CELEBRITY IN DEATH, the latest novel starring Lieutenant Eve Dallas, begins on a note that’s a bit different from the opening paragraphs of most of the books in this series. From the start, prolific author J. D. Robb has struck a balance between the familiar and the unique in these futuristic police procedurals, set in the New York City of 2060. So what is the different note? Dallas, always so self-assured and confident, is a bit unsettled.
The cause of this paradigm shift is being on the set of a movie. It turns out the film is about Dallas herself, and the actress portraying her is so good that she seems to be Dallas’s long-lost twin. Dallas is somewhat less than comfortable with all of the glitz, glamour and attention, and as such is the polar opposite of Peabody, her police partner, who soaks up the lights like a sponge. This is somewhat ironic; K.T. Harris, the actress who plays Peabody, is equally adept at doing so, but is cold, abrasive and universally disliked.
"While the hook of the series is its futuristic setting, the meat of each and every story is the step-by-step procedure utilized by Dallas and her team in finding and bringing the murderer to justice."
Does anyone spot the murder victim yet? Yes, you’re right. Harris is found dead at the close of a cast and crew dinner. It is not immediately clear whether she has passed as the result of foul play or drunken misadventure, but Dallas swings into action almost immediately, operating from a worst-case scenario perspective. There are any number of likely candidates on the list of who might have done it, on the basis of both motive and opportunity. It is at this point that the narrative really shines, demonstrating the main strength of CELEBRITY IN DEATH and its predecessors. While the hook of the series is its futuristic setting, the meat of each and every story is the step-by-step procedure utilized by Dallas and her team in finding and bringing the murderer to justice.
As always, Dallas whittles down the list of potential suspects, and in doing so makes a number of surprising discoveries that not only lead her to the murderer but also unearths a string of mysterious deaths trailing several years into the past. It is here where the heart of the series is particularly demonstrated. Dallas makes clear what is always implied, whether in these books or in other police procedurals: it is law enforcement that ultimately speaks for the murder victims, and each and every one is important. Dallas is as driven and focused as any police officer one is likely to encounter in detective fiction, and that personality trait is demonstrated front and center here.
Of course, as even those who are casually familiar with the series know, there is a heavy romantic element to these novels. This is personified by Dallas’s husband, the enigmatic Roarke, who has more money than God and power to match. Of course, Roarke plays an important, multi-faceted role in CELEBRITY IN DEATH, from the sublime (cutting through red tape to obtain information for Dallas’s investigation) to the not so sublime (helping Dallas select her wardrobe for the cast and crew dinner). Regarding the latter, Robb is uncannily capable of presenting such tasks as seductive --- even to male readers --- as opposed to being somewhat, well, less than manly.
While the series is targeted primarily at adult female readers (and I know of at least one readers’ group that spends hours discussing Roarke), these books are multi-faceted. Anyone who enjoys mysteries should be reading them, and probably is. If not, CELEBRITY IN DEATH is the perfect place to start.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 27, 2012