I’m just going to get this out of the way from the start – I read a lot of books this year. A lot. And I started a lot of reviews, because some of them were excellent, and some of them were horrible, and all of them were review worthy. But… between a completely not-user-friendly borrowed computer saga, the nonsense that is our entire world right now, and a year that would just not quit beating up on me and those I loved, well, not a lot of writing got finished. As in, barely any. Then, around September, I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out, and instead I crawled into one of my favorite series, the In Death books, by J.D. Robb. I started at the beginning and zoomed my way through the late 2050s, with a group of my favorite characters, through approximately 192 murder scenes (because a lot of people die in these books, A Lot.)
And somewhere around book thirty or so, it occurred to me that maybe I could still manage to do my whole Cannonball, now that I had usable computer and a semi-working brain, and a handy book series that stretches to about 56 books. (There are 45 single titles, and 11 novellas, which also include stories by other authors.) I have now read everything but the latest book, which I am going to treat myself to post NaNoWriMo/Christmas, because hardcovers are too pricey for me (and I actually prefer paperback, weight-wise). So here I am, looking to knock out my entire Cannonball at one fell swoop, as it were.
But what I’m not going to do is give you an intricate plot wrap up of each individual book, because that’s ludicrous. Instead, I’m going to tell you about these people and how much I love them (even though I’ve talked about that before), and point out some of the high marks and low marks, to my mind, and tell you that if you have a bunch of audible credits to put to use, this is definitely a good way to spend them (if you don’t mind someone reading mostly tame sex scenes, or brutal murder scenes to you: YMMV).
So, let’s talk about the main characters. The heroine of the In Deaths is Lieutenant Eve Dallas, and she is as badass a heroine as you’d ever want to come across. In the first few books, actually, the… harshness? of her character is maybe even a bit much, because I did not super-appreciate her until a little bit later in the series. I’d even go so far as to say that in 1995, when the books first started being written (which, what?), there was more of a “the heroine can be strong or she can be likeable” vibe happening in fantasy fiction, and that these books followed that formula a little too closely in the beginning, for me at least.* There’s something about Eve that’s meant to be off-putting, the rough around the edges bit that becomes such a part of her character and charm later on the series, that, re-reading those beginning books is like seeing your friend wearing an outfit that almost fits them perfectly, and you just want to… fuss with it till it sits exactly right. And Robb did eventually get it perfectly right, because I can’t picture Eve any other way now – she’s smart and stubborn, and she has this need to argue with people and vending machines regularly; she loves but doesn’t love comfortably or easily, and she works so goddamn hard for the dead she represents that you absolutely believe she deserves any good thing that comes her way, even when (especially when) she doesn’t.
And one of the good things that comes her way is our mysterious, billionaire, former street rat & criminal, Roarke. Roarke is the kind of hero younger me would’ve rolled her eyes at, at first: A bad boy gone good? Complete with charming Irish brogue and uncountable dollars? Could you get any trope-ier? And yet?? It so works. Not at first – it took me a couple of books to get onboard with Roarke too, to be honest, because of the aforementioned reasons, but also because, at first, Roarke is a murder suspect. And, sure, Eve doesn’t sleep with him until after she’s cleared him, but… it was stretch for me, that 100%-by-the-book Eve would step so far out of her comfort zone for this guy, even if he was basically “Master of the Universe.” And, of course, that was the point, but it took me a couple of books just the same. Rereading them? I get it. I see that stepping out of her comfort zone for love is what makes everything else in the 55 books possible, but originally I wasn’t that into Roarke. I have since seen the error of my ways. Plus, Roarke rocks. I mean, he and Eve futz things up on the regular, but they do it in ways that make sense, since neither of them has a lot in the way of healthy role models for relationships, let’s say. And they truly love each other:
“For once, he slept first. She lay in the dark, listening to him breathe, stealing a little of his warmth as her own body cooled. Since he was asleep, she stroked his hair.
“I love you,” she murmured. “I love you so much, I’m stupid about it.”
With a sigh, she settled down, closed her eyes, and willed her mind to empty.
Beside her, Roarke smiled into the dark.
