Are you a fan of the “In Death” series of mystery novels by J.D. Robb (the pen name of blockbuster novelist Nora Roberts)? Thankless in Death is the 37th – yes, 37th! – in the series. Unlike previous novels in the series, the reader knows from the start who the murderer is, but Eve Dallas, the heroine cop, struggles to find the guy. There are some graphic scenes in this book (one actually gave me a nightmare) and graphic sex (between a married couple, but it’s graphic) so if you’re squeamish, you may need to skip these sections.
Anyway….Thankless in Death. I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I like the slower pace of it and the time given to the characters. There’s one scene in a beauty supply store reminiscent of our modern-day Sephora stores in Manhattan that I especially loved. Eve and Peabody, her partner, are questioning a cosmetics counter salesperson about a transaction that occurred the day before when the murderer purchased hair dye and other enhancements to change his appearance. Peabody exclaims delight over a lip dye but can’t afford. Eve, who is married to mult-billionaire Roarke, buys her the lip dye. It’s a nice touch, especially since Eve never seems to spend money on herself or her friends, and a nice and generous gesture for her. It’s also nice to see her getting some “down time” when Roarke’s family comes to visit for Thanksgiving.
If you know the character, however, you’ll find it as difficult to believe as I did that Eve is actually working at a normal pace on this case. In most books, she’s relentless, neither eating more sleeping until the bad guy is caught. She gets banged up, beaten up, and does the same. Somebody she loves is usually injured or in deadly peril. That doesn’t happen in this book. She has a date night with Roarke, complete with lobster thermidore, barely exchanges insults with Summerset, and actually takes time to eat and sleep and exercise. In the middle of a case. I found myself wondering why Eve was suddenly mellowing after 36 previous books in which she came across like a cold-hearted bitch. She’s getting more likable as she grows more comfortable in her own skin and with her friends.
Perhaps that’s the point of all of this: character development. At last, perhaps, Eve is being allowed to mature.
The plot itself is rather typical crime-story fare. Jeremy Rheinhold, a spoiled kid, kills his parents because he thinks he deserves a free ride wherever he goes. He doesn’t work, he’s a thief and a sneak, and he decides to go on a murder spree to kill everyone who has dissed him in the past. He likes torture; he likes pain; he kills a lot of people. There’s a sympathetic ex-girlfriend and a to-root-for retired schoolteacher who end up as Jeremy’s victims. Yes, the bad guy gets caught, but not with the usual “In Death” series of futuristic plot twists.
Maybe that’s why this book didn’t feel like the others in the series. Because after all, despite some nods to what New York City in 2060 might look like, the murder has nothing science fiction or futuristic about it. While in past books we’ve dealt with clones, medical mysteries and viral terrorism, here we simply have a guy knifing people to death. That could happen now, as then. It’s not that Robb didn’t write a good book. She did. It just doesn’t feel like part of the series, but more of a hybrid Robb-Roberts book. I know that sounds weird, because after all, it is the same author behind both book lines. But the two “authors” in the past did seem radically different; now they seem closer, rather than farther apart, on plot and character.
Thankless in Death is an entertaining read. I borrowed my copy from the public library but it is also available online.