Festive in Death (Fan Review)

I don’t read as much as I used to.

This has caused me quite a bit of consternation lately because you see, I self-identify as a reader. As a kid, I was one of the ones who hid whatever fiction book I was reading underneath my math book so I could read while I was supposed to be doing fractions, and as a teenager, I spent spring break my junior year of high school reading twelve novels. And lest you think I outgrew it, as an adult, I once took fifteen books with me on a ten-day trip to England.

Because reading.

Only somewhere along the line, I’ve stopped reading like that, and didn’t realize it, until I became friends with a woman who still does. (*waves at Jaime*)

And as if it I needed more proof, the publishing stars aligned in a certain way and all six of my must-buy authors released new titles between August 26-September 9th. I have this deal with myself, you see: I only buy books I know I’ll re-read (the rest are borrowed from the library) and that’s slipped and slid its way to being these six writers.

I like all these authors. I do. And will probably be blogging about all of them at some point. But it’s taken me over a week to read two of them, and I don’t know why.

But Festive in Death, the new JD Robb, I finished in about six hours, give or take.

Because Eve and Roarke.

What always strikes me about the books in the In Death series is how different they are. Oh, sure, there are similarities from book to book – how could there not be, when they’re stories about the same characters, solving the same basic problem (finding a killer) in each one?

But they never feel repetitive to me, for a number of reasons.

First, due to Robb anchoring them so firmly in the lives of the characters, the seasons, changing from book to book, guarantee a different feel. New York just a few days before Christmas makes for a very different book than New York in March.

Second, the cases don’t all revolve around serial killers, which I especially like. Here, I wasn’t even certain there was going to be a second victim until the very end, though it made sense to me that there was. And though this wasn’t the first time Eve’s searched for justice for an unsympathetic victim, I thought the gradual reveal of just how much of a monster he was, was well-handled. There appears to be a nearly infinite number of ways and reasons that people kill, and Robb explores them all.

Similarly, there’s also no pattern to how the mystery is solved. Some rely more heavily on Roarke’s financial and technical skills, while others, like this one, hinge more on Eve’s ability to get inside the head of suspects. Even there, there’s another difference, as sometimes, Eve’s gut identifies the killer early on, and the rest of the book explores how she proves it, while here, it was a process of sorting through various clues, gradually narrowing down the suspect list.

Plus? I’d have to research it, but I think this might be the closest Eve has come to actually failing, in that the book was (according to Kindle) 97% of the way finished, with Eve still assuming she’d get a confession out of the guy she’d arrested, when she figured out the truth.

I like that. I like that Robb skates as close to the edge of failure as she can, because it makes Eve more human.

Another thing that varies from book to book is the nature of the subplot. Sometimes, as with Mavis’s back story the last winter’s Concealed in Death, it’s a substantial story about one or more of the characters. But other times, the secondary story about the characters is quieter and less focused. Here, it’s preparing for Christmas. There’s no real conflict (beyond Eve’s shopping battles and negotiations with the devil, er, Summerset) but there are some truly lovely moments between Eve and Feeney, and Eve and Peabody.

With so much history behind the major players, it’s easy to work in those small moments of pay-off, scenes that wouldn’t have worked as well twenty books ago. In this one, I particularly loved Eve and Roarke having a family style breakfast with Peabody and McNab the morning after the party.

But quieter doesn’t mean there’s a lack of character growth, and I saw that on two fronts with Eve. First, there was this conversation:

“You’ll stand for her, too, if she’s killed. Because it’s always more than just the job, more than duty.”

“It’s not about me.”

“Bollocks. Investigating objectively doesn’t remove you. Your experiences, your understanding of victimology from the viewpoint of the victim is as much a part of what you do, who you are, as your training and your instincts. You are, forever, all points of the triad, Lieutenant: victim, killer, cop. And you know each section intimately.”

“Because I’ve not only been a victim, I’m not only a cop, but I’ve killed.” (Roarke  and Eve)

 

Eve’s come a long way from the days when she couldn’t distinguish between herself and a murderer. And I think her realization after her dream, that if she faced her father in the flesh now, she’d arrest him, not kill him, was another part of the same thing she and Roarke are exploring here.

The other bit that struck me as growth for her was her willingness to take an active role in the party preparations. She’s made her home with Roarke for nearly three years at this point, and is still surprised by the house’s features, but gamely takes charge of the decorators – while in the middle of an active case, no less. Granted, she’s coerced into doing so by her deal with Summerset, but still, it’s a shift for the woman who’s decidedly uninterested in the trappings of Roarke’s money, and even less so in playing the role of the business mogul’s wife.

She may not want any part of his business empire, but it’s her home, too, and as the series has told the story of Roarke becoming her partner in crime solving, it’s also telling the story, albeit more slowly, of her becoming his partner in all that Being Roarke entails.

Finally, I’ll note that Eve’s continuing concern for Morris delights me. Having established that she and Roarke are looking forward to a quiet Christmas together, I get a little gooey inside when she asks Morris to spend the day with them because she doesn’t want him to be alone. It’s been twelve books now since that tragedy, and watching him change from book to book as he figures out life without the woman he loved is another joy for me. (Also? I’m totally rooting for him and the new forensic anthropologist.)

That, right there, is why I love this series. Although I enjoy the cases and like trying to figure out who the murderer is, the reason these are drop-everything-and-read books for me is the characters. They’re real to me, and spending time with them is like reuniting with friends I’ve not heard from in six months. I’m honest enough to admit that in real life, Eve would intimidate the hell out of me. But because I’m in her head when in the books, I can be amused by her snarkiness and entertained by her observations about life.

Bonus Quotes:

Why would people do that? What could they possibly need to buy the day after Christmas, in the middle of the night the day after? Her second thought was she believed she would self-terminate if she had to make a living in retail. – (Eve’s thoughts about day-after-Christmas sales)

***

“Bullshit. There’s always a way out. You just have to pay the price, whether it’s money, status, the emotional hit, or all of that and more. Cheating’s cheap and it’s lazy. It’s not just about sex,” she said. “Marriage a series of promises. Maybe you can’t keep them all. The whole till-death-do-us-part business. Maybe you can’t keep that one. Life can be long, and people change, circumstances change, so okay. You realize you don’t really want this life or this person, or the person you made the promises to isn’t who you thought, or they’ve changed in a way you can’t accept or support. Whatever. You make a choice. Stick and try to work it through, or don’t. But don’t give me the boo-hoo I’m not happy so I’m getting naked with somebody else on the side. It insults everybody. Walk, or work,” she concluded. “But don’t make excuses.” (Eve on cheating)

***

“If I’d gotten up ten minutes later, they’d have been naked and humping like whales.”
“Do whales hump?”
“It sounds right.”
“Oddly enough.” (Eve and Roarke)

***

“When I was a kid, in the whole foster/state school cycle, I sometimes wished I had a sibling. Did you ever?”
“I had my mates. That was family for me.”
“Mates. You think of that word first as lovers, that two-person connection. But it’s a good word for friends when you mean it.” (Eve and Roarke)

***

Why did rainy days require more money than dry ones? she wondered. Really, how much did an umbrella cost? (Eve, musing about saving for a rainy day)

***

“People aren’t flawed, Peabody. People are deeply fucked up.” (Eve)

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