Memory in Death is the latest in the in Death series written by J.D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts. This latest novel is set at Christmas, just a couple of weeks after the conclusion of the Icove case of Origin in Death, and the two novels are very strongly connected. For, the concomitant publicity wrought by the resolution of the Icove case is the primary cause for the action of the new novel.
In brief, Trudy Lombard who was once Eve Dallas's foster mother, an abusive and sadistic woman, catches the news about the Icove case which features the primary Eve Dallas, married to the fabulously wealthy Roarke. Resolved to be repaid for having housed Dallas for a few months, Lombard comes to New York City with intent to blackmail Dallas and Roarke so she will be silent about Dallas's traumatic childhood. Though Dallas is badly shaken and spun into the black well of her traumatic childhood memories, she rejects Lombard, as does Roarke whom the woman later approaches. The action of the novel commences when Dallas and Roarke set out to Lombard's hotel to face her down together and discover her murdered with her body showing signs of a severe beating.
Fans of J.D. Robb are doomed to disappointment if they come to Memory in Death expecting the tension and bloody trails that are the hallmark of previous novels or even the philosophical musings that are the subtext of Origin in Death. Instead, Memory in Death mirrors the slowing down of business activity-even cop business-that occurs as Christmas nears; thus, it pays homage to the Christmas season in spite of its unorthodox opening with the death of a party Santa.
Though restraining the central characters to the investigation of one murder, Robb retains the sense of the diurnal occurrence of murder by having other investigative officers report in to Dallas on the progress of their cases. This is something that she has seldom done even though readers sometimes hear about the case-load of a regular like Baxter. Thus, Robb slows down the pace, reduces the frantic urgency, and so sets the stage for what Christmas is about: loved ones, family, and friends.
In a sense, the novel is a Christmas home-coming for the regulars, almost all of whom are present at the party, and who are like family to Eve Dallas and Roarke. The party itself, like Dallas's later conversation with Peabody when she calls from Scotland, is given too short shrift, and this undercuts in some slight way to holiday celebration.
One of the benefits of the slow pace of Memory in Death is that it allows for the development of relationships, such as that between Dallas and Charlotte Mira. The Miras are shown, through Charlotte's conversation with Eve, to be a warts and all less than perfect couple. The result is that Dallas, who struggles periodically with roles and the interpersonal aspect of marriage, is reassured that perfection is unlikely. Mira continues to teach Dallas about marriage, family, and friendship.
If Feeney is Dallas's surrogate father, Charlotte Mira is her surrogate mother and friend who cares enough to plead for them to remain friends. Dallas's lack of ease with personal relationships outside of her marriage and the work situation, even her hardness, is highlighted by Mira's plea. In the mushy grounds of disagreement, love, anger, and exchange that is friendship, Dallas is often lost. Happily for her sake, Charlotte Mira helps her find her way back. Dallas's discomfort is also shown in the abrupt way she dismisses Peabody who calls from her Scotland visit with McNab's relatives. Moreover, some of the sticks-in-the-craw dirt comes out in a fight between Eve and Roarke which makes them an even more realistic couple because Dallas vents her envy that Roarke's family situation turned out so well for him. The dust up between the two and its resolution reminds that envy and anger can bubble up against even those we love.
At the heart of the novel is the rich irony that Trudy Lombard, who, in life, had psychologically abused her female foster charges, in death is the subject of an equally psychological murder investigation. Call it a consequence of the Christmas slow down or what you will, it is undeniable that Memory in Death is not action-driven but more focused on the detailing of the deductive reasoning process that is so crucial to the resolution of criminal cases.
The characters of Bobby Lombard and his wife Zana make the novel work on several different levels. For one, Bobby is the vehicle through whom Dallas realizes that not all of her childhood memories are horrific. Though Bobby Lombard did nothing openly to stem his mother's abuse of her foster girls, he compensated by sneaking Eve food when Trudy punished her by withholding food. In looking backwards, Dallas's experience with the neighbor's boy's airskate foreshadows the tough-minded woman who is unafraid of taking physical shots in the performance of her duties. In remembering him, Eve recalls that what prompted her flight from Trudy Lombard's house was her failure to stand up for the boy, who had been kind to her, when Trudy Lombard falsely accused him of vandalism. For another, Bobby is also cause of Dallas's realizing that true love is not blind to the faults of the beloved. The ability to see the strengths and weaknesses, even the pettiness of the beloved is critical to the formation of a strong bond between a couple. Through Zana come some of the detours that add some measure of suspense, even drama, to this slow paced novel. The philosophical issue at the core of the novel is raised through the Lombard family; through them Robb forces her readers to question whether it is ever possible to say that one knows a person. Certainly, Bobby knows neither his mother nor his wife. This then raises the concomitant issue, if we cannot and do not know whom we love, then can we really love them?
Though there are head feints to prevent the resolution of the crime, none is strong enough to counteract what Dallas's gut tells her about the identity of the murderer. Nevertheless, she cannot go on gut alone but must still build the case so that it leads to a sustainable arrest, must still has to follow the evidentiary trail and employ deductive reasoning to close the case.
Through Dallas's insistence on standing for Trudy Lombard who abused the young Eve Dallas, Robb reveals the strength of character of both the protagonist and her husband Roarke. Even though Dallas despises Trudy and has no real enthusiasm for the case, she still pursues the investigation to its conclusion. This integrity in the face of provocation-the memories of abuse which would argue against Dallas pursuing Lombard's killer or rejoicing in her death-is reflected in Roarke who, though he would kill those who have harmed/would harm his wife, will not engage in action that would destroy Dallas and their relationship. This, integrity of character, then, points to their suitability for one another.
Nevertheless, in the end, Dallas is almost despairing, which mood Robb builds through a judicious depiction of character, use of language and context. Other in Death novels have ended on a cheerier note; this one forces it. In the end, though, Robb has the wisdom to let her readers breathe, to relax a little after the high strung tension and ethical horror she depicts in Origin in Death.
Great reading. Make sure and buy it.