Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Naked in Death by JD Robb

Naked in Death (In Death 1)
by J.D. Robb
Brilliance Audio, 2010 (originally published in 1995)
5 discs, abridged

Welp, that was another abridged audiobook. It wasn't supposed to be, but it was what I could get, and I've wanted to try this series for a while now. For those not sure, yes, JD Robb is a different incarnation of redoubtable, prolific romance author Nora Roberts. This series is exceedingly popular and long-lived, and incredibly all 40 (40!!) entries in the series have above a 4 star rating on Goodreads. The setting appealed to me - I like mysteries, and the idea of a series set in a futuristic New York City, but still a police procedural and a romantic thriller, really tickled my fancy.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas is a young and very successful police inspector with the New York City Police and Security Department in the year 2058. After a particularly messy episode with a domestic assault and murder, in which she's been responsible for the death of the murderer, she's immediately called in to a top secret investigation involving the gruesome murder of the prostitute (legalized, now) granddaughter of a very powerful, very right-wing Southern Senator. The top suspect is the charming billionaire Roarke, a man with deep secrets. But as Eve grows to know Roarke she becomes convinced that his secrets don't include coldblooded murder (this one, at least.) And she finds herself increasingly fascinated by this contrarian, handsome, and likely very dangerous man.

I know why this series is so popular. It ticks off alllll the fantasies: young, scarily competent, slightly maverick, and secretly scarred detective; fancy gadgets that do cool things; a possible conspiracy of the powerful and a hard-ass boss for our detective to fight against; and very rich, very good-looking, very alpha male hero. The writing is extremely competent and even excellent in places. The tone is perfect. The plot is... not a big surprise at any point, exactly, but there's enough tension to keep it interesting. In short, this book is straight-out escapist fiction and it doesn't pretend to be anything else, and it's very, very good at what it does.

Any problems I had with this book really had to do with the abridgement I listened to and nothing else. And that's not even saying that the abridgement was poorly done; it wasn't. It's just that any romance that is abridged feels too fast, and mysteries that are abridged often leave clues that the author might have buried a little better feeling pretty bare. The predictability of both the plot and the identity of the murderer are partially due to the format I chose.

So I need to talk about Roarke and the alpha male hero. Intellectually I find myself pretty conflicted about this, but in some ways Robb(erts) has made this easy: Eve is not a wallflower, nor is she too perfect. She saves herself when she needs saving, but she's messy, and she makes an acceptable number of mistakes. I say "acceptable" because I really think that this kind of story needs a protagonist who makes errors, but she can't make too many because otherwise the story stops being enjoyable because the reader is too worried - Eve hits these notes perfectly and manages not to be either one-note or stereotypical; she's very likeable and she's very competent and she's not a push-over.

This is important, because Roarke is super-alpha. In his desire to take care of Eve and help her out, he does a couple of things that are pretty creepy if one thinks too hard about it. To the author's credit Eve calls him out on these things, but she doesn't do the sensible thing and get him out of her life entirely. And this is where I have trouble. I feel that, by enjoying the alpha male, I am somehow buying into a misogynistic social construct, and I don't like that. On the other hand, I also feel like it's unhelpful to suggest to women that certain avenues of fantasy or desire are off-limits or shameful. I don't have the background to be able to take this discussion too much further, and I obviously still have a need to work through it.

But simply: I enjoy Roarke as a hero, and I find the scenes with him romantic and sexy, and as a fantasy his behaviour doesn't creep me out, even if I encountered someone like him in real life I'd stay as far away from him as possible. I can spend as much time as I would like trying to justify this, but I think I just maybe need to own up to it: as a fantasy, this works for me. It can be borderline - there are alpha males I find just insufferable and not attractive at all - but something about this combination, Eve and Roarke, I find sexy and believable enough as a fantasy to enjoy the relationship.

If it's not clear from all of the above, I really enjoyed listening to this, and I'll definitely read/listen to more of the In Death series. Do I have the need to read all 40+ books? Maybe not, but I'm glad I've started. A solid mystery and vivid characters, with the bonus of a well-realized, very interesting and fun setting. If you're not a fan of the alpha male romance, steer clear, but this is a good bet for those who like that sort of thing. Even if you're a bit conflicted about it.

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