Vengeance in Death by J.D. Robb
(Berkley, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-16039-4
aka Nora Roberts
I almost didn't make it past the first 75 pages of the latest futuristic mystery from multifaceted author Nora Roberts. The violence was grislier than almost anything I have ever read, although I am an admitted amateur when it comes to suspense or horror novels. The rest of the book, however, was heavier on the relationships and the mystery and lighter on the gore. This wasn't my favorite installment of the ground-breaking series, but as with anything Nora writes, it leaves most other novels in the dust.

As with the previous five "in Death" books, the heroine is the prickly police lieutenant Eve Dallas who solves homicides in futuristic New York. Eve, a survivor of a traumatic childhood, has always been a loner until she fell in love, much against her will. Her husband Roarke, a multi-billionaire with a similarly brutal youth, has risen from the streets of Ireland through not always lawful means to become one of the most admired and feared men in the world.

The murders in Vengeance in Death are committed by a madman who, in addition to being sadistically violent, is also technologically brilliant, capable of doctoring security disks at the murder sites and sending Eve live transmissions that are impossible to trace. This time the case ends up hitting very close to home, and Eve must bend some police protocols to protect those she loves -- and those she can't stand. Readers familiar with the series will appreciate the irony when Eve is forced to put her life on the line to prove the innocence of a secondary character who has irritated Eve from their first meeting.

The case also causes some major tension in Eve and Roarke's still-new marriage. I found this a welcome change after too much smooth sailing in the third, fourth and fifth installments of the series. Roarke faces some tough personal challenges, and they help make him a more realistic hero, instead of the two-dimensional rich hunk he was threatening to become.

Nora Roberts continues to be one of the few authors who can make me laugh out loud, with dialogue that is so sharp I almost cut my finger as I turned the pages. Combine that with a compelling futuristic setting and a mystery with a few red herrings (I was sure I knew the identity of the murderer from early on and was proved dead wrong) and you've got another winner. If you haven't read the books in this series, I envy you. You have a lot of great reading ahead of you, starting with Naked in Death. If you are already a fan of the series, you probably already have this book in your hot little hands or are on your way to the bookstore. You won't be disappointed by the plot or the characters.

But I would like to state a protest over the level of violence that is, to me, unnecessarily graphic. I was almost sick to my stomach as I read certain passages. Perhaps Ms. Roberts is getting pressure from her publisher to write what sells, but there must be a way to write a compelling mystery without the gore. She may be gaining mainstream readers, but the romance fans who cherish her know she doesn't need the gruesome stuff to be successful.

--Susan Scribner

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