JUST LIKE ME
In the prologue of this 21st entry in Robb’s In Death series, we witness an unnamed doctor administer a lethal injection to a five-year old girl. Watching, in silence, is the doctor’s teenage son. As we listen to the final thoughts of the child, we realize that she is being terminated, not to ease the final ravages of a fatal disease, but because she has failed some crucial test. She is simply not good enough, not close enough to perfection for the man she calls “father.”
By the end of the first chapter, a Nobel Prize-winning reconstructive surgeon, with an extremely lucrative sideline in cosmetic surgery, is dead. Wilfred B. Icove, Sr. is found in his office, stabbed in the aorta with a scalpel. The killer appears to be a beautiful woman who entered the office 30 minutes before TOD and left 5 minutes after. The name in the appointment book is an alias, easily debunked, and she has made no effort to avoid being seen, face or body, on the security discs. Clearly calm and focused in every security shot, from the moment she enters the building to the time she exits, the killer appears to have executed a perfect professional hit.
Eve Dallas and Peabody are already at Icove’s Center investigating another death when Icove’s body is discovered. They are there to question a well-known celebrity who has just undergone reconstructive surgery by Icove’s son. Attacked by her ex-lover, the celebrity had been beaten to a pulp and facially mutilated, but she didn’t go down without a fight and the ex-lover is now dead. Suitably convinced that the killing was in self-defense, Eve and Peabody are on their way out of the Center when Icove Senior’s body is discovered.
As she studies the crime scene and views the security discs, Eve recognizes a personal element behind the professional aspects of the hit. Her suspicions are validated when a routine search of Icove Senior’s home turns up a set of 50-plus treatment summaries, pass-worded and encoded, pertaining to females no older than their early twenties. These summaries contain no names, only identifying numbers, as if the patients are part of some clinical trial. But the treatments go far beyond reconstruction or cosmetic enhancements into far-reaching tests of intelligence, physical ability and psychological bearing. As Eve reads these summaries, she finds that each ends with one of two phrases: “placement successful” or “terminated.”
While running Icove Senior’s financials, Roarke discovers a primary interest in an exclusive, up-scale boarding school for girls. Adding this information to the treatment summaries, Eve suspects that Icove Senior had a sideline to his surgery practice – a designer human trafficking operation. When Icove Junior stonewalls her investigation into this area, Eve is forced to seek additional search warrants. But due to the deceased’s reputation, social standing and Nobel Prize, the DA is reluctant to brook public wrath and is slow to issue the warrants.
By the time Eve can get the warrants approved and served, Icove Junior has been dead for an hour, stabbed in the aorta with a scalpel. The phrase “like father, like son” now has three interpretations: both were doctors in the same specialty, both were murdered in identical fashion and it seems the son was not only aware of his father’s little hobby but was an active participant in it.
At this point, Robb gives the story line a hard left twist. In her investigation of the human trafficking angle, Eve discovers that Icove’s partner in the school is also his partner in a world-famous research lab and is a celebrated Nobel Prize winner in his own right. A renowned geneticist, the partner won his Prize for genome re-sequencing to prevent birth defects.
Connecting the dots, Eve realizes that reconstructive surgery added to cosmetic enhancements added to genome re-sequencing added to private exclusive schooling equals designer babies plus designer adults. Unfortunately, Eve misses one dot in the genome picture. And she doesn’t discover that dot, or its ramifications, until she is faced with the very real evidence that one person can be conclusively proven to be in two different places at the same time – face, fingerprints and DNA all identical.
For the first time, Robb puts Eve in the position of deciding which victim to stand for – the one who is murdered or the one who felt that murder was their only choice. Robb has Eve face the shades of gray that always seem to surface around questions of social, medical and moral issues that clash with current legal boundaries. And even though she has Eve facing these issues in the year 2059, Robb is clearly referencing these issues back to the concepts brought out by Darwin, Hitler and the KKK more than a century in the past. But the worst part, as you read, is that the plan hatched by the doctors is logically and chillingly realistic and legally attainable – in our present.
However rough the morality of the storyline, Robb still intersperses the tension and the psychological trauma with humor. The verbal interactions between Eve and Peabody are snappy and first-rate. And since the story begins about a week before Thanksgiving, the whole concept of family and friends is taken to a new level when Roarke invites his newly found Irish relatives to New York for the holiday. Eve’s reactions to the children who descend upon her the day before Thanksgiving are absolutely hilarious.
There are also the usual scenes with Mavis, Trina and Dr. Louise. But time is passing and Eve is maturing, which make these interludes actually more entertaining. What is not usual in this entry is that Dr. Mira makes a series of professional mistakes when she allows personal opinions to affect her profile. It is almost jaw-dropping to watch Mira come apart professionally to the point that Eve has to throw her out of a crime scene.
Roarke’s role in the investigation is more intermittent than usual, at least until the critical scenes at the end. But his actions are no less important in this entry as Robb puts his focus on the blood relatives who were completely unknown to him only a few months ago. And his verbal interactions with Eve are priceless.
Robb uses this entry to explore age-old legal and moral dilemmas associated with the origin and creation of life and family. However, she also uses those concepts to advance the discussions that Eve and Roarke have in each novel concerning choice, responsibility and nature vs. nurture. For Eve, the shades of gray between the law and justice are becoming more chromatically distinct with every case. And the nightmares are changing.
Cover Art From Goodreads