Review: Obsession 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, John Jacobson reviews #40, Obsession in Death.

Obsession in Death marks the 40th official title in the In Death series. After reviewing Festive in Death, I managed to avoid feeling series burnout because of Eve Dallas’s continued improvement as a character. Obsession in Death took those feelings and amped them up a few notches. This installment is much more about the mystery, following a serial killer that kills with the belief that they are Dallas’s friend. It’s a compelling mystery arc that also gives the reader a lens to look back on Eve’s career—a smart authorial decision on Robb’s part that makes this book work both as a standalone mystery and as a later installment in an ongoing series. 

Getting called to a grisly murder scene is day-to-day work for Lieutenant Eve Dallas, even if it is just after the Christmas holidays. Eve’s latest job has something she’s never seen before: a note from the killer addressed directly to her.

Eve has no idea who the killer is. Whoever they are, they make a meticulous kill directed towards someone that historically did Eve wrong in a previous case. The clear emotional connection to Eve’s career is startling. Not only that, but it presents a clear danger to the people touched by her professional life. It also presents a danger to her loved ones. One wrong move in navigating the case could set the killer on someone Eve cares about. 

As the investigation progresses, Eve begins to see just how scary it can be to have someone follow her career with the zealotry of a killer. Her sense of justice is strong, yet someone else’s interpretation is deadly for those who don’t meet it. The murderer’s strong capabilities in cleaning up a crime scene also makes every second count—and every death a mark on Eve’s conscience. Eve knows that it’s not her fault, yet she can’t help but shake that idea that the killer’s obsession with her makes her complicit in the deaths of those surrounding her. 

To find the killer before it’s too late, Eve has to investigate her most obsessed fans and their potential to kill in the name of her as an idol. She also has to grapple with the growth of her career and just how far the influence of fame can go in the life of a cop, especially a cop that inspires as many obsessed fans as she does enemies. 

Robb’s title word of “obsession” is a theme explored heavily in the construction of the mystery in this In Death title. Whereas the title before this, Festive in Death, was more of a character piece with the mystery as a helpful addition, Obsession in Death is heavily centered on the mystery and its deep effects on Eve Dallas’s psyche. 

It’s easy to forget just how famous Eve Dallas is in the world Robb has created by this point of the series. After having a book and film written about her in-world, Eve has a level of visibility in her career beyond her marriage to Roarke. It’s a beautiful sense of independence and competence porn (a term often used by Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books). The independence is something longterm readers love about Eve and her progress in the books, myself included, but the very focused scope of the individual mysteries can make it easy to ignore the downsides of such a high level of visibility as a member of law enforcement. 

As a result, the mystery of Obsession in Death is both clever and timely. It feels like it fits well in the context of the larger series, coming at a time where Eve would be ready to grapple with her fame and its effects on the public. Robb has a knack for knowing when Eve Dallas is going to struggle with something in her character arc, and using the mystery to bring that struggle out in a three-dimensional way is extremely clever.

I think Robb also makes that struggle feel emotionally sensitive with Eve. We know that Eve is a tough nut to crack, so expressing her vulnerability is a powerful thing for Robb to invoke in these instances. 

Okay, Eve thought, took a breath, poured more coffee. And opened the first name with its correspondence.
When Roarke came back in, she was up and pacing.

“People are fucked up,” she told him.

“So you’ve said before.”

“How can they be even more fucked up than I thought? I’ve seen what they do to each other over a harsh word, or because they wake up one day and think: Hey, disemboweling somebody could be fun. But that’s violence, and mostly I understand violence. But where does stupid and fucked up come from? Screw it,” she decided. “Nobody knows that.” 

I especially found her amazement in how screwed up people could be as something powerful. For someone who’s done as many cases as Eve Dallas has, seeing her shaken by a killer’s methods and motives makes an impact. 

It’s also unnerving. The reader empathizes with Eve’s shaken personal conscience during this time, as the letters addressed to her are startling in their familiarity. Not only does it allow her to grow as a person, but it’s a genuinely disturbing mystery that isn’t easy or predictable for Eve to solve. The resulting killer’s identity isn’t a particularly shocking sticking point, yet it makes a statement about the way that fame and invisibility can be a dangerous pairing of personalities when observed by someone who can potentially kill. I think Robb’s writing of the notes is effective (although the all-caps text contributes to that.) 

TO LIEUTENANT EVE DALLAS, WITH RESPECT AND ADMIRATION.

HE WAS A BLIGHT ON SOCIETY, THE SAME SOCIETY WHO HAMPERS YOU WITH RULES PROTECTING BLIGHTS. SOME RULES RESTRAIN JUSTICE. YOU AND I KNOW THIS.

HE SOLD HIS FILTH TO THOSE WHO IGNORE ALL RULES. LIVE IN FILTH. HE LIED TO YOU, ASSAULTED YOU. WHILE HE FEARED YOU, HE NEVER RESPECTED YOU. AND STILL THOSE RULES ALLOWED HIM TO LIVE HIS WORTHLESS, PARASITIC LIFE. 

THIS IS JUSTICE, FOR SOCIETY, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, MOST PERSONALLY, EVE, FOR YOU. THE MARK HE LEFT ON YOUR FACE FADED, AND NOW THE INSULT HAS BEEN REPAID, IN FULL. 

Something about the notes chilled me while reading, and I’ve read my share of screwed up ideas in crime novels. I think Robb taps into the fear of justice becoming toxic in a non-systemic way. Eve Dallas knows how to use the justice system itself to change the world, but she can never control the way a killer like this interprets justice. 

Obsession in Death is a worthy installment in the series. Seeing Eve struggle to understand a killer despite years of experience is humbling, and I think it strikes a good balance between characterization and mystery. Furthermore, the perspective on Eve’s career and the people she’s encountered is a necessary one—one that is able to reposition the importance of her connections to the recurring secondary characters and remind us (and Eve) of how they are a part of her life, even when she’s on the job. 

 

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John Jacobson is a college student that likes to get little sleep and advocate for LGBTQ/queer social justice.  If he had spare time, it would always be spent reading or watching nostalgic 90’s cartoons.  He’s a coeditor at Spencer Hill Press and has been a part of the publishing community for over five years.  He also writes for Heroes and Heartbreakers.  You can find him there, on Twitter @DreamingReviews, and occasionally on his personal blog.

Read all of John Jacobson's posts for Criminal Element!

Comments

  1. ualagirl

    Robb/Nora does a great job with cameo characters. I really loved the Bocco family: tired dad, flippant teen and Tink the dog. Just snippets, but oh so vivid.

  2. catbookmom

    Another insightful review. The killer in this book isn’t as in-your-face warped as was, for instance, the killer in *Thankless in Death*, but is still pretty scary.

  3. 바카라사이트

    “Let us echo the words she spoke after the passing of her husband, Prince Philip, words which can bring comfort to all of us now: ‘Life, of course, consists of final partings as well as first meetings.’.”

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