J. D. Robb enhances the richly deserved success of this series with another absorbing story about romance’s favorite homicide detective. I’m going to assume that most readers who are interested in this book have at least some familiarity with the series. To the rest of you, I say – start at the beginning (because it’s worth it) and have fun catching up!
This installment begins with the brutal murder of a licensed streetwalker. The ritual mutilation of the body, plus a note left with the corpse addressed to Lt. Eve Dallas and signed “Jack,” indicate that a latter-day Jack the Ripper in on the loose. When a second body and note turn up, however, with a different signature, Dallas realizes the murderer is imitating famous serial killers. Killers who preyed on women.
It’s also clear that Dallas herself is intended to be a victim. The killer intends to use Dallas’s notoriety to draw attention to his or her own brilliance, then cap the killing spree by destroying this powerful female adversary.
As I write this review, the first thing that leaps into my mind is how easy it is to outline the premise of this book. Robb’s crisp writing and clean, economical plotting are in contrast to the contrived, over-complicated books that proliferate in this genre. The power of her straightforward storytelling is just one of the things that keeps readers coming back for more.
Another is the characters. Fascinating to begin with, Dallas and Roarke (as well as several of the secondary characters) are not the same people they were when the series began. Robb has allowed these characters to grow and change, keeping them fresh, yet always with scrupulous integrity.
In Imitation in Death, the focus is strongly on the crime. Roarke, while still a powerful presence, moves into the background after his prominent role in the previous book. In addition to the effect he has on Dallas, part of his mission here is to add a gentle element of humor to the story. This lets us see a refreshingly human side of a character who sometimes skirts closely to ‘too good to be true’ – and it is a welcome respite from the horrific crimes.
While Dallas herself is as tough and impatient as ever, it is also clear that her personal relationships have taken just a little off the razor edges of her personality. She no longer flees, cursing, from the smallest display of emotion (but, before the howls of protest start, be assured I use the world ‘smallest’ deliberately). Once even a hint of softer emotions could send her into snarling retreat; now it’s clear that trust is at least starting to enter Dallas’s emotional vocabulary.
This is crucial if the character is to remain honest. When people allow themselves to have relationships, the relationships change them. If they’re not changed, then they’re not involved – and who wants to read about a character who isn’t involved in relationships? The fact that Dallas is being changed by more than one relationship (Mira and Peabody, for example, as well as Roarke) is just one of the bonuses of good writing.
Unlike some other writers of romantic suspense, Robb has no difficulty writing a mystery. There are several very credible suspects and the reader is kept guessing as to the identity of the killer right up until the end. Some readers may find the treatment of the crimes a little bland, particularly since they are quite gruesome and based in historic fact. It isn’t a complaint I would make myself – when I read romantic suspense, I’m looking for a romantic story framed by a suspense plot, not explicit gore.
Dallas’s secondary relationships are all present and accounted for. Although they are not front and center here, there are some nice developments, particularly with Peabody and Mira, that seem destined for exploration in future books. It’s nice to know that there is still more to look forward to.
It astonishes me how Ms. Robb keeps this series vital and absorbing. Because each book has its own unique point of view, each will have its own fans and detractors, but this consistently excellent series is an amazing accomplishment.
-- Judi McKee