|After the high-tech, sci-fi excitement of Origin in Death, Nora Roberts’ alter ego J.D. Robb returns to a more traditional murder plot in Memory in Death, her 22nd futuristic mystery featuring tough-as-nails Detective Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Roarke. While the identity and motive of the killer are more prosaic this time, the novel offers new information about Dallas’ troubled, murky childhood.
At first, Eve Dallas doesn’t recognize the woman in her office at New York’s “Cop Central.” Then, as memory kicks in, she is overcome by revulsion and horror. Trudy Lombard was Eve’s foster mother in Texas for a few brief, horrible months. Although she didn’t physically abuse Eve, the emotional cruelty and neglect that she inflicted were almost as damaging to the young girl. Aghast at Trudy’s attempts now to treat Eve like a beloved long-lost daughter, Eve throws her out. But Trudy isn’t ready to let go yet. The next day she appears at Roarke’s office, threatening to go to the media with details about Eve’s violent past unless Roarke pays her two million dollars. Roarke, forewarned and prepared, has her escorted out as well. When Eve and Roarke decide to confront Trudy one more time in her hotel room, they find her dead, bludgeoned body.
Fortunately, Eve and Roarke were hosting a large Christmas party at the time of Trudy’s death, so they have airtight alibis. But the case offers a host of challenges to the seasoned detective. Eve has to cope with Trudy’s distraught son and daughter-in-law, who made the trip to New York with her but seem ignorant of her blackmail plans. Eve seeks help from other police offices but learns to her dismay that things move maddeningly slow so close to Christmas. But the hardest part of the case has to be Eve’s own inner demons; can she move past her traumatic memories and find the inner strength to find Trudy’s killer when she can’t say she’s sorry to see her dead?
Readers of this popular series are well familiar with the execrable existence Eve endured with her brutal father, but this is the first opportunity we’ve had to learn more in depth about her life after his death, and it’s not much cheerier. Considering the experiences she had with other people throughout her childhood, it’s no wonder that Eve is still uncomfortable with the interactions and traditions that many of us take for granted. So when she adamantly claims that she doesn’t shop, she “picks up stuff,” it’s both amusing because it’s so typically Eve, and poignant because she never had a loving family to teach her the joys of giving and receiving.
After 22 books, there are many predictable elements of the series that we have come to expect and welcome: Eve’s put-downs of Roarke’s majordomo, Summerset; Roarke using his considerable talents to assist in the case; Peabody telling Eve about her relationship with ED Detective Ian McNabb, whether Eve wants to hear the gory details or not. But there are still a few surprises, and the series continues to evolve. Due to the intensity of Eve and Roarke’s relationship, and their shared lack of experience with intimacy, you never know if their arguments will blow over or turn into long-term stalemates. New and promising characters are still being introduced. Prosecutor Cher Reo (like the character, hate the name) first appeared in Origin but shows up again here helping Peabody testify about the injuries she sustained during a previous case. And Eve’s successes are finally starting to catch up with her; our current nauseating tendency to treat crime as entertainment is apparently still alive and well in 2059, as Eve learns that a book and movie based on her last case are in the planning stages.
The book drags slightly towards the end, although it allows for a tender and uncharacteristically quiet Christmas for Eve and Roarke. The climax is similarly low-key, but then it would become annoyingly repetitive if Eve risked her life for every case. Amazingly, this series is still suspenseful, funny and emotionally engaging after more than ten years. Now it’s time to look forward to this summer’s Born in Death, which hopefully will include the birth of Mavis’ baby after the longest gestation in literary history.