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Baum On Books

Book Review: Forgotten in Death

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Forgotten in Death is the 53rd book in J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas murder mystery series, as in fill-in-the-first-word: “_____ in Death,”  the first book being Naked in Death in 1995, and the one before this one, Faithless in Death

 

I confess — before this new one I had read no Robb books — a total of 220 including romance novels written under her real name, Nora Roberts. A commercial success, with reportedly over 500 million copies of her books in print, an author who earns praise from the likes of Stephen King, Harlan Coben and David Balducci, Robb finally got to me — even though Connecticut and The Hamptons are only occasional settings for bodies turning up.

Forgotten in Death suggests why Robb’s death series is so popular, starting with the novel’s third-person point of view protagonist: NYC homicide detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas. Eve’s a sharp, savvy, blunt-talking cop who typically speaks in abbreviated prose punctuated with profanity, articles or pronouns dropped to move the action. She commands respect not only from her colleagues — many of them tough women like her — but even sometimes from antagonists, such as the aging mob boss in this new book — all the while receiving admiration and love from her brilliant hunk of a husband Roarke, a billionaire real estate mogul who drops into her investigations from time to time, and always into their bed.

 

Plot rules in a Robb novel, though an oddity — at least to me — is the “futuristic” time frame. The year is 2061, after the Urban Wars have just about destroyed the city. It’s a plausible reference, given current cultural and political conditions, but setting the plot 40 years from now is not essential to character, plot or theme. In fact, the only reminders are infrequent details such as drinking soda out of a tube, having an AutoChef coffee dispenser or prison facilities  “on” or, more severely, “off planet.”

 

Still most of Forgotten in Death reads as though it’s happening now. And it happens fast. Robb gets going on page one when a dead body is found in a dumpster. It’s of a 46-year-old mixed-race homeless woman who hung around a construction site. An autopsy shows signs of a deeply battered life. Within hours, at another construction site, the bones of  a young woman and her fetus are discovered sealed up behind a wall, with signs that the killing happened four decades back. What links the murders for Eve is the cruelty of the deaths, the abuse of the women. Allusions hint that Eve herself had been abused years ago, events obviously covered in earlier novels.

 

For sure, Eve Dallas is memorable, but she’s in a police procedural, a popular subgenre of detective fiction where policies and processes rely on forensic evidence, collective action, multi-disciplinary investigation and advanced technology. A police procedural is the opposite of the Western, long a staple of American mass media, which celebrates lone individuals, typically men of courage, overcoming a difficult past; men who best the bad guys physically as well as intellectually. In this regard, the police procedural ups the heroic opportunities for smart women. And Forgotten in Death shows how a pro does it.