Thursday, April 05, 2007

J. D. Robb's Futuristic Mysteries

It's been a long time since I've discovered a series that engages me the way J. D. Robb's "In Death" mysteries do. Happily, it comprises so many books that I have a long time before I catch up (i.e., run out). The relationship between New York homicide detective Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke gives the novels their special appeal for me. It's often said that the male and female of the human race view each other as alien (men are from Mars, women are from Venus). A character in one of Heinlein's novels questions whether men and women actually belong to the same species. When Eve and Roarke first meet, they live in different worlds, so they feel "alien" to each other, a blunt-spoken cop devoted to the law and a rich, elegant man who made his fortune on the shady side of the legal line. And if "the past is a different country," so is the future of the 2050s in which these stories take place, making the characters slightly alien to us as readers, too. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) has said that in these books she set out with the intention of telling the story of their marriage, so that the first of the series, in which they meet and fall in love, is only the beginning.

What really fascinates me about their relationship is its underlying similarity to the marriage between Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy Sayers' mysteries. In both couples, a career woman marries a much wealthier man. In each case, both the man and the woman have trauma in their pasts (although Harriet's ordeal of being tried for murder pales beside Eve's harrowing childhood). Both couples met while one of the parties was a murder suspect. Both Eve and Harriet are emotionally gun-shy, finding it difficult to accept the possibility of love and, even after marriage, having trouble saying, "I love you," in so many words. Roarke has a counterpart to Lord Peter's impeccable Bunter, and like Lord Peter and Bunter, Roarke and Summerset went through the wars together, metaphorically. (Lord Peter met Bunter on a literal battlefield, in World War I; Roarke bonded with Summerset in the underworld of the Dublin streets.) A difference is that Bunter likes Harriet, while Summerset and Eve (to begin with, at any rate) share a mutual loathing. Roarke even enjoys, like Lord Peter, teasing his more cautious soul-mate by driving his fabulously expensive vehicle recklessly fast. Eve, like Harriet, sensitive about her husband's wealth, has a hard time accepting gifts. A proud, prickly woman and a suave, self-contained, but deeply passionate man, both of them intelligent and articulate—what a dynamite combination!

What's the common theme in these two series that I find so compelling? So far, I think it can be encapsulated as "trust and love overcoming pride and fear of vulnerability." Also, I'm always drawn to stories of people (human or not) reaching out to each other across chasms of difference to grow from alien-ness (or alienation) to intimacy.


  1. I'm a confirmed fan of the Dallas-Roarke duo. But McNabb and Peabody also tickle my fancy. I just love the whole series. ~Linnea

  2. Anonymous6:34 PM EDT

    I've heard Dallas and Roarke mentioned by various readers, but I've never read them myself, yet. I've also never really been inclined to read mysteries, but as futuristics the idea is quite intriguing. Another new-to-me series beckons, it would appear.

  3. David and anybody else who's never tried this series, you have a treat in store for you. I started the series when Naked in Death first came out and have eagerly awaited each book ever since. I highly recommend reading the series in order so you can follow the development of the main and secondary characters. Naked in Death is first, then Glory in Death, then Immortal ...,

    Enjoy everybody!

  4. Opposite of David Gray: I have several mystery authors I'm fond of, and I love romances with a speculative fiction element -- but what I originally shied away from in the "In Death" series was the futuristic label. I was wary that the near-future elements would be hokey. Well, they aren't. It's a very believable world-my-grandchildren-might-be-adults-in. And the characters are fantastic. I caved and checked out the series (not in order, and I'm still only half finished with the available books) after a MALE fellow panel member at Darkover this past November told me I would love it.