THE FLAT-EARTH SOCIETY
This entry in J. D. Robb’s In Death series is actually a bridge novella to be read between “Memory In Death” and “Born In Death.” After many novels and just as many high-profile cases, we leave the year 2059 behind. It is early January 2060 and bitterly cold and nasty in NYC.
Eve Dallas and Delia Peabody are staring down at the corpse of Radcliff C. Hopkins III, who has been shot nine times with a 9mm, one of those times by direct contact to the forehead. For Eve, the first problem with this scenario, other than the fact that the man has been dispatched with decided overkill, is that 9mm firearms aren’t in circulation any longer. In fact, guns of all types are banned and have been for several decades.
The second problem with this scenario is the building in which the victim is found. Back in the 1970’s, Rad Hopkins’ grandfather had owned the building. A music producer, Hop Hopkins had run a highly successful club called Number Twelve on the premises until his death from a drug overdose. Since then, the building has had a multitude of short-term owners and is now in significant disrepair. It also has such a reputation for being haunted that even Roarke wouldn’t buy it when it went up for auction several months prior.
The third problem is that Eve finds, in a section of wall recently cut open in the club’s upstairs living quarters, a skeleton. This skeleton has a bullet hole in the forehead, holds a beautiful, well cared for diamond clip in one bony hand and a very clean but recently fired 9mm gun is by the other.
To add to all this, Eve, as she peruses the skeleton, is assaulted by sudden and crippling cold. And she hears the husky lilt of Bobbie Bray, a legendary songstress who had performed almost exclusively at Number Twelve. At least she had until the day she disappeared without a trace from that very apartment 85 years ago.
So, now, Eve has two murders on her plate. She also has a crime scene that emanates otherworldly manifestations that literally reach out and touch the various detectives and sweepers as they work. And none of these many instances of voices or touches can be justified logically; there are no electronic devices, jammers or scanners nearby, or even far away, that relate.
Because this novella has scarcely a hundred pages, all the normal action and all the discussions that we are used to in the full size entries are compacted. Unfortunately, this story feels more like an expanded outline for a major novel than a piece originally meant, from the start, to be a novella. And this is the first of Robb’s novellas that have relegated Roarke to a cardboard cutout of himself. Frankly, it feels as if his only reason for being in the story is to force Eve to consider the possibility that spirits do exist amongst us.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOLLOW:
For those of us who regularly read paranormal suspense and urban fantasy as well as more traditional mysteries and police procedurals, the suggestion that a ghost haunts a building seems quite reasonable. And when Roarke and Peabody repeatedly try to get Eve to even consider the possibility, we see it as the typical fight between being open-minded and being a member of the Flat-Earth Society. However, bridge novellas always have a distinct purpose in a series. And just like the subdued tones of Bobbie Bray’s plaintive melodies slip through the rooms of Number Twelve, that purpose slips into the reader’s consciousness.
In the end, after the murderer is taken down, Eve bears injuries that could not have come from mortal means. She experienced effects upon her body that cannot be accounted for by human or electronic means. She saw a presence that cannot be explained by a hologram. But she cannot accept or even explore the idea that these effects and injuries could have been caused by a ghost, the spirit of a dead soul.
For if Eve considers that idea for even a moment, then she would have to reconsider the source of her nightmares. She would have to admit that those dreams where her father comes back to taunt her with both words and actions, those nightmares that have become almost impossible to awaken from without Roarke’s help, may not be nightmares at all! And that is a possibility that Eve cannot entertain on even the most superficial level. She just can’t.
Cover Art From Goodreads