Salvation in Death, by J. D. Robb

15 Nov

Salvation in Death, by J.D. Robb

Can I say how happy I am that we get at least one, and often two, new In Death books every year? Happy, I tell you. Who needs sleep?

Salvation in Death is the twenty eighth novel-length installment in the In Death series. Yup, you read right, 28 novels, and—lemme count—five novellas in multi-author anthologies. Some readers may wonder how on earth can a writer keep both the quality of writing and the freshness of the characters after this many books, and I’m here to tell you that, while I don’t know how she does it, Ms Roberts definitely delivers, each and every time. That is not to say, mind, that I enjoy every one of the In Death books or novellas equally, since more often than not I find stuff to quibble about (but then, I do that with pretty much everything I read), but that they are consistent in quality of writing, plotting, and characterization, and every single one is worth reading and re-reading.

Here is the dust jacket blurb for the hardcover edition:

In the year 2060, cutting-edge investigative tools can help catch a killer. But there are some questions even the most advanced technologies can’t answer…

At the most solemn moment of a Catholic funeral Mass, the priest brings the chalice to his lips. Seconds later, he’s dead on the altar.

For the mourners packed into the pews, Father Miguel Flores’ sudden demise is an unimaginable shock. When Detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas confirms that the consecrated wine contained enough potassium cyanide to kill a rhino, she’s prepared to plunge in and find out why, despite her discomfort with her surroundings. It’s not the bodegas and pawnshops of East Harlem that bother her, though the neighborhood is a long way from the stone mansion she shares with her billionaire husband, Roarke. It’s all that holiness flying around at St Cristóbal’s that makes her uneasy.

A search of the victim’s simple, sparsely furnished room reveals few personal touches, except for a carefully hidden religious medal with a mysterious inscription, and a couple of underlined Bible passages. The autopsy reveals much more: faint scars of knife wounds, a removed tattoo—and evidence of plastic surgery suggesting “Father Flores” may not have been the man his parishioners thought. Now, as Eve pieces together clues that suggest identity theft, gang connections, and a deeply personal act of revenge, she hopes to track down whoever committed this unholy act. Until a second murder—in front of an even larger crowd of worshippers—knocks the whole investigation sideways.

The way Eve sees it, vengeance may be the Lord’s business, but if there’s going to be any earthly justice in this case, it’s up to her.

Repeating myself, I’ll cry over the blurb. It says too much about some stuff, not enough about other stuff, and it’s plain inaccurate about yet some other things. Yet the basic premise of the novel is correct, so I’ll just go from there.

First, though, I would not recommend this one for people who want to get into the series, mostly because there are a few too many recurring cast members just dropping off for a line or two, or are just referred to by someone else. On the one hand, it makes sense that they would appear because they are such integral parts of Eve’s and Roarke’s lives. On the other hand, a reader who is new to the series would likely be confused by all these name dropping. Plus frankly, several of them—from Mira to, interestingly, Feeney—didn’t advance the plot even nominally.

For those of us who have read some (or all *cough*) of the In Death titles, this is a great addition. (Heh, I had typed “addiction” –Freudian slip much?)

As usual with Ms Roberts’ work, the characterizations are excellent throughout the novel. On a personal level, it delves even deeper on the matter of Eve’s integrity as a cop vis a vis her compassion as a human being and a survivor of abuse herself. There are some scenes between Eve and Roarke which highlight the continuous effort that it takes to make any relationship successful, the give and take, the commitment, the effort, the time and attention.

There is a scene after Roarke has had a bad dream that is particularly touching, because it’s not often that we see Eve being the supportive one in this partnership—it’s not, note, that her support is not there, but that the novels rarely show it, so this scene was very much welcome.

Also as usual, I enjoy the dynamics between Eve and Summerset. There is an unspoken truce there brought on by their love of Roarke, but there is also a growing respect and understanding of each other that, I would say, both would deny to their dying breaths. It’s just both funny and poignant to read—at least for me, but I’m perhaps a too much of a sap.

I don’t know whether Ms Roberts is Catholic herself, but I liked how she wove the symbolism of the Mass, as well as the beliefs behind those symbols, into the investigation. Both as part of the clues to find the killer and as motivation for the murder, they provide interesting fodder for character studies of victim, murderer, and all those around them.

And the introduction of Father Chale López made me extremely happy; this is a Catholic priest with depth and character, which leaves me wondering if he will be a recurring character as well. I certainly hope so. (I see him as Héctor Elizondo in an episode of Without a Trace, by the way.)

There were, of course, a few things that didn’t quite ring true to me.

First, the person running the long con? On the one hand, the only clue to his true identity is a (presumably) sentimental token of childhood attachments, conveniently at hand in his living quarters. Yet, through the investigation there is no evidence of any sort of hidey-hole (bank safe? a locker somewhere?) holding the IDs, documentation and communications with lawyers, etc. that would be paramount in order to cash in on the con. Nothing.

True, it can be argued that once he reconnected with his past, those things changed hands, but even then they would be found at some point, wouldn’t they? Yet, there is no indication anyone involved even expects these things to exist.

Danger, Will Robinson, dangling plot threads ahead!

Second, if I read the story correctly, there was at least one person aware of the conman’s true identity for quite a long while—a year? This person is billed as not exactly in control of petty, cruel impulses, which begs the question, how did the conman’s identity remain hidden for so long after he came clean to this person?

Lastly, I seriously didn’t care—at all–for the copycat murder in the middle of the book. In many respects it felt like filler. It was too easy, to transparent (both to the characters and to me); it didn’t give me a sense of character development anywhere, nor was it a challenge as a puzzle to be solved.

Quibbles aside—and seriously, you all know how I like to quibble—this is another excellent novel, which I have re-read three times already (in less than a week, who cares about reviewing deadlines? who cares if my brain is more scrambled than usual?).

Salvation in Death gets 9 out of 10 (a full point there goes to Father López, by the way)

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