novel I’ve read to date:
The lower edges of the sky were as wildly red as the blossoms arching over them. The shadows were long and soft. She could hear birdsong and the whisper of air through the dying leaves. The touch of his hands on her was like a miracle, chasing away all the ugliness and pain of the world she walked in.
She didn’t even know she needed to be soothed, he thought as he stroked, and he soothed, so that arousal was slow and warm and liquid. Perhaps neither had he, until they held like this, touched like this. The romance of the air, the light, the gradual surrender of a strong woman was gloriously seductive.
I also really, really liked that Ms. Robb explores Eve’s other, platonic relationships. Though perhaps platonic isn’t the best word to describe how Eve considers her mentor, whom she finds herself under orders to secretly investigate after her superior discovers that Alice’s grandfather might have been dabbling in illegal drugs and Feeney, said mentor, might have used his expertise as captain of the Electronics Detection Division to erase any trace of wrongdoing. When Feeney finds out about this, he explodes, lashing out at Eve in the most verbally hurtful way possible.
And Roarke, knowing that Eve will never defend herself emotionally the way she needs to, goes to have a conversation with Feeney. He reminds Feeney that Eve was abused as a child, and reveals to him that her abuser was her father, leading to the following conversation, with Feeney saying first:
“You got no business telling me this.”
“She’d likely say the same, but I’m telling you, anyway. She made herself what she is, and you helped. She’d go to the wall for you; you know that.”
“Cops back up cops. That’s the job.”
“I’m not talking about the job. She loves you, and she doesn’t love easily. It’s difficult for her to feel it, and to show it. Part of her may always be braced for betrayal, for a blow. You’ve been her father for ten years, Feeney. She didn’t deserve to be broken again.”
Not only did that scene solidify how important Eve’s relationship with Feeney is, it also underlined how well Roarke knows her and how sensitive he is to her suffering: swoon-worthy hero stuff for sure!
I’m really glad that my opinion of him has improved from the first few books, and am looking forward to him impressing me even more as the series progresses. J.D. Robb just goes from strength to strength, and I’m glad to have finally, if belatedly, discovered this for myself.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.