RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Celebrity in Death by JD Robb


Title: Celebrity In Death
Author: J.D. Robb
Publication Info: Penguin 2012
ISBN: 9780749955915
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Book Celebrity in Death This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by PamG. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best Romantic Suspense category. We've published a second RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review of this book as well.

The summary:     

Lieutenant Eve Dallas is no party girl, but she's managing to have a reasonably good time at the celebrity-packed bash celebrating The Icove Agenda, a film based on one of her famous cases. It's a little spooky seeing the actress playing her, who looks as though she could be her long-lost twin.

Not as unsettling, though, as seeing the actress who plays Peabody—drowned in the lap pool on the roof of the director's luxury building. Talented but rude and widely disliked, K.T. Harris made an embarrassing scene during dinner.

Now she's at the center of a crime scene—and Eve is more than ready to get out of her high heels and strap on her holster to step into the role she was born to play: cop.

And here is Pam's review:

For some time now, each newly released In Death book has been a must read for me–never a must buy but definitely a must read. Though I know that my reader's palate won't be startled by juicy deliciousness or gross horribleness, every entry in the series is a source of deep reading satisfaction. I deeply enjoy these books, but they will never be my comfort rereads of choice, only because the emotions I tap for comfort are not the emotions I draw from the saga of Eve and Roarke. That said, there are a multitude of qualities that I love about Robb's long running series, and most of those qualities are definitely present in Celebrity In Death.

The In Death series draws from at least three of my favorite genres: science fiction, mystery, and romance, all superbly bound together by an expert lacing of humor. Robb's futuristic, post-Urban War New York sizzles with life; her mysteries tend toward suspense rather than straight whodunits; and her romance is rooted in character and the exchange of mutual support and tenderness between her characters. Love is not limited to lovers. Without ever using the word, Robb demonstrates the love between friends, family, and co-workers over and over again with affection, subtlety and humor. Over the course of the series, characters and relationships grow in depth and complexity in ways that engage readers on many levels.

One of Robb's great skills is maintaining the consistency and integrity of her story arcs across the series. Naturally, each individual novel emphasizes different elements in the magnificent crossover that is “Dallas World.” How the reader responds to a specific novel depends on that reader's particular tastes and biases. For instance, as a fan of science fiction, I consider Origin in Death, the story of the Icove case referenced in Celebrity, one of the best entries in the series. There is a complicated, creepy plot based in some fascinating speculation on the future of genetics; there are complex moral ambiguities to be sorted out… or not, as the case may be; and there are unresolved plot threads that have intriguing potential for future development.

In Celebrity In Death the dominant genre is mystery/suspense category. The futuristic setting is, as always, well-executed but not pivotal to the plot, and, although the Icove case is central to the story, it is not scientific details or implications that matter. Rather the Icove case is merely the subject of the movie that frames the action of the plot. The mirror effect between series regulars and members of the movie's cast is more germane to this story than any event from the earlier case. The People Weekly flavor of the interactions between established characters and the actors playing them gives Robb much opportunity to exercise her incredible gift for snappy dialogue and to illuminate both the long-standing relationships and the relationships between the Hollywood celebs on the set. Particularly entertaining is the contrast between all the trappings of celebrity and Eve's ongoing aversion to glamour.

Not a lot of new ground is covered in the lives of ongoing characters. None of the NYPSD family and friends develop any new facets in this book, though the pleasure of renewing old acquaintances is quite real. Established romantic relationships do not reflect any major life changes. Eve and Roarke barely mention their defining childhood traumas, though events from the previous entry in the series are mentioned. The ever present angst factor is actually pretty low, making this book pretty mild for connoisseurs of the emotional wringer that is Eve Dallas's psyche.

