It is only fitting that while I write this review of CALCULATED IN DEATH, I am listening to a CD by a band called We Were Promised Jetpacks. I was raised in a time when it seemed all but certain that, as of this date, we’d all be zipping from Point A to Point B and beyond using individual jet propulsion units strapped to our backs. Speculating as to what the future will hold can be dicey, indeed. I think that is one reason why J.D. Robb’s In Death series, though set in the future, keeps the guessing on the high-tech wizardry to a minimum.
For Robb, 2060 is close enough to seem within grasp (for some readers, anyway), yet far enough away to seem exotic. Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas has a few tools at her disposal that the current-day NYPD doesn’t have --- I would bet that Dallas’s computers run a lot faster --- but for the most part she relies on good, solid investigation. You could draw a line from Sherlock Holmes through Steve Carella to Eve Dallas with nary a break; separated by centuries, they are united by tenaciousness and making the best possible use of the investigative tools at hand.
"While the plot is complex, it is not overly so, making it on balance one of Robb’s best entries in the series to date."
CALCULATED IN DEATH is about money. Given that Dallas is married to the enigmatic Roarke, who is not only winning hands down the game of Monopoly that you happen to be playing but also the one going on next door, this is fitting. The opening gambit is the discovery of the body of Marta Dickenson, a well-liked accountant. Within a few pages, Robb manages to convince us that such a person might exist. At first blush, the woman’s death appears to be the result of a mugging taken one step farther than it should have been. However, it quickly becomes evident to Dallas and Peabody, her partner in law enforcement, that the murder was staged to look that way by a killer who is very good at what he does yet is not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer.
The building where Dickenson’s body is discovered is owned by WIN, a financial consultant firm; as it happens and might be expected, some of their clients utilize the services of Dickenson’s accounting firm. Dallas follows that rather tenuous lead and seems to be heading in the right direction, particularly after someone steals several files from Dickenson’s office, adding a secondary mystery of the “locked room” variant to the puzzle. Roarke, of course, is along to devote his considerable resources and even greater intellect to the investigation as well. But the killer is still out there, and when he makes his presence known again, it becomes even more necessary that he be apprehended with all due and deliberate speed.
As long-time and faithful readers of this venerable series know and expect, CALCULATED IN DEATH is not all violence and mystery. Roarke doesn’t truly enter the book until almost a third of it has passed, but thrusts his way into the narrative in his own inimitable style and remains a presence both on the pages and hovering just off of them throughout the remainder of the narrative. Meanwhile, the premiere of the video based upon Dallas slowly but surely nears, an event that she approaches with reluctance while those around her view it with eager anticipation.
Still, the focus of CALCULATED IN DEATH is the investigation into Dickenson’s murder. While the plot is complex, it is not overly so, making it on balance one of Robb’s best entries in the series to date.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 1, 2013