Pros: Deeper look at a fascinating setting; interesting mystery; some interesting psychological questions
Cons: A couple of the characters are a little flimsy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Ceremony in Death is the fifth book in Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb’s ‘in death’ series, starring hardass detective Eve Dallas in a futuristic (2050s and 2060s) New York. The series revels in a certain over-the-top, larger-than-life approach to mystery and detective work. At the same time, the series is every bit as much about its larger-than-life characters, such as Eve, her billionaire mogul husband Roarke, her best friend musician/performer Mavis, her aide Peabody, and a slowly growing cast of equally fascinating characters.
A member of the police department is dead, apparently the victim of a perfectly normal heart attack, but Eve’s boss orders her to look into it anyway: it seems the department thought the cop might have been taking illegal drugs. Even before she gets started the officer’s granddaughter comes to her for help, claiming she’s being targeted by black witches—the same ones who, according to her, killed her grandfather.
Before you know it, Eve’s flung head-first into New York’s occult scene, dealing with self-avowed Satanists as well as white witches, and finding herself the focus of subsequent ritualistic killings. The problem is—are the Satanists sacrificing humans, are the white witches out for revenge, or is there a serial killer hiding in one of the cults? And how can Eve sort out the pieces before someone else dies?
I’d have to say that my favorite part of Ceremony in Death is the far deeper look it gives us into Peabody, Eve’s aide. She starts to loosen up more around Eve, showing us some of her wisecracking self. We get to see some of the ways in which her ‘Free-Ager’ family has affected her, and we see some of the occult scene through her eyes and experience. We also delve into something that hasn’t really been explored in the series yet: the question of psychic abilities, which, although not universally accepted, have apparently been studied and, to some extent, measured.
The question of identity as a tug-of-war between genetics, family influence, and self-determination is continued in this book (it’s quite a strong motif in the series). Peabody might seem the opposite of her Free-Ager family on the surface, but she isn’t entirely. Roarke seems the epitome of the smooth businessman, but he still possesses the dark strength of his street upbringing. Eve still wonders if her father’s brutality might express itself through her, and she finds this fear reflected in one of her suspects, a man she thinks may have taken up his father’s love of ritualistic murder. Then there’s the dead girl’s brother, who seems determined to get in over his head in the name of avenging his sister and grandfather.
The ‘white witches’ are an interesting bunch, with some fascinating characters among them. They almost make up for the Satanists, who are a one-dimensional band of lunatics and hedonists—but not quite. That’s pretty much the book’s one flaw. On the other hand, sometimes you need a good old-fashioned lunatic when enjoying a deliberately melodramatic detective series.
Adult material warning: we have our usual Eve/Roarke sizzling sex, but there’s also some darker sexual matter in this plot that some might be uncomfortable with.