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 #4, Rapture in Death.
As the 4th book in J.D. Robb’s In Death series, Rapture in Death is an encapsulated look at the series in its earliest moments. It’s one of the early moments in the Eve/Roarke romance, and it’s also a great example of how J.D. Robb used her near-future world to experiment with emerging technologies and the mystery/suspense elements of her novels. As a J.D. Robb fan—and a fan of her Nora Roberts counterpart—Rapture in Death is a time capsule for some of the In Death series’ hallmarks.
Rapture in Death begins with Roarke and Eve Dallas’s honeymoon. The couple is vacationing on an interstellar resort that Roarke’s company is constructing. They’re in relative isolation—the only people around being Roarke’s hired staff and construction crew. It’s a vulnerable time for Eve, who is still getting used to trusting someone enough to be in love. However, she also can’t turn away from her police work, even at a time meant exclusively for herself and her new marriage.
Unfortunately, in the true way of a suspense or mystery novel, Eve and Roarke are interrupted by the seemingly isolated suicide of one of Roarke’s employees. Eve is the only law enforcement professional on board, and she quickly determines between herself and the on-hand doctor that it was a singular death by suicide. For all of the investigative work Eve’s done in the past, this incident—while tragic—is just another blip on the radar.
The one creepy thing is the way that the victim, an engineer, was smiling.
Eve and Roarke’s return to Earth is met with several other suicides that fit similar descriptions. What seemed to be an isolated incident with a young, socially reserved man turns into something much more insidious. Eve’s investigations lead her to the world of the brain and the way virtual reality can change it. Love and desire couple themselves with self-destruction as technology and the human body become weapons. As Eve races to figure out the cause of death and the human being potentially behind it, her own psychology comes into play with her relationships to her new husband, her best friend, and her fellow colleagues.
One element I love about the In Death series is how it combines the suspense/mystery genre with the romance genre. Robb has established herself in both worlds, and her mastery of characterization in particular serves this kind of genre hybrid well. Eve and Roarke’s romance in this book is something to behold because it’s still very fragile. As a victim of abuse with a hardened personality, Eve’s slow movements to trust make sense (especially put into context of how each book takes place in a relatively short timeframe—Robb’s near-future world allows that to occur believably.)
“Roarke, you changed my life.”
Surprised, he tipped up her face. Her eyes weren’t wet but dry and fierce and angry. “What’s this?”
“You changed my life,” she said again. “At least part of it. I’m beginning to see it’s the best part of it. I want you to know that. I want you to remember that when we get back and things settle into routine, if I forget to let you know what I feel or what I think or how much you mean to me.”
I think it also adds to the mystery and suspense. Roarke, in being a constant for Eve due to his unwavering love and passion, allows the narrative to breathe. We can believe that Eve will always save the day, that she’ll always uncover the killer and solve the case, because Roarke acts as an assured support system and allows her character to relax in moments of distress.
Without Roarke, I think we, as readers, would be hard-pressed to believe that Eve Dallas could survive this long in her profession (let alone through 40+ mysteries if you consider the entire In Death series). Her capability as a character is unparalleled, but the likelihood of psychological burnout is extremely high. Roarke provides one solid reason as to why Eve can avoid total burnout, and I think that Robb utilizes that in their relationship to full advantage. Not only do they love each other, but they need each other to keep the mystery/suspense element in play throughout the series.
I believe this ties into the other major strength that stood out to me in Rapture in Death. One theme of the mystery surrounding the suicides and technology is the way that psychology affects the brain. Robb uses this as a theme throughout the In Death books, as it ties into the way Eve operates in her different contextualized relationships with those around her.
What makes this element particularly fascinating is the way that it ties so succinctly into thoughts about future technologies. Robb crafted a surprisingly flexible near-future world with a lot of forethought to liberal politics that succeeds in holding up by today’s standards. Reading this book and knowing it published in the 1990’s, I was consistently surprised at just how many of Robb’s themes have carried out in the past decade and how many times her political discussions felt like they reflected a continuing pattern of where our society is headed.
Robb addresses this in the text as well during Eve’s research—the psychology and brain science more so than the other stuff—and I think it provides great food for thought when reading the mystery. Plus, Robb just has a way of writing it that sounds so convincing.
“But I’m sure, dead sure, that if they had enough of her brain to scrape up off the street for analysis, they’d find the same burn on her frontal lobe. I know it, Commander, I just don’t know how it’s getting there.” She waited a beat. “Or being put there.”
His eyes flickered. “Are you theorizing that someone is influencing certain individuals to self-termination through some sort of brain implant?”
See what I mean? What Robb does best is tie it into the mystery in a practical way. Robb gets you to ask the right questions, but she doesn’t lead you to ham-fisted theories and philosophies about it. Like Eve, her narration is startling in its practicality.
All in all, Rapture in Death is a fascinating early entry in the In Death series. Robb uses it as a time to establish the vitality and necessity of the Eve/Roarke relationship. She develops key secondary characters. She establishes that the near-future is a world brimming with technology and possibility. More than that, she ties in themes of psychology to emphasize just how important relationships are to solving crimes in a very real, human manner.
I believe that, while perhaps not the strongest entry into the series, Rapture in Death reminds me of how it operates as a phenomenal long-term case study into human relationships and how they relate to the solving of violent crimes—not to mention it gives us many great scenes of Eve and Roarke, but that’s another matter entirely…
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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.
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