*Warning: this review contains some spoilers.
According to Goodreads, Echoes in Death is the 44th instalment of the In Death series (for those who are unaware, romance writer Nora Roberts writes this series of futuristic police procedurals as J.D. Robb), though with 12 equally detailed novellas interspersing the novels, this is actually the 55th of Eve’s cases that we’re reading (I think).
Homicide detective Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke are driving back home from a fancy party on a freezing winter night when they almost hit a young woman who is wandering the streets naked, bloody, and completely disoriented. The woman turns out to be Daphne Strazza, the victim of a physical and sexual assault in her home that’s also left her husband dead.
As Eve begins investigating, she finds that the Strazzas are not the first victims of such a crime — there’s a serial rapist, sexual assaulter and murderer targeting rich married couples. And he’s escalating, which means that unless Eve finds him — and fast — he’s going to strike again soon.
This is one of Roberts’ books where the crimes committed are particularly brutal, horrific and evil. As with all her previous cases involving rape, this one hits Eve more than it would have if it exclusively comprised homicides. Daphne’s condition in particular hits very close to Eve’s traumatic childhood and the immediate aftermath of her own horrific experience.
But what is evident in Echoes in Death is how much Eve has evolved with regard to her past. For instance, unlike the previous books, she is less plagued by nightmares in this one, and not because she’s unaffected by the case — she’s definitely not. She does pause and deal with how the case is affecting her personally, with Roarke’s support, before she continues being the fierce, resilient cop that she is. But I think this shows that she is healing, even if isn’t entirely healed yet and has a long way to go to completely come to terms with what happened to her as a child.
Eve also seems more settled — more comfortable with who she is, where she is in her life at the moment, and what she does, without beating herself up or feeling guilty about it. Her and Roarke’s relationship also seems far more solid, entrenched, than it did in the preceding books. She seems more comfortable than before with his wealth, and with having love and security in her life.
I liked how there is less dependence on Roarke in this book for his uber-awesome computer skills (he doesn’t use his unregistered outside-of-government-surveillance supercomputer to make the work easier for Eve). There’s more emphasis on him as her husband, partner, and solid rock of emotional support.
Roberts also slips in small elements of humour — Eve’s struggle to keep up with mainstream culture of the past and the present, and her bafflement of contemporary lingo are amusing.
With regard to the crime solving, Eve identifies the perpetrator early in the investigation. But because it is more from her personal gut feeling and intuition rather than evidence and the deductions of police work (fair warning, this book highlights the tediousness of the sheer grunt work involved in an investigation, and how, often, leads head nowhere), she keeps it to herself at first to see how the pieces of the investigation fall. In the end, her deductions prove to be accurate.
Echoes in Death has its strong points; there are, however, also some weak points and a couple of very obvious gaps in the story.
1.) Other than the trusty Peabody and the pudgy Galahad, none of the secondary characters get much story space. McNab, Dr. Mira, Baxter, and Trueheart all have diminished roles, Summerset barely gets a scene, Feeny only has a cameo, and Mavis and her family, Nadine, and Louise and Charles are only mentioned. The story feels oddly bereft without these characters’ full involvement, because their presence adds colour and texture to the narrative.
2.) Nadine’s absence is especially jarring. As a top journalist, she’s usually in Eve’s office the second she gets whiff of a big story. Even if the victims in this book weren’t sufficiently famous to warrant media attention for themselves, the brutality of the crimes should have been more than enough to have the press crawling all over them. Yet, there is no mention of the news media, of reporters, and of Nadine with respect to this case at all, which is a rather glaring omission.
3.) Eve is usually extremely thorough while investigating a crime, not leaving any thread, no matter how farfetched, untagged. She suspects Daphne might have been abused physically and sexually by her husband, Dr. Strazza. Yet, she doesn’t contact Strazza’s ex-wife — who has moved as far away as possible to the other side of the world: Australia — to verify this possibility, which I think is a rather important lead not to follow up on.
4.) The perpetrator’s behaviour when he’s finally caught — he morphs into a complete entitled asshole — is a bit unbelievable. His arrogance can be explained, to an extent, but justifying his actions by painting himself as the victim is anticlimactic, and feels like we’ve been sold short. It would have, in my opinion, made much more of an impact if he’d let his evil show, because it ties into his arrogance and sense of invincibility while committing the crimes.
5.) Also, some ends feel like they are left untied. For instance, it’s surprising that the perpetrator’s parents, who paid off a woman who’d accused him many years ago of sexual assault, aren’t brought into the picture and shamed into owning up to what their actions inevitably caused. They are at fault too, for making the perpetrator think money could — and would — make all his problems vanish.
All in all, though a small half-step below the two books directly preceding it, (Brotherhood in Death and Apprentice in Death), Echoes in Death proves that the In Death series has mostly become stronger as it continues, and a reminder that every so often, Roberts adds that extra twist at the end of a story that the reader seldom sees coming.
*Featured book cover image from JDRobb.com.
*Also published on Goodreads.