Memory in Death, by J.D. Robb
Last night I finished reading a rather dark book—romance with heavy urban fantasy elements—and this morning I felt the need to decompress a bit by re-reading a favorite. A quick perusal of the bookshelves yielded Memory in Death. This is the 22nd stand-alone installment of J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts’ In Death series (there are three, no, four by now, novellas in different anthologies, and a two-in-one deal in Remember When), which are futuristic romance/police procedural/mystery novels.
Here’s the front flap blurb from the hardcover edition:
Eve Dallas is one tough cop. She can deal with a holiday reveler in a red suit who plunges thirty-seven stories and gives new meaning to the term “sidewalk Santa.” She can take on purse snatchers, drug dealers, and worse. But when Trudy Lombard—a seemingly ordinary middle-aged lady—shows up at the station, it’s all Eve can do to hold it together. Instantly, she is plunged back to the days when she was a vulnerable, traumatized young girl—and trapped in foster care with the twisted woman who now sits smiling in front of her.
Trudy claims she came all the way to New York just to see how Eve was doing. But Eve’s fiercely protective husband, Roarke, suspects otherwise—and his suspicion proves correct when Trudy, rebuffed by Eve, shows up at his office, demanding money in exchange for keeping the ugly details of Eve’s childhood a secret. Using every ounce of willpower he has to restrain himself, he shows her the door—and makes it clear that she’d be wise to get out of the city and never bother them again.
Eve and Roarke will be satisfied if Trudy Lombard just heads back to Texas. Somebody else, though, wants her dead—and just a few days later, she’s found on the floor of her hotel room, a mess of faded bruises and fresh blood. A cop to the core, Eve is determined to solve the case, if only for the sake of Trudy’s bereaved son. Unfortunately, Eve was not the only one who suffered at this woman’s hands—and she and Roarke will follow a circuitous and dangerous path to find out who turned the victimizer into a victim.
With one teeeensie exception, this blurb summarizes the first few chapters rather well. It still gives a bit too much away for my taste (I am violently allergic to spoilers).
This far along in the series, some of the books are better able to stand alone than others. To my mind this one, more than other books in the series, focuses a bit more on Eve’s past, her present growth as a person, and her personal relationships with those around her than on the crime, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point for readers who are new to these books.
The whodunit aspect of the novel is strong enough on its own, giving us insight into the different steps and stages of the homicide investigation, and its changing focus as more evidence is processed by the different departments—forensics, medical examiner, the detectives themselves. However, Eve is what carries the most weight through the novel, for me at least.
Her past is, in fact, key to solving the murder. Following advice oft imparted by Dame Christie’s great Belgian detective, Hercules Poirot, we realize that to know the murderer we have to know the victim first. And Eve happens to know Trudy intimately, as only a child can know the person holding ultimate authority over her does, which is something the murderer couldn’t have counted on.
As more details are uncovered, her memories of those awful months under Trudy’s control begin to surface in Eve’s consciousness, giving her a vantage point from which to pursue her investigation. There is an internal conflict between what Eve usually feels for the victims for whom she seeks justice, and what she in fact feels over Trudy’s murder. This is not the lack of sympathy Eve has felt at other times over other victims’ bodies (Witness in Death comes to mind), but active resentment and dislike and remembered fear. Can she give her best, her all, to this investigation?
Throughout the series there are also different running threads on Eve’s relationships with the people in her life, showing us how they change and grow. We are treated to some cameos by a few characters, such as Nadine and Commander Whitney, and to updates on others, such as Peabody and McNabb. I enjoy these very much, as many fans of long running series do, catching up as it were with characters from previous installments. More than anything, though, I enjoy them because Ms Roberts doesn’t bog down the current book with unnecessary appearances by characters just for the sake of touching base with them. If and when a character appears, even if it’s for a moment—a conversation, a call—it’s worked into the fabric of the current story in such a way that it a) makes sense, and b) moves the plot along.
I adore Ms Roberts’ use of language. The dialogue is fast in some scenes, almost poetic in others, suiting the mood and the character each and every time. Ever so often there will be a sentence that I just have to read out loud, the language is so beautiful; or, slipped here and there throughout, instances of alliteration that make me smile. Her characterization is so good that, in the case of some secondary characters who have very little screen time, as it were, just a couple of paragraphs are enough to tell the reader everything she needs to know about them.
I enjoyed this book a lot, but then I don’t read the In Death books for the mystery alone, but for the mix of characterization, personal growth and evolution, and the whodunits.
This one gets 8.5 out of 10.