Unlike the victims of Purity in Death, who were drug dealers and pornographers, the murder victims in Portrait in Death are young, attractive and innocent. While this makes the search for their killer more urgent, it also robs the crimes of the ambiguous nature that made the last in Death novel so thought-provoking. However, thereís plenty to keep loyal readers engaged, including a major personal crisis for heroine Eve Dallasí husband.
NYPD Lieutenant Eve Dallas is gleefully anticipating the impending vacation of Roarkeís butler Summerset, who is her long-time nemesis. But when Summerset trips over the household pet and breaks his leg, his holiday is postponed and a grumpy Summerset comes home to recuperate. Eve can only devote a small amount of energy to her adversaryís condition, however. A young college student has been found murdered and photos of her, both alive and dead, have been sent to the local news station, along with a note rhapsodizing about the victimís purity and light. As they try to determine who would want to kill a bright, friendly young woman, Eve and her loyal aide Delia Peabody explore college campuses, data clubs and photo studios looking for clues and links.
Meanwhile, Eveís billionaire husband Roarke learns a startling secret about his past that challenges everything he believed about himself and his roots. He struggles to come to terms with his new knowledge and in the process tests the strength of his marriage.
Portrait in Death contains all of the familiar elements weíve come to expect from this long-running series - Eve trying to outwit the anonymous candy thief, Peabody telling her boss more than Eve wants to know about her relationship with hotshot e-detective McNabb, etc. The well-known characters continue to develop, especially Peabody, whose professional skills have improved so dramatically that Eve offers to help her take the next logical step in her career. Unfortunately there are few scenes between Peabody and McNabb; I missed seeing their spirited, affectionate insults.
The focus this time is truly on Eve and Roarke, and itís interesting to see how the usually stoic Roarke reacts to having a monkey wrench thrown into his charmed life. While itís predictable that he will first reject, then accept, Eveís support, their scenes together are still poignantly powerful, and his discoveries open up the possibility for new secondary characters and subplots in the future. Itís ironic that while Eve is peeved about Summersetís convalescence at home just when she had been hoping to get rid of him, she is smart enough to call a truce to seek his advice on how to help her troubled husband. And while Summersetís confinement is mostly played for laughs, it also gives Roarke the opportunity to appreciate just how much the majordomo has served as his surrogate father for so many years.
While the search for the murderer allows the reader to see how photography has evolved in the mid 21st century into ďimaging,Ē the crimes themselves arenít as compelling as in other books and the killer turns out to be more pathetic than fascinating. An exciting climax with a popular secondary character in jeopardy concludes the novel on a high note. However, Iíll admit that Portrait in Death is the first J.D. Robb novel that I havenít wanted to re-read immediately.
Next up: Imitation in Death, available in September 2003. Iíve heard that the J.D. Robb books will be released in hardcover beginning in 2004. While I lament the necessity of either shelling out $25 or waiting my turn at the library, I have no doubt Iíll keep reading about Eve and company as long as Nora Roberts keeps writing about them. This series is as strong as many that are already in hardcover, so Iíd say she deserves the honor.