The relationships among the various show people tend towards glitzy gossip fodder but are somewhat predictable. The murdered actress could have been a character in a cozy series, since she seemed to thoroughly deserve her victimhood. From her first appearance on the set, she suggests that Peabody take an “assertive course”[sic] in order to be “anything but an underling, or a sidekick at best.” Eve's assessment: “She isn't kind of a bitch. She's essentially a bitch. And you're not an underling.” It becomes too easy for the reader to dismiss K.T. as disposable from the beginning. In fact, most of the movie people pretty much fulfill expectations set up by first impressions, and that is a great disadvantage to the novel as a mystery. Eve identifies the killer relatively early, and most of the novel focuses on the gathering of evidence to nail the bastard and to prevent more deaths–particularly of people the reader has come to like or to sympathize with. This style of mystery/suspense is not uncommon or unpopular, but it is much of a muchness. For me, knowing who done it too early was a definite flaw as was the lack of Robb's trademark edginess. Eve Dallas should not evoke either Jessica Fletcher or Columbo. So little challenge does her character a great disservice.

While Celebrity in Death is not the most gripping entry in the series, it is far from a failure. Afficionados will enjoy visiting with favorite characters and watching Eve put them through their paces. Taken simply as a mystery and compared to others in the genre, the novel is more than satisfactory. However, as a romance, it is not terribly convincing to anyone who hasn't followed the backstory. A few sex scenes and some affectionate banter do not a true romance make, HEA notwithstanding. Perhaps because Robb is not focused on her characters' psychological suffering or growth, Celebrity would probably be a fairly easy entry point into the series. However, “easy” does not mean “best” in this case.

I have to say before I close, that I don't think Robb is capable of writing a bad book. I've graded Celebrity C+ because I don't think there is anything outstanding about it, but C is about as low as I'd go with any of the In Death series. Robb's characterization is lively and nuanced; her descriptions, evocative; and her dialogue, pitch perfect. Even though the later books in this series are not, strictly speaking, pure romance, there is always an element in her plot development that gives her readers the same uplift as a well-spun HEA. Robb's vision is essentially a hopeful one. One of her overarching themes is that of free will; her characters are the victims of neither nature nor nurture; they make choices and accept responsibility; and therein lies their essential kickassedness. Good guys are good due to their own decisions; bad guys have no excuses.

Though there are political and social implications to this worldview that I find troubling, Robb doesn't reverse engineer the social structure of her society to blame all misfortune on individual character flaws or to imply that prosperity and luck are the product of virtue. Her characters always contain the potential for positive change. The notion that human beings can fight their way free of horrendous circumstances and rise above poverty and abuse to find love and happiness is tremendously comforting. Even minus kissy-faces and infant epilogues, for me this concept makes Eve's and Roarke's continuing saga the very epitome of a happy non-ending.

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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    LoriK says:

    I’m going to say something that will probably be unpopular—-I think Nora is writing too many books. With one exception, I’ve never considered any of her books bad, but the last several I’ve read have been Cs for me. They were missing the spark and felt like they needed more time or another trip through rewrite. For me she went from “buy” to “get from the library as quickly as possible” a couple years ago. As of the last one she’s now a “check it out if I hear good things about it from people who aren’t fangirls, otherwise I’ll skip it.” That makes me sad.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    @LoriK: I understand that feeling totally. For me, Roberts/Robb books have a very specific and very familiar voice and style, and I can’t mainline them one after the other or I get voice fatigue. I have to break them up – which means I’m often way behind the current releases.

  3. 3
    laj says:

    In my experience it is rare that Eve doesn’t not know who the killer is earlier on in the story.  The gathering of evidence with the assisitance of her crew to out wit and catch the killer is always a big part of the book. It’s why I like the series so much.  Eve is cagey and wicked smart, I find her to be one of the best ass kicking heroines ever…..and well Roarke….need I say more?

    I liked Celebrity in Death better than you did, but I admit the series is a little stuck. I do wish Robb would give Eve’s childhood traumas a rest, I am tired of the constant rehashing of her father’s death and abuse.  It’s time for Eve to move on.

  4. 4
    L says:

    @SB Sarah: I also have to pace myself with the Robb books because they’re a very specific mood, but I’m having issues with Nora’s other books too. Whiskey Beach drove me nuts. The fact that the heroine irritated me half to death is a taste issue, but the mystery just flat out needed more work. Also, the book ended with not one, but two exposition scenes where the bad guy tells all, like it was Scooby Do or something. I had major issues with the two hard cover releases before that also had problems with the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy. I haz a general Nora sad,

  5. 5
    Karin says:

    My hat is off to PamG, that was a really excellent review.

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