Apprentice in Death by J D Robb


Reviewed by Ian Lipke

J. D. Robb’s latest ‘in Death’ novel reads as fresh as though it were her first. Certainly it feels nothing like the forty-something adventure that has been published in this series. The plot is not much different, perhaps more tortuous than most. The characters are well-defined and rounded, depending on the importance of the part they play. We meet the villains in the opening pages but it is a long time before we learn anything about them. The writer gives us ample time to be horrified at the callous disregard for human life.

As is usual, we witness a scene where a crime has been committed. We take in some of the information. The writer’s intention is to dribble information to gather as we please and use in our search for the killer before he is unmasked. Again, as is usual, the heroine of the drama Lieutenant Eve Dallas strides into the police station and demands to know, “Are those frogs?” a salutation that mature readers of the series have come to expect. J.D. Robb often has an apostrophe to break up the rhythm, bring in discord, and change the tone of subsequent passages so that the reader has no doubt at all about the setting. In ways similar to this Robb establishes the setting without the need for description.

A crime has been reported and, like a well-oiled machine, Robb’s characters are dispensed to their various jobs. While many go without demur, some are held back. This is one of the ways Robb has of keeping the plot fresh. In this case she needs an expert in firearms’ technology. Her lead character Eve Dallas cannot be seen to know everything there is to know about narrowly-defined subjects like firearms. But the expert on staff does. And so the plot can be developed with the aid of the officer who can advise the heroine, upon whose advice she can develop the direction of her hunt for the killers.

There is always a love interest. Dallas and Roarke are two larger than life characters who are presented as such with no explanation or embarrassment. They are husband and wife who live in Roarke’s castle. He is beyond wealthy and very experienced in most forms of fighting. Like his wife he is hedonistic. Their lovemaking is ‘out there’ yet never obnoxious. J.D. Robb has mastered the narration of sex scenes with her metaphors which describe what is happening in language that is never crude. Her technique of employing intangibles to describe the most tangible things in life is very difficult to understand and impossible to repeat. Sex scenes between other characters, Peabody and McNab for example, are mentioned but never displayed.

The Electronics Division is straight out of the bizarre. The officer-in-charge is Feeney who is addicted to walnuts. Considering the number that he eats one would have to suspect a stomach of wrought iron. McNab skips and dances around the floor, nodding his head in time to the ear-splitting beat that is never switched off, all the while working on a serious piece of work.

Robb’s great strength is her ability to present characters who remain consistent across episodes. Over forty books in the series and each character, although growing in stature, remains true to her early conception. Talk of somebody dressed in a pink coat and you immediately realise that it is Peabody. The dialogue between the characters defines them. It is snappy and caters for the business like operation of a busy police operation.

With the aid of clever deduction the master criminal becomes known to us, and we witness Robb’s wicked sense of humour. She says in all seriousness that they have an LDSK to deal with. Ostensibly, she is getting on with the job of developing the story. But she is, I suspect, teasing the reader. How many police can convince themselves or their fellow officers, without laughing, that they are hunting a dangerous Long Distance Serial Killer (an LDSK). The sound of the acronym makes me think of a pop idol and his band of the sixties. Robb confounds the mischief when this LDSK is a young girl. But in a new development she throws the mantle of ‘pure evil’ around the shoulders of the child.

J.D. Robb is a woman of many talents. Her stories are full of fun that make her readers want to come back for more. Zany plots, strong zany women, creative use of the characters, and a storyline that is engaging and frustrating are just some of the ingredients of these very clever novels.

Apprentice in Death


by J.D. Robb
Piatkus/Hachette Australia
ISBN: 978-0-349-41082-1
375pp; $32.99



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