Fortunately, there’s still crime in the future.
The In Death series is a series of sixty-three (and counting) near future sci-fi mystery/thrillers written by Nora Roberts under the pseudonym of J. D. Robb. They follow the adventures of Lieutenant Eve Dallas, of the homicide division of the New York Police and Security Department, as she solves crimes ranging from the murders of prostitutes to the murders of celebrities to weird terrorists who fill restaurants with murder gas.
This review is going to contain some spoilers for the overall In Death series, but not so much the individual books, because there’s no real need to do that to comment on the books as a whole.
The basic overall plot of the series is that in each book, Eve Dallas, an orphan and survivor of serious parental sexual abuse, solves crimes. In the first book, she meets a mysterious billionaire named Roarke, who owns basically the whole world and is involved in the mystery she’s investigating. Because Robb is a romance writer, Eve and Roarke fall in love, and it poses a conflict of interest because he’s a person of interest in a case, so they can’t be together. Then he’s a person of interest in a few more cases, so they keep running into each other, and then start dating and eventually get married, working out their various issues together through the power of true love, and teaching Eve the value of friendship and found family.
The individual mysteries in the books vary in quality but are generally pretty good, but what stands out and sets the series apart from other mystery series is the same thing that sets Nora Roberts’s books apart from a lot of others. The characters are really compelling and funny and entertaining, and you just love watching them interact with Eve and each other. Eve and Roarke are fine, if generic heterosexual protagonists, but their friends and families are all so well drawn that you just feel compelled to care about them all, like the down and out bar singer Mavis or the self-absorbed cop Baxter, and it’s always fun when they appear, and especially when they appear in new combinations.
The books are relentlessly heterosexual, which is too bad. Robb is good about having queer characters scattered around, but they’re almost always one-off characters who are involved in the individual mysteries. It’s just enough to show that the world of the 2060s is progressive and open to stuff and that queer people are just around with no problem, but also none of the main cast are anything but heterosexual. In a recent book one of the minor cop characters who works for Eve turned out to be a lesbian, but that’s really it that I can think of. Even the queer-coded prostitute is straight, and it’s a tiny bit disappointed. Because she’s a romance author, as the series moves on, all the characters eventually heterosexually pair off with each other and get married and start having kids and stuff, and that’s all fine, it’s just a bit normie, you know? None of the main cast are gay, or poly or disinterested in conventional romance or sleeping around or whatever, and nobody ever breaks up with their significant other or anything like that. I get that it’s the genre, but it’s a bit dry.
The other thing the books are that needs addressing is relentlessly pro-cop. They’re obviously about cops so that’s not surprising or anything, but in the last five years or so especially, I’ve found them getting even more copagandistic than they used to be, with just a lot of asides about how cops are the best people and how the world is only safe because of cops and how only good people becomes cops and how cops only do good things and it just doesn’t read well in 2021, you know? It’s not like that attitude wasn’t there in the series before the last few years, but either it’s gotten more intense lately or I’m just more sensitive to it, but either way it does start to grate and also does start to remind you that Nora Roberts is a 70-year-old rich White lady.
Those two optical complaints aside, one brief substance issue: the most recent batch of books, I’d say the last fifteen or so, have gotten really formulaic. I mean, she writes two of them a year, so it’s understandable, but they’re very predictable now in a way that doesn’t work super well, and the side characters I was extolling above are getting less screentime as she focuses on the more extravagant plots, which aren’t the real pull if you ask me. The series has gotten a lot more thriller than mystery, and that vibe works sometimes but sometimes it just gets a bit tedious—there was a recent book where they were searching for this contract killer, and after a plane chase to Ireland, they arrest him easily but then uncuff him so that Roarke can have a fistfight with him for no reason? Because of heteromasculine tension, I guess.
The thing for me that’s really nice about this series is that it’s set about forty years in the future (longer when the series started in the mid-nineties), and there’s still crime. As someone who likes crime, I’m always a little worried when I see depictions of the future that are utopian and have no crime in them. Like, where did all the people like me go, you know? This series has flying cards and automatic food and seemingly no scarcity issues or pollution or anything, but everyone is still murdering each other, which is a fucking relief, honestly. Because like, there’s the whole refrain from people like me about how the future isn’t really like that and it’s true, but I don’t know, it hurts my feelings when I see that everyone wants me not to exist, that’s all.
Honestly, that’s a point in favour of copaganda generally. It requires criminals to exist (and of course the increasing police state criminalizes more and more people as it gets more powerful, creating more criminals where before there had just been racialized people), and so as long as people want to suck cops’ dicks, they need criminals to fill their other hole. And that’s a vision of the future I can get behind.