Origin In Death

J.D. Robb
July 2005, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
Putnam, $23.95, 339 pages, Amazon ASIN 039915289X
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

I actually read this book for the first time several months ago. Nearly every book that gets reviewed passes through my way first, but I don’t usually have time to sneak a peek at any of them; I just have too much on my plate. When I spot a J.D. Robb book, I generally make the time. So I read this back in March, intending to pass it on to someone else when the publishing date got closer. In the end, the review fell to me anyway, so I reread the book. Happily, it easily stands up to two readings, and I found it just as riveting the second time around.

Longtime Robb fans (and if you’ve made it to this book you almost certainly fall into this group) read the In Death books for the mysteries – but also to keep up with Eve, Roarke, et al. In this book, the Eve/Roarke stuff is a little more on the backburner, and the mystery plot is quite prominent. Fortunately, it’s a mystery you can really sink your teeth into. Eve and Peabody are at the Willard B. Icove Center for Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgery, interviewing an injured woman about a fairly cut and dry self-defense killing. As they are about to leave, they are paged. It turns out the founder of the center (and its nominal head) has been found dead in his office, with a scalpel in his heart. The killing itself is not on security tapes, but the killer is. Dolores Nacho Alvarez was his last appointment, and the cameras show her strolling into the building, entering the rest room, and calmly meeting Dr. Icove for her appointment. Less than half an hour later, she exits slowly, as if she doesn’t have a care in the world. It almost looks like a professional hit, but something smells off to Eve.

Eve and Peabody interview Icove’s son (Willard Jr.) He’s obviously distressed, and he appears to have no motive. The operation of the medical center was more or less under his control already, and though he stood to inherit some money, he was already wealthy in his own right. Will Jr’s wife Avril seems similarly innocent, though she also seems a bit strange. When Eve reads the decoded medical files on Icove Sr.’s computer, it seems that he was involved in a series of experiments involving young women. Eve is pretty sure Icove was involved in something highly unethical, but the notes are pretty incomplete; they seem to be a shorthand for other more thorough files. When she confronts Icove Jr. with her findings, his reaction is decidedly frosty. His father was an icon, universally respected in the medical field.

When Eve consults with Dr. Mira, her reaction is similar. She knew Icove personally, and respected him for his pioneering work in reconstructive surgery. She has a hard time believing that he could have done anything blatantly unethical. Yet as the mystery unwinds, it seems certain that his experiments with surgery also involved genetics, and that they go beyond made-to-order babies. Figuring into the mix somehow is a boarding school and college to which the Icoves contribute – a school of which Avril Icove is an alumnus. It also seems clear that Icove Jr. is into it up to his eyeballs. When he’s found dead as well, in the exact same manner, Eve knows she’s really on to something.

Menwhile, back at the ranch...Thanksgiving is approaching, and Roarke invites (as he puts it) “half of Ireland” to his home for the holiday. He is excited about having family, but also completely at sea. He doesn’t know how to act, or how to feel. Eve is supportive (well supportive for her) but also a little lost and unsure of what’s expected. The other prominent secondary characters and somewhat less prominent this time around, as the mystery leaves little room for other plotting. But nearly all of them make an appearance at one time or another. Mavis is getting more and more pregnant, Nadine wants the scoop as usual (though this scoop, and this mystery, are definitely better than usual). Conversations with many of Roarke's family – including his aunt – help Eve come to terms with the mystery and with her thinking on medical ethics.

The medical issues portrayed in the book are more or less a 2059 version of what we see here in the news nearly every day. As technology advances, we are having to come to terms with what that means. Where does improving quality of life end and playing God begin? In Robb’s futuristic world, government and society struggle with the same questions we do today, but in a more advanced way. Robb handles this timely topic in an interesting – and admittedly creepy – way. If you’ve tired of Eve catching serial killers, you’ll find this a welcome change.

And though the Eve/Roarke stuff doesn’t dominate the book, they still share plenty of great scenes. It’s nice to see the uber-confident Roarke feeling a little vulnerable and unsure of himself around his family. Also touching is a beginning sequence where Eve thinks about how much she misses Roarke (who has been out of town for a week). When he brings home the perfect gift, Eve’s reaction is classic.

All in all, Origin In Death is a great addition to the series, with a new, fresh mystery and just enough Eve/Roarke stuff to sate the appetite of series fans. If you haven’t read Robb in a while, I’d encourage you to give this one a try. And if you’re a dedicated, marathon Robb reader, well, you won’t be disappointed.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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