Review: Origin 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, Jenny Maloney reviews #21, Origin in Death.

Dr. Wilfred B. Icove, Sr. is perfect on paper—which makes sense for a doctor dedicated to making other people “perfect” via cosmetic surgery. He has no outstanding bank accounts, a smaller-than-average number of malpractice suits in his long career, and a loving family. His clients come out of his office with robust busts, pert noses, and svelte waistlines. So, when he’s stabbed in the heart with a scalpel, it comes as quite a surprise. 

And Eve Dallas is convinced Icove’s perfect persona is a front for some other, darker second life. After all, no one is perfect. When she’s stonewalled with Icove’s records, Dallas turns to husband/crime-fighting partner Roarke. Together they break through Icove’s coded records and find that Icove is, indeed, searching for perfection—in the most inhumane, imperfect way possible. 

When Icove’s son—also a doctor, also strangely perfect—is murdered in the exact same way as his father, Dallas must dig deep into the family’s past to find someone willing to kill people so seemingly perfect.

Origin in Death is the 21st book in the In Death series by J.D. Robb, and it’s Robb at the top of her Dallas/Roarke game. With this novel, Robb digs into the futuristic nip/tuck medical world, the ethics of genetic manipulation, and the human element behind it all. 

It all starts with Wilfred B. Icove, Sr. As a doctor in the early 21st-century Urban Wars, he lost his wife and daughter but managed to save several orphaned children—reconstructing physical damage done by war: burns, amputations, scars, etc. From there, he built a medical empire making people into perfect versions of themselves. He even won a Nobel Prize for his Unilab clinic. He donates heavily to charity, including a large, upscale school called Brookhollow … which is filled with strangely perfect specimens of humanity. 

All of that’s awesome. Until he’s murdered. With a scalpel to the heart. 

Perhaps if Eve Dallas didn’t have a lot of experience with the seedy underbelly of the world, she’d believe Dr. Icove, Sr.’s track record. But, she does have that experience and isn’t buying it. 

“Not a thing out of place,” she [Eve] mumbled. “Everything in its slot. Neat, ordered, coordinated, stylish. It’s like a holo program.”

“Yeah, sort of. Like those ones you play with when you’re fantasizing about your dream house.” She [Peabody] slanted a glance towards Eve. “Well, I do sometimes. You just happen to live in Dream House.” 

“You can look at this.” Eve stepped to the glass rail. “And you can see how he lived. Up in the morning—early I’d say. Thirty minutes on his equipment—keep it toned—shower, groom, do a three-sixty in the mirror just to make sure nothing pudging or sagging, take daily meds, head on down for a healthy breakfast, read the paper or some medical journal crap. Maybe catch the morning reports on-screen, keep that on while you come back up to select today’s wardrobe. Dress, primp, check appointment book. Depending on that, maybe do a little paperwork here, or head out to the office. Walk most days, unless the weather’s ugly.

… It’s not enough, Peabody. Guy’s a big wheel, big brain, creates centers, foundations, all but single-handedly advances his field of expertise. Now he what, takes the occasional case, or consults, bops off to lecture or consult out of town. Plays with his grandkids a couple days a week. It’s not enough,” she repeated, shaking her head.

Turns out, for all of Icove’s good qualities, there’s plenty of not-so-good qualities that make it worth removing him from the world. And his son. And his partner who runs Brookhollow. 

Finding out what these medical pros were up to is trickier than it looks. There are piles of money unaccounted for, mysterious medical study data, and missing medical records. So, Dallas turns to the one person she knows can find the money and missing information: her husband, Roarke. 

However, he’s a little busy prepping for a huge Thanksgiving get-together with his Irish relations. Dallas is dealing with probably the largest case in her life, and sorting through a family reunion isn’t the most relaxing way to spend her holiday. It’s pretty entertaining to watch two orphans freak out about planning for family: 

He tried to relax into his dinner and not worry about the logistics of this event he’d started. The transportations was no problem. He’d already seen to that. And housing them, well, the place was big enough to tuck them in even if the whole lot of them hopped the shuttle. 

But what the hell was he going to do with them once they got here? It wasn’t like entertaining big business associates or even friends. 

He had relations, for God’s sake. How was he supposed to get used to having them, dealing with them, when he’d lived nearly the whole of his life without them?

Now they were going to be under his roof and he hadn’t a clue what they would expect.

“Should we have something separate for the children, do you think?”

“What?” Eve frowned at him as she poked at the food on her plate. “Oh, that. Hell, I don’t know. You’re supposed to know how to do this stuff.”

His face was a mirror of his frustration. “And how am I supposed to know how to do something I’ve never done before?” He scowled into his wine. “It’s unnerving, that’s what it is.” 

“You could contact them, say something’s come up. Cancel.” 

“I’m not a bloody coward,” he muttered in a way that made her think he’d consider doing just that.

In the end, despite the distracting family parties, Origin in Death breaks wide-open a section of Eve Dallas’s New York (and world), and Robb boldly confronts issues that we struggle with today as we are bombarded with new technologies: human trafficking, designer babies, cloning ethics, and human rights. The genie set loose in Origin will be really hard to put back in the bottle.


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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 MagazineShimmerSkive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.


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