Sunday, January 18, 2015

Into Robb or Nah

Okay, so I'm making a point to catch up on my J. D. Robb before Obsession in Death releases next month. I’m four books away, with the first two down in Calculated in Death and Thankless in Death.  Concealed [book 38] and Festive in Death [book 39] are on the way. Now, how and where can I start, seeing how Calculated is book number 36 in the series? So really? Exactly where should I start my thoughts?

Well, considering each book contains an individual case, perhaps there. Calculated opens up in Manhattan’s Upper East Side–sometime in November. Stripped of her expensive coat and briefcase, an accountant named Marta Dickenson lay dead at the bottom steps of a brownstone apartment under renovations. At first glance, it appears to be a mugging gone wrong. Then homicide lieutenant Eve Dallas steps in and discovers Marta’s death was a lot more premeditated than it appears. Assigned to work on three financial audits, Marta’s murder begs for a closer look. 

So with an innocent accountant and wife dead in her hands, it's up to Eve to speak for her. And what she unravels is a stream of financial corruption and fraud, tucked and hidden in mountains of company records. However, it takes a team of four players to provide the momentum of this corrupt engine. And the closer Eve gets to the truth, the more desperate the group of four become as they begin to sell and pick each other off to hide their role in Marta‘s murder.  Which more or less made Calculated a little tangled in some areas.  As well as sluggish.  Nevertheless, it's demanding of readers' focus, to keep track of the many names and ties involved.  So besides the standard series characters gone to work, what I found most alluring about this book is how it focuses on the tale of the hitman.  His side of things.  How he became who he is.  That I did find satisfying, and even saddening to a degree.

Almost thankfully, but not so thankfully; Thankless in Death is miles and miles of trouble-free, painless, effortless plotting compared to Calculated in Death. As book number 37 in the In Death series, I would wager to say this was a sleeper. The plot is really quite simple.  A twenty-something entitled and ungrateful brat of a man–still living under his parents after being fired from a job and being kicked out of his girlfriend’s apartment–decides that he’s had enough of his parents' nagging at him to straighten up his life. So what does he do? He kills them, swipes their money and other valuables, and then takes off.  Still begrudging others who've made his sad existence of a life miserable, he decides to take on further murderous acts to focus his psychological distress. The reader witnesses his villainous progression throughout it all.  And from the opening's murder of his parents, to the arrival of Eve, the evidence is clear that he’s her man. This, in turn, creates an open mystery and a not so tense cat-and-mouse chase between him and homicide lieutenant Eve Dallas. 

Thankless wasn't a thrill ride at all.  Interesting?  Sure.  Neurotic?  A touch.  But never an actual thrill.  Partly because the villain was an idiot who spent more time running and whining than actually thwarting. However, there were a few character moments present that kind of made me understand what the book was really about.  Which, in my humble estimation, would revolve around showing gratitude to the friends and family present in your life.  At the end of the day, I could get with that and forgive the book.

Getting to the Point

So yeah. Books number 36 and 37.  Whether you have an on-again off-again relationship with this series, you'd probably want to have some history behind you before you jump into Calculated and Thankless in DeathIn saying so, as much as I want to write an outstanding post about the two, I can’t.  All I can say is that if you've gotten this far, you've gotten this far for a reason.  Either you're in the game, or you're not at this point. You love the futuristic setting blended with police procedural, or you don’t. You love Eve and her relationship with Roarke (or as most readers read only for Roarke), or you don’t. You love the ensemble cast–including the colorful Detective Peabody and the motherly-figure Dr. Mira–or you don’t. Some readers express concerns about some “switch” in writing styles.  Some even express suspicions of a ghostwriter. Some express concerns about characters’ attitude “changes."  Some are just worn of it all.  And some (actually many) just don't give a damn and keep going.

Most of these things pass over me, as I’m in the game for Eve’s smart-ass mouth and dedication. However, if anything does bother me, it’s usually the comma splices and the slightly swelling Mary/Gary Sue-ish flavor decorating the power couple that makes up Eve and Roarke. Okay, and also the lack of action scenes. Oh yeah, and the corny names for futuristic foods, games, businesses, and various forms of slang (I detest the use of “vid” for “video” and “mag” for “magnificent”; incidentally, this is probably why I find the popstar character Mavis obnoxious).

Furthermore, the series is unhurried outside of its crime-of-the-day format. And I mean unhurried as in character progression, overarching developments, series expansion, and so forth and so on. It’s a good thing. It’s a bad thing. It’s a comfortable and formulaic thing. Honestly, that’s just it. It is what it is at this point. Not a disappointment, but an old, fun pair of friends. Some visits ballpark it more than others, though.

I would always suggest the unfamiliar to start with the first book, Naked in Death, and work (at their pace) forward. J. D. Robb releases two new books a year in the series, and its only for the truly dedicated and addicted. Even I learned during my two-year hiatus that it was pointless to nick-picked this series apart when all I ever crave is the next book. The next crime. The next Eve Dallas banter and dedication to her work. 

There'll be good books. There'll be bad books. And the pump will keep pumping toward somewhere. Not quite sure where. But somewhere.  And I'll do my part and pump along.  

How about I do a post listing my 5 favorite and least favorites?  Before then, if you're familiar with this series, tell me your favorite and least favorite entries as we approach the 40th book next month.

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