Pros: Develops another character in the series; tense and gripping race against a serial killer
Cons: One of the series’ best yet
Rating: 5 out of 5
Vengeance in Death is the sixth 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 an over-the-top, larger-than-life approach to mystery and detective work. At the same time, it’s every bit as much about its larger-than-life characters, such as Eve, her billionaire mogul former-crook husband Roarke, her wild best friend musician/performer Mavis, her aide Peabody, and a growing cast of equally fascinating characters.
I admit it; I’m addicted to this series. I just wish I’d come into it when it first began so I didn’t have so much catching up to do. On the other hand, it’s really nice being able to read the books fairly quickly one after the other. I try to avoid most long series for precisely this conflict of desires, but this one’s so much fun I can’t help reading it.
In this book, a brilliant and sadistic serial killer seems to be targeting Irish immigrants in New York. His methods are sickeningly brutal, and each death is different. With the very first death the killer draws Eve right into the mix, calling her to boast about the murder and to give her a riddle to lead her to it. He wants an opponent to prove himself against, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s targeted her for another reason, as well: his ultimate target is Roarke, and Roarke loves Eve.
To make matters worse, what evidence they can gather points straight to Summerset, Roarke’s devoted ‘servant’ and friend and the bane of Eve’s domestic existence. While it quickly becomes obvious he’s being set up, proving that in an official capacity is another matter. And Summerset’s hatred of the police only makes it harder to help him.
While there’s a familiar theme here of Eve’s cases bringing her into conflict with and causing her to investigate the very people she cares about, it’s carried off far better in this volume than in some of the others. Every bit of emotional conflict between her and Summerset makes perfect sense. His reasons for completely distrusting police are extremely well-founded and far too deep-set for him to simply shake off. The reasons why she can figure out that he’s innocent but can’t easily keep him out of jail are quite clever and believable. The details in this one are woven together with great skill and complexity, and I think it’s one of the best mysteries so far in the series’ progression.
This volume is also a great one for those who follow the series hoping to experience more of its wonderful characters. A new and highly entertaining series character puts in an appearance (McNab, a flamboyant electronics expert with the police force). Eve and Summerset are forced to stretch (and break) their veneer of civility. Eve is forced to ask more of some of her new friends than ever before, trusting them in ways she’s never trusted anyone. And Eve and Roarke have to face, and embrace, more of his past than she’s even been aware of up until now. There are no easy answers for any of them, and their only chance lies in being able to manipulate and outwit a brilliant but unstable killer who believes he’s the instrument of God’s vengeance.
While the concept of a serial killer giving riddles to a police officer opponent is old, I like how it played out here. The killer didn’t always play fair. His need for an opponent was more complex and interesting than a simple arrogant need to prove himself, and his reasons for choosing Eve also had some cleverness to them. Roberts clearly had a handle on his personality and method, and that informed everything he did.
The character development is beautiful; the pacing and tension are absolutely gripping; and the mystery is fascinating. I highly recommend this volume of Robb/Roberts’s in death series.