I believe that I have found a new favorite in J.D. Robb’s In Death series. It is the newly published DELUSION IN DEATH, the 35th installment of the mystery canon set in a mid-21st-century New York that is futuristic enough to be exotic and familiar enough to be comfortable. All of the characters are in place: Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas; her partner, the lesser but nonetheless extremely competent Peabody; and, of course, Dallas’ husband Roarke, the cool and confident master of all he surveys and owner of most of it as well. Interestingly enough, it is Summerset, Roarke’s enigmatic gentleman in waiting and Dallas’ eternal foil, who, to some extent, is the feature and focus of DELUSION IN DEATH.
"[T]his volume contains some of [Robb's] most imaginative writing to date, as well as her most clever and dangerous opponent. Given her track record, that statement may hold true only until the publication of the next In Death thriller."
Summerset, who first encountered Roarke during the future billionaire’s childhood and delivered him from a future that would have been a nightmare, has a history of his own, one that dovetails indirectly with Dallas’ case and causes the two of them to at least reduce the firefight of their prickly relationship, if not to engage in a full-blown truce.
What elevates DELUSION IN DEATH to “favorite” status for me is the nature of the crimes that attract Dallas’ attention. A popular New York bar is happily jammed with an after-work crowd when the patrons begin to inexplicably attack one another. Eighty people are dead within the short space of a few minutes. Toxicology results indicate the presence of a strong hallucinogenic cocktail in the bloodstream of each of the deceased patrons. Further research ties the mixture to an anarchistic group known as the Red Horse --- named after one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse --- that made a violent and disturbing ripple through society in the first third of the 21st century. The incident strikes close to home in another way as well, given the fact that Roarke owns the tavern where this all unfolded.
Then a second incident occurs, this time at a busy and popular diner during the lunch hour rush. The violent outburst claims another 41 victims, but also provides enough clues for Dallas, with Roarke’s considerable resources and Summerset’s memories of the Red Horse era, to come to a conclusion as to the identity of the person behind the dastardly attacks. The rub comes in proving it, and the ticking clock is the near certainty that the fiend will strike again. There is also the “why” and, to some extent, the “how” behind the attacks.
Meanwhile, Dallas continues to experience nightmare flashbacks of her own past, occasioned to some extent by the events that took place in FROM NEW YORK TO DALLAS and that dovetail into her current case as well. As the investigation proceeds and races against time, Dallas finds herself challenged, personally and professionally, as she never has been before.
Whether DELUSION IN DEATH is Robb’s best book is a question to be left to more knowledgeable minds. Certainly, however, this volume contains some of her most imaginative writing to date, as well as her most clever and dangerous opponent. Given her track record, that statement may hold true only until the publication of the next In Death thriller.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 13, 2012