J.D. Robb, ‘Kindred in Death’

It turns out that working ten- and eleven-hour days for a few weeks and then plunging into the family complexity of Christmas isn’t really conducive to a) reading and b) writing about books. I’m therefore just going to do some quick notes to try and catch up.

My New Year’s Resolution is to stop being too lazy to post cover shots, so here you go.

Cover of 'Kindred in Death' OK, confession time. Apparently this is the 35th crime thriller in the ‘In Death’ series, and I’ve somehow managed to remain ignorant of the series’ existence. Not sure how that happened. I have a feeling that in the dim and distant past I may have read one of the earlier books, but that was before I was keeping a reading diary and therefore Doesn’t Count. For the moment I’m just going to put it down to the fact the author is American and leave it at that. Anyone out there who is appalled by this ignorance will just have to try and forgive me.

Actually if I’d realised that this was the 35th book in a series I’d have been put off. I’m picky that way. I like to start with book one and move on from there. I was a bit disconcerted to find that the whole thing kicked off with a list of recurring characters from the series with a paragraph describing each one: usually I associate that sort of thing with historical novels where the author has decided to be kind to those who are confused by foreign names, or wants the chance to tell us which characters are historical and which fictional. Or there’s the Lindsay Davis approach, where the cast list gives her an opportunity for a bit of succinct satire. I don’t usually refer back to character lists much, but in this case, about five pages in, I realised that I actually did need this one, as various names were being bandied about in dialogue with no introduction.

I’m not sure what I think of this approach. Part of me says ‘that’s just lazy’, as it lets the author off having to think of ways to introduce people without breaking the flow of the narrative or irritating those who’ve read the whole series and know exactly who Charles and Louise are, thank you very much. Another part of me says ‘fair enough’, given how long the series has been going on for. A third part is just annoyed by having to stop reading and look people up all the time.

I also hadn’t realised from a quick scan of the blurb on the back cover that the series is set in the future. (I’ve just checked, and the blurb in question genuinely doesn’t mention it. Presumably I’m supposed to know that because I’ve read all or at least some of the earlier books.) It may well be that the futuristic setting plays more of a role in the earlier novels. By this point, it seemed to me that the only thing that separates it from a thriller with a contemporary setting is that the characters have access to more exciting transport options.

It’s a pacy read, with snappy writing and enough plot to keep you interested. The only problem I had was that by this point in their relationship, protagonists Eve Dallas – described on page one as ‘murder cop and ass-kicker’ – and her improbably gorgeous billionaire husband have finally reached a point of nuptial bliss. This shouldn’t really be a problem, and I’ve nothing against happy marriages in fiction. It’s also made clear in the book that they’ve got to this point after a long and emotional struggle to come to terms with the darker bits of their respective pasts. However, I’m starting to realise that there may be a rather fundamental reason why so many fictional cops have dysfunctional lives and relationships. If you write vividly about the vicious beating, rape and murder of a sixteen-year-old girl in her own bed, which is the appalling scene faced by the heroine at the start of this story, then you’re at risk of undermining the seriousness and horror of the crime if your detective goes home from work to a life where she has perfect sex whenever she needs it, an amusing cat, servants to take care of all the mundane stuff, and where her biggest angst is caused by the fact that she feels she doesn’t know how to be a good bridesmaid. The contrast is just a bit too much to take.

I suspect for that reason I’d like the earlier books in the series better than this one.

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