Beginning in 2004, Nora Roberts’ popular In Death series, written under her J.D. Robb pseudonym, will be released in hardcover, with paperback editions to follow six months later. Perhaps to ease miserly readers like myself into the transition, Roberts offers Remember When, an intriguing two-for-one novel that combines contemporary romantic suspense with futuristic mystery. The results are enjoyable, but I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t either “author” at her absolute best.
Part One takes place in present day Angel Gap, Maryland. That’s where Laine Tavish runs Remember When, an antique store, while cherishing small town life and trying to forget her past as the daughter of notorious con man Jack O’Hara. The past catches up with her, however, in the form of her father’s partner, Willy, who walks into Remember When and utters an ominous warning to Laine, only to die in a suspicious hit-and-run accident moments later. Laine is not yet aware that Willy and her father have been implicated in the theft of diamonds worth almost 25 million dollars, but she is in for a rude awakening, as there are others who are on their trail. Max Gannon is tracking the diamonds for his client, but he isn’t prepared for the instant attraction he feels for Laine, even when he thinks she might be part of the crime team. Then another man with fewer scruples appears in Angel Gap. He wants those diamonds, and he doesn’t care who he has to eliminate to get them.
Much of this will sound vaguely familiar to Roberts’ fans who have read Hidden Riches (antique dealer heroine), Honest Illusions (heroine from famous family of thieves), Three Fates (hero lies to heroine about his true identity and reason for pursuing her), among others. Roberts throws in a charmingly cowardly dog for good measure, but otherwise there’s little that’s new. One positive feature is that, because Roberts only has 200 pages to work with, she doesn’t waste much time before she gets Laine and Max together and she doesn’t keep them apart for long, even when Laine finds out Max’s secret. The two fall in love quickly and completely without much internal conflict, providing lots of opportunities for romantic but sassy dialogue. I was sorry to bid the couple goodbye.
Part Two of Remember When jumps ahead to futuristic New York City, where Laine and Max’s granddaughter Samantha Gannon makes a gruesome discovery. Returning from a book tour where she has been promoting her account of the diamond theft that brought her grandparents together, she finds that the friend who had been house-sitting has been murdered. When NYPD Lt. Eve Dallas is brought onto the case, she quickly deduces that the murder is tied to Samantha’s book and its suggestion that a portion of the infamous diamonds were never recovered. When another brutal murder confirms her suspicions, Eve and her loyal team track down a killer with a connection to the diamonds’ history who justifies murder as a necessary step to gain what is rightfully his.
As I read this part of Remember When, it occurred to me that the future portrayed in the In Death books looms very close. Set just 56 years from now, in this episode Laine and Max Gannon are still alive, although elderly. Yet it also feels very distant, like we aren’t even close to reaching the fictional technological innovations of Eve Dallas’ world. Or are we? Just a few years ago I didn’t know how to send an e-mail message, so I guess a lot can happen between 2003 and 2059. It was also notable that, for the first time, I knew more about the crime than Eve did thanks to a rather large thread that is left hanging in the novel’s first section, yet I still savored the book – so I guess for me it’s all about the characters, not the mystery.
I just finished reading the recently-released Imitation in Death a few weeks ago, so it felt like a guilty pleasure to have another encounter with Eve Dallas so soon. Although Roberts/Robb is again limited by the short page count, there’s plenty of good stuff going on, including Peabody’s adjustment to her new detective status and the revelation that, even in an era of space travel, men still love to go “vroom vroom” with toy cars and trucks. This is not at all Eve’s most challenging case, but there’s enough of a personal resonance that she feels compelled to “stand up” for the dead once again. I was hoping Robb would devote more pages to the charismatic Samantha Gannon, but although Eve admires her courage, the reader gets far too few glimpses of her.
Remember When is neither the best Nora Roberts I’ve ever read, nor the best J.D. Robb I’ve encountered, but the combination of the two works well together, because of Nora’s patented and seamless synthesis of romance, humor and drama. Guess I’d better start saving my pennies for Divided in Death, the first full J.D. Robb book, which will be released in January 2004. There’s no way I can wait for the paperback release to see what happens next.