|I just read an article in Newsweek about the joys of rereading. The author was defending this practice against those who insist it is a waste of time to revisit a book. He waxed rhapsodic about the hours he has spent rediscovering the charms of Dickens or Austen or Shakespeare or any number of the literary greats. (I note that he did not mention Joyce which I find completely comprehensible; once was enough!) I too am an avid rereader. And I find that lately, when I want the comfort of old friend, more often than not, I pick up a J.D. Robb. All of her books sit on my keeper shelves (yes, I buy them in hardback) and I admit to having twice reread the entire series from Naked in Death through whichever installment had most recently been published. So it should surprise no one that I am giving Promises in Death a 5 Heart rating.
Yet I understand that my personal Robb habit is probably not shared by most of TRR’s readers so when I affix this highest rating to a Robb book, it should reflect the novel’s outstanding contribution to this impressive series. (I would have given Salvation in Death which recently appeared in paperback 4 hearts.) I believe that Promises in Death is indeed an exceptional piece of storytelling which interweaves the characters Robb’s readers have come to know and love into a complex mystery.
The story begins with the murder. We meet the victim as she goes unwittingly to her death. She is clearly a happy, beautiful woman who enjoys her life and her blossoming romance. She seems vaguely familiar to readers of the series. Her identity becomes known when Eve Dallas is called to the scene and recognizes her. She is Detective Amaryllis Coltraine and she is the lover of Dr. Li Morris, the Chief Medical Examiner and Dallas’ dear friend.
Thus, solving this case becomes very, very personal for Dallas. Not only is the victim a cop, but she meant everything to someone who means a lot to Eve. Dallas can’t bring Ammy back, but she can promise Morris that she will find the killer.
Detective Coltraine had only recently transferred to the NYSPD from Atlanta. She was, by all reports a good if not outstanding cop. She was well-liked and respected by her colleagues. There seems to be nothing in her caseload that would lead to her murder. The investigation turns to her past and some troubling facts emerge. Ammy had had an affair with a man named Alex Ricker. Those familiar with the series should recognize the name. Alex Ricker is the son of a master criminal who had tried to destroy both Dallas and her husband Roarke. Instead, Dallas and Roarke had destroyed Ricker and he is now spending the rest of his life on an off-planet, maximum security prison. His son, while having no criminal record himself, is known to have been involved in Ricker’s affairs and is now in charge of what is left of the “family business.” What relationship does this affair have to Coltraine’s murder? Was she a “dirty cop”? Will her reputation be stained by her past?
As she seeks the answers to these questions, Dallas comes to understand the victim better. After all, she too fell in love with a man with a shady past. Even though Roarke had been mostly legitimate by the time they met and though he had willingly abandoned any questionable activities in his vast economic empire, the taint of his past still has an impact on their lives. That Roarke now uses his talents on the side of law and order does not erase suspicions about his motives. Was Ammy’s murder somehow linked to her one-time lover?
Robb unravels the mystery behind the murder with her usual skill. The procedural aspects of the case – the digging for facts, the use of futuristic technology, the interviews with suspects, the prying out of motives and means – are handled effectively. But, to be honest, what brings me back to Robb’s books are the characters whom I have met over the twenty plus books in the series and especially the relationship between Roarke and Dallas.
Dallas has to be one of the most interesting characters in contemporary romantic fiction. Two years earlier, when the series began, she was a loner, with few friends, a dreadful past, and nothing in her life but her intense dedication to her career. Now she is married to a rich and handsome husband and has acquired a raft of interesting and devoted friends. She remains completely at sea about how this all happened, but she has clearly opened up to emotions she does not fully comprehend but which have given her life a meaning and richness which she has come to value. She changes and grows with every book and it is a pleasure to watch her become more fulfilled and happy. The Dallas who deals so kindly with her friend Morris’ grief and need is not the same person she was two years earlier and her development as a human being is what keeps me (and I expect other readers) coming back to these books.
Oh yes, and Roarke remains one of the coolest heroes ever.
Promises in Death is an exceptional addition to what is an exceptional series. I think I’ll start reading it again as soon as I finish this review.