Review: Survivor 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, Debbie Meldrum reviews #20, Survivor in Death.

Nixie Swisher’s best friend Linnie is getting to spend the night in the middle of the week while Linnie’s parents celebrate their wedding anniversary. When Nixie wakes up in the middle of night, craving a forbidden cold drink, Linnie isn’t interested in joining her. Downstairs, two masked and armed men in black break into the house and kill everyone except the hiding nine year old.

While Lieutenant Eve Dallas is fully equipped to investigate the murders, she has nothing to fall back on when handling a devastated little girl. The family appears to have been a normal, happy, middle-class family. The housekeeper who was also killed may have just been collateral damage. And poor Linnie was mistaken for Nixie.

The precision of the attack leaves little doubt that the killers will come after Nixie if they realize their mistake. And Eve is not about to let that happen. Going around the Child Protection System means the little girl will have to be put in the safest place Eve knows of—her own home. The one Nixie calls a castle when she first sees it.

“Did it hurt, when they got dead?”

“No,” Peabody said, gently.

“Did it?” Unsatisfied, Nixie stared hard at the back of Eve’s head.

Eve parked in front of the house. “No.”

“How do you know? You never died before. You never had somebody take a big knife and cut you open in your throat. How do you know—“

“Because it’s my job.” Eve spoke briskly as Nixie’s voice rose up the register toward hysterics. She shifted, looked back at the child. “They never even woke up, and it was over in a second. It didn’t hurt.”

“But they’re still dead, aren’t they? They’re all still dead.”

“Yeah, they are, and that blows wide.” Typical, Eve thought, letting the fury roll off her. Anger usually held hands with grief. “You can’t bring them back. But I’m going to find out who did it, and put them away.”

“You could kill them.”

“That’s not my job.”

Eve got out of the car, opened the back. “Let’s go.”

Even as she reached out a hand for Nixie’s, Roarke opened the front door, stepped out. Nixie’s fingers curled into hers like little wires.

“Is he the prince?” she whispered.

Eve finds help in the last place she expects: from Summerset. This should not have been surprising, since she knows that the haughty man saved Roarke when he was young. Between Summerset and Galahad the cat, Nixie settles in. But nightmares wrack the poor girl, reminding Dallas of her own recurring dreams.

The investigation into the Swishers turns up no dirt on the couple. There seems to be no reason anyone would have to eliminate the entire household. Even the couple who lost their daughter in Nixie’s place have nothing bad to say about them. But Eve and her partner Peabody, recovering from an injury, start pulling on threads that lead to other threads.

The investigation is easier for Dallas to handle than Nixie’s grief and fear—or the glimpses of what a normal childhood looks like until death destroys it. Roarke insists they join the little girl in the dining room for dinner instead of eating at their desks. Eve balks.

“I don’t see what’s more normal about shoveling in food off a big flat surface than shoveling it in at your desk. It’s multitasking. It’s efficient.”

“She scares you.”

She stopped dead, and her eyes went to lethal slits. “Just where the hell do you come off saying that?”

“Because she scares me, too.”

Temper flickered over her face for a moment, then everything relaxed. “Really? Really? You’re not just saying that?”

“Those big eyes, full of courage and terror and grief. What could be more frightening? There she stands, such a little thing, all that pretty hair, tidy jeans and jumper—sweater,” he corrected. “And that need just radiating out of her. We’re supposed to have the answers, and we don’t.”

Eve let out a breath as she looked back toward the stairs. “I haven’t even figured out all the questions.”

“So we’ll have dinner with her, and do what we can to show that there’s normalcy and decency in the world.”

Eve tries to hide her softer side, but it’s always just below the surface in this book. She didn’t know the kind of upbringing that Nixie had, but she realizes that the loss of that “normalcy” will have a bigger negative impact on the girl than if she’d lost the kind of childhood Eve lived through. And the search for appropriate relatives to take the girl in is not going well.

Robb’s plot is well-crafted and pulls the reader in more than one direction at a time—but it’s her characters I’m fascinated by. Not only is the main cast three-dimensional, the supporting players are also well-rounded. There are flaws in the best of them and something good in the worst. It shows great mastery to allow one’s heroes to not just have quirks, but actual negative qualities.

And it’s much more satisfying for this reader.


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Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo's Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel.

Read all of Debbie Meldrum's posts for Criminal Element!


  1. Jenny Maloney

    This is my mom’s favorite in the series so far…

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