Purity in Death by J.D. Robb
(Berkley, $7.99, R) ISBN: 0-425-18630-X
J.D. Robb’s (Nora Roberts’) In Death books are like a good television series. They have an attractive cast of ongoing characters, relationships that can develop because there is lots of time, and the same underlying plot with an occasional twist. Purity in Death is the fifteenth installment in the series and by now the reader is pretty familiar with the set up and the characters. And if one has been watching the series from the start, one doesn’t want to miss a single episode.

Murder most foul is, as always, at the center of the story. Eve Dallas, a lieutenant in the New York police department some sixty years from now, is the best homicide detective on the force. She deeply believes that she “stands for” the victims and she tries to bring the guilty to justice. However, some of the victims in this story are pretty hard to “stand for.” The targets of the nefarious scheme at the center of Purity are the dregs of society: a drug dealer who entices young kids, a pornographer and a sexual predator. But they are not the only victims because before they die, they are driven to violence against others.

The method of murder is unique - the ultimate computer virus that attacks not the machine but its user. The resulting death is awful. The perpetrators are clearly clever vigilantes who have targeted the scum of the earth for retribution. But however nasty the victims, Eve and her colleagues must uncover the culprits.

Eve is assisted by her trusty aide, Peabody; the techies at the police department; and, of course, her mysterious multi-billionaire husband, Roarke. These particular crimes require more brainwork than legwork to solve, since the murder weapon is so unusual.

Of course, Robb provides more than just a murder. Probably most important to the romance readers among her fans is the relationship between Roarke and Eve. It has been lots of fun to watch this odd couple - Eve is the ultimate cop; Roarke’s background is shady, to say the least - as they navigate the tricky waters of matrimony. In fact, there is relatively little noticeable change in their interactions in Purity except that Eve accept Roarke’s assistance a bit more readily. Are they settling into a comfortable married life? I sure hope not.

Also front and center is the developing romance between Peabody and McNab, the geeky computer expert. Almost as much of an odd couple as the protagonists, the two are moving from intense physical attraction to something more meaningful.

All of the reader’s old favorites are on the scene for at least cameo appearances: Captain Feeney, Dr. Mira, TV reporter Nadine Furst, the irrepressible Mavis with an astounding bit of news, and other folks from the previous books. The ensemble nature of the cast is what makes this and any series so enjoyable.

Robb has also created a plausible future if not a very attractive one. Her gritty New York of the future suggests that technical progress will not necessarily lead to human progress, a sobering but probably accurate evaluation of human nature.

Purity in Death is not quite as compelling as some of the other stories in this series but it is still an entertaining futuristic mystery. The suspense plot is done with flair; the villains are appropriately villainous; the ongoing characters retain the reader’s interest; the setting is darkly compelling. Can you see the In Death books as a TV series? I sure can.

--Jean Mason

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