Festive in Death
FESTIVE IN DEATH may or may not be one of J. D. Robb’s best Eve Dallas books, but it is easily one of my favorites. I say this for two reasons. First, it contains a conclusion of a holiday mini-arc that has played out over the past few installments, and very satisfactorily so. Secondly, the story itself is a classic police procedural mystery --- or as classic as a story set in the mid-21st century can be --- with a twist that, while not necessarily unique, certainly works. It concerns a murder victim who is entirely unsympathetic; everyone, from Dallas to the murderer, knows it.
The cooling body in question is Trey Ziegler, a personal trainer who is to physical fitness what George Roundy was to cosmetologists. Ziegler was irresistible to his clients and not above collecting extra fees for personal services provided to several clients sequentially, if not all at once. Someone found him to be resistible enough, at least momentarily, to bash his skull in with one of his fitness trophies and pin a Christmas message to his chest with a kitchen knife. Dallas and the always-present (if two steps behind) Peabody are on the job, and it is a tough one. Ziegler’s down-at-the-heels Greenwich Village walk-up does not have a working security camera, so the murderer cannot be identified by closed circuit.
"While it is the trappings of the Death books that bring readers coming back in steady numbers, one cannot ignore that Robb continues to wrap the glitter and excitement of Dallas’s life around a tantalizing mystery."
It’s not like there aren’t a veritable army of suspects, though. There are enough jilted women that Ziegler counted as his clients, not to mention the cuckolded husbands of many of them, to fill a luxury train to Venice. Dallas and Peabody, to their credit, literally and figuratively hold their respective noses and get on with their job, which is getting justice for the victim, even though they are well aware that justice, in a sense, has already been done by the killer. And as they investigate, Dallas and Peabody discover that Ziegler wasn’t as bad a human being as they initially thought; he’s actually worse. Nevertheless, they continue to doggedly pursue his killer, establishing and eliminating suspects right up to (almost) the very end of the book.
Roarke, Dallas’s quietly effective husband, is there as always to provide emotional support and whatever else she might need. And, of course, it’s Christmas, which leaves Dallas with a puzzle even more difficult than the one she is working on professionally. What do you get for the man who owns everything and can buy everything else? By the final pages, Dallas has solved both mysteries with her usual aplomb.
While it is the trappings of the Death books that bring readers coming back in steady numbers, one cannot ignore that Robb continues to wrap the glitter and excitement of Dallas’s life around a tantalizing mystery. She’s offering change-ups from volume to volume so that even readers who have been following her from the beginning (which occurred just a few years ago, in book time, but almost 20 years ago in the “real” world) never feel shortchanged. You can’t ask for any more, or better, than that.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 12, 2014