Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb
(Berkeley, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-15518-8
*****
While I'm a huge Nora Roberts fan, I am no pushover. So I am not exaggerating when I say that Rapture in Death is one of the best books in a series that is arguably the most complex and satisfying work Roberts has ever done.

Rapture in Death continues the adventures of Lieutenant Eve Dallas, who is now married to the brilliant, enigmatic Roarke. While the newlyweds are on their honeymoon at Roarke's Olympus Resort, an employee is found hanging, a victim of apparent suicide. The victim had shown no signs of previous depression or unusual behavior, and was found with a ghastly smile on his dead face. This is just the beginning of a fascinating mystery that involves seemingly unrelated suicides that Eve believes to be homicides.

Roberts has it all going for her here. The characters of Eve and Roarke and multi- faceted and are continuously evolving during the course of the series. I admire an author who can start with a "happily ever after," and show character development and romantic tension as Eve and Roarke settle into their marriage. Because of Eve's scarred past, every time she says "I love you" to Roarke, you know it is a victory of trust over tragedy.

Another joy of a good series is the cast of secondary characters, who are now as familiar and beloved as Eve and Roarke. Readers of the three previous J.D. Robb mysteries will be glad to see stalwart Officer Delia Peabody, flamboyant Mavis, nurturing psychologist Dr. Mira and crusty but lovable electronics whiz Feeney. Note to Nora: Please give Peabody a decent romance -- she deserves it!

In a good futuristic novel, the world is recognizable, plausible, yet different enough to be intriguing. Roberts has created New York in the year 2028, where airbuses and airblades rule the street, prostitution or "paid companionship" is legal and powerful computers are voice-activated. We believe in this world because we can imagine how it developed from our present day reality. Roberts even manages to get in a few environmental digs, noting that real coffee in 2028 is as rare as gold because of the destruction of the world's rain forests.

The plot was intriguing to me as well. The right piece of music or a certain song on the radio has always been able to affect my mood strongly. What if someone was capable of using that power to significantly alter human behavior? To reveal more would be to ruin the plot, so I will just say that it worked for me in a thought- provoking kind of way.

If you haven't read the three previous J.D. Robb mysteries, you are missing out on something special. Just two warnings to the uninitiated: First of all, the J.D. Robb books are not for the squeamish or those wanting a light-hearted read. They are gritty, violent and often disturbing, as befits the futuristic world she has created. If the idea of a murderer who eats the brains of his victims gives you nightmares, you won't make it past page 3. Secondly, Roberts violates one of the cardinal rules of mystery series by revealing the name of the character from the previous book, Immortal in Death, who was found to be a murderer. So if you haven't yet read the other three books in the series, read Immortal in Death first - or skip page 31 of Rapture in Death for now.

But make sure you don't skip Rapture in Death entirely. As usual, I devoured the book in one night and now have to wait fretfully for another six months for the next installment. Let's hope Eve and Dallas have a long and fruitful marriage...how about a baby Dallas-Roarke in book #8 or so, Nora?

--Susan Scribner

(Andrea Pool's review of the previous J.D. Robb mystery, "Immortal in Death," can be found in the Romance Reader archives.)


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