The buzz in the romance novel community suggests that Reunion in Death, the 14th futuristic mystery novel featuring NYPD Lieutenant Eve Dallas, is a mediocre novel that portends the death knell of the series. While it’s not one of the strongest entries in this ground-breaking series, I would argue that Reunion still demonstrates Nora Roberts’ impressive skills at character development, witty dialogue, dry humor and dramatic tension.
Returning to her office from the vacation forced upon her by her billionaire husband, Roarke, Lieutenant Eve Dallas finds an unusual lull in the city’s murder rate. Given that additional respite, she is unable to avoid socializing with her aide Delia Peabody’s parents. “Free-Ager” free-spirits Sam and Phoebe Peabody have come to visit their daughter and check out the boss she worships. Inevitably, however, murder rears its ugly head in the form of an unknown assailant who has poisoned a wealthy businessman at his own surprise birthday party.
The trail quickly leads to a recent parolee named Julianna Dunne, who was convicted ten years ago of marrying - and then murdering - three men, largely due to the persistence of a young detective named Eve Dallas. Although Julianna seems to be targeting the same population of wealthy older men this time around, Eve quickly comes to believe that the murders are Julianna’s twisted way of getting revenge on the woman who put her away. Tracking down the calculating killer turns out to be more challenging than Eve expects, and only by arranging a dangerous reunion does Eve finally come face to face with the woman she seeks.
There’s plenty to appreciate about this Reunion with familiar and well-loved characters like Eve, Roarke and Peabody. The book’s highlight is Eve’s trip to Dallas to learn more about Julianna’s childhood. Coincidentally, Dallas is also the city in which Eve finally freed herself from the clutches of her abusive father many years ago. The fish-out-of-water humor as stanch urbanite Eve confronts her first ranch livestock contrasts vividly with the emotional torment she undergoes when she revisits the hotel where she stabbed her father. Reading that funny and heartbreaking chapter made me realize anew that Nora Roberts still has the goods and knows how to deliver them.
Loyal but spirited Delia Peabody gets a chance to shine in this installment, as Eve gives her a cold case to solve. Inspired by Eve’s confidence and her parents’ support, Peabody comes through with flying colors. Too bad there is little interaction with her outrageous lover, Ian McNabb. And while Peabody’s parents have intriguing psychic powers, their involvement in the plot feels slightly forced. The psychic healing angle seemed more appropriate for one of Roberts’ recent witch trilogy novels than this gritty, down-to-earth series.
Most of the complaints I’ve seen about this book revolve around Roarke’s intimate involvement, once again, with an official police investigation. There have also been allegations that Roarke is too “perfect.” But in my opinion, we don’t need Roarke to be a tortured hero - we’ve already got a tortured heroine who, after a full year of marriage, can’t refer to Roarke as her husband without blushing. After he watches Eve relive her past in Dallas, Roarke clearly demonstrates his emotional depths, so we don’t need to see him wallow in excessive angst. As for his continued, albeit unofficial, presence in Eve’s work, I’ll admit that it may be getting a tad predictable, but how interesting would the novels be if Roarke stayed in the wings, appearing occasionally just to give Eve another rollicking orgasm? Much of the series’ energy comes from watching the two strong-willed characters interact, so let them work together as much as possible.
Reunion in Death may signify Eve and Roarke’s first anniversary in book time, but I’ve been reading the series for seven years now and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. So don’t tell me the series is past its peak; I think the best may still be ahead.