He never slept first.” – Ceremony In Death
but also, this:
“Eve: “If you ended up naked and dead with another woman, I’d do the Rumba on your corpse.”
Roarke: “You can’t do the Rumba.”
Eve: “I’d take lessons first.”
Roarke: “You might very well. Not that you’ll ever get the chance, but you’d also grieve.”
Eve: “Wouldn’t give you the satisfaction. You cheating f-wit putz. ”
Roarke: “You’d weep in the dark and call my name.”
Eve: “Call your name alright. How are things in hell? You dickless bastard. And I’d laugh and laugh, that’s how I”d call your name.”
Roarke: “Christ Jesus Eve, I love you.”
– J.D. Robb,
Ok, so if I wasn’t originally all about the heroine/hero, why did I keep reading these books in the first place? Let me tell you about the supporting cast, and why I love them now and forever. Eve gets to work with the best squad in the NYPSD, and each of them are amazing – hilarious and sincere and hardworking and just beyond great. She has a great mentor/former partner, who heads up the electronics division and has his own pretty cool squad. Even her boss gets to shine in one story; she manages to somehow befriend the top psychologist in the department and develop a little crush on her cuddly, absentminded husband. She has an actual facts rock star of a best friend. Roarke has a totally loyal, totally uptight, completely amazing at sarcastic remarks butler who she gets to needle constantly. She meets the most interesting people through cases – a bouncer named Crack, a doctor at a free clinic who winds up married to the licensed companion from another case, a teenager who manages to break through Roarke’s security (which is no small feat); every bit player and returning character makes me happy, honestly.
Eve’s partner, Delia Peabody, is my favorite sidekick of probably all time. She starts out as a beat cop, that Eve sees something in. And then she moves her way up to detective over the course of the books, and each time she manages to accomplish something new – being the bad cop to Eve’s good cop; passing the detective’s exam; managing to close a cold case on her own – you can really see the growth and evolution of her character. Not to mention, she and Eve have most of THE best dialogue in the whole series:
“Worry all you want, dump on me if you need to. But don’t let him see it. He’s starting to fray, and he’s trying hard not to show it. You try just as hard not to show it. If you need to vent, go out there on the kitchen terrace. Scream your lungs out.”
“Is that what you do?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes I kick inanimate objects. Sometimes I jump Roarke and have jungle sex. The last,” she said after a beat, “is not an option for you.”
“But I think it would really make me feel better, and be a more productive member of the investigative team.”
“Good, humor is good. Get me coffee.”
― J.D. Robb,
Ok, so: Best characters, I would definitely read books that did not include murders but included them. (“Sitting around doing nothing In Death” probably does not have the best ring to it though.) Setting in a post (now totally understandable and seemingly unavoidable) second civil war US, some forty years or so in the future, so it’s fantasy, but not completely unrelateable fantasy. (There are no elves, which is my best friend’s metric: Are there elves? Then she can’t read it. Futuristic autochefs and robot butlers are totally acceptable, though.) Hilarious, sharp, and quick witted dialogue; fast moving murder mysteries (that I occasionally don’t solve long before everybody else, which is rare in written fiction, because you sometimes you as a reader know more than the characters doing the detecting); and a few completely amazing, stand out single stories that I would recommend even if you didn’t want to read the whole line of 56 – At the very least, I’d recommend New York to Dallas, Kindred in Death, and my all time favorite, which is heartbreaking and moving and so goddamn good & hard to read is Survivor in Death, which introduces the impossibly wonderful Nixie Swisher.
Overall, this is my favorite series, and perhaps it’s a bit odd that books about murders in the mid-21st Century are my comfort reads, but that’s just because of the people, and how much they’ve come to matter. I’m not thinking about the (ever-closer) day when Ms. Roberts decides that she’s done writing new books in this series, but I do know that I’ll probably be re-reading it even when I’m in a nursing home somewhere, so … you know, you might enjoy them too? Maybe give them a shot: No elves, plenty of snark, and a complete Cannonball, all in one.
Here’s to a better 2018, please, fellow readers: For all of you and yours.
*I would also like to point out that I was 16 in 1995, so… my opinions on heroines, heroes, and pretty much everything have evolved some since then.