“You LOOKED At Her”
Craig Foster, a history teacher at a posh private school in NYC, is at his desk eating his home-prepared lunch and constructing a pop quiz for his next class. He’s young, dedicated and enthusiastic about his job. He is a newlywed, happy in his marriage to a woman who is lovely in both face and personality.
And Craig Foster is now dead at his desk. Actually, he only started dying at his desk. His actual last few minutes alive were spent trying to crawl, against agonizing abdominal pain, to the door of his classroom. And as Lieutenant Eve Dallas looks down on his body, she knows from the color of his vomit that he has been murdered.
Eve also knows that Morris, the accomplished ME who always gravitates to her cases, will soon tell her what chemical did the deed and how it was administered. So, for now, she can concentrate on who and why. Thus, Eve and Peabody shut down the school and the interviews begin.
By the time Eve finished those initial interviews, I was 95% certain as to the identity of the doer. J. D. Robb was not that obvious in her writing; I simply spent 30 years in a high school classroom. Granted, that classroom was in an urban public school rather than in the private sector, but it was still rife with intra-faculty politics, raging puberty-related hormones and more than the occasional fit of pique. Thus, as I was reading the account of one particular interview, my inner voice of teaching experience spoke up and I settled in to see if the clues Eve discovered along the way would support my hypothesis.
As J. D. Robb leads Eve down the logical but myriad paths toward the murderer, she also leads Eve – and the reader – along a personal path that is far more intense and terrifying than some of the shoot-outs in previous novels of the series. With this new homicide on her plate, Eve arrives late at a very upscale restaurant for a corporate dinner with Roarke and some clients. She is still in her “day job” clothes and is only partly certain that those clothes are free of the victim’s bodily fluids. She is definitely certain that she has on no make-up and that her hair is probably a mess from the nasty, snowy February weather.
Just as Roarke is making introductions all around, Eve hears a woman behind her call out Roarke’s name. As he looks up and past Eve’s shoulder, she sees an expression cross Roarke’s face ever so briefly, but it is a look that she has never seen Roarke give to any woman but her. And then she sees the beautiful blond, trim and shapely in a gorgeous red dress, oozing sophistication and charm. When the woman embraces Roarke in a decidedly intimate manner, breathing “lover” into the air, Eve’s emotional world cracks wide open at the seams.
Magdelana Percell has arrived. Dismissing Eve with a flick of her fingers, as both a person and as Roarke’s wife, she proceeds to fawn over Roarke for several minutes. Then, she leaves with her escort, a business associate of Roarke’s, for their own table, a table right in Roarke’s direct line of vision.
After dinner, Eve learns that Magdelana was not just a brief fling of Roarke’s. He explains that he and Maggie were both partners and lovers for about a year, some twelve years prior, while he was still stealing and smuggling art – and long before he met Eve. She also learns that he did not end the relationship; Maggie did. And she did it by running off with the mark targeted by their long con and by leaving a trap in place intended to get Roarke arrested.
Eve may not understand all the nuances of friendship or feminine wiles, but she does understand the markings of a sociopath. And she doesn’t know how to explain to Roarke what she saw in his face. Regardless, she does understand that there is an open and unresolved connection between the two, a connection that Maggie plans to exploit. Eve knows that Maggie intends to get Roarke back.
However, as astute at business as he is, Roarke truly doesn’t see either the forest or the trees. He angrily dismisses Eve’s concerns as unwarranted jealousy and an unwarranted lack of trust. And when Somerset also questions Roarke’s actions and tries to warn him of Maggie’s intentions, Roarke coldly dismisses those concerns, too. So, for the next 200 pages, in trying to prove himself right and Eve wrong, he unwittingly plays right into Maggie’s plans.
Eve knows that Roarke would never physically betray her. But she is afraid that he will betray her in his mind, that he will regret what he lost and what he now has instead. Then, several days into the murder investigation, an investigation that is going around in circles and is being hampered by Eve’s emotional distraction, a news video comes on screen while she and Roarke are having breakfast. The video shows Roarke and Maggie in an intimate embrace on the street outside his office building, while the newscaster openly questions the future of Roarke’s marriage to NYC’s top homicide cop.
Devastated to her very core, Eve can barely breathe, let alone speak. As Roarke opens his mouth to explain, she shuts him out and flees the house. The detectives’ bullpen goes pin-drop silent, with all eyes on the floor, when she arrives at her office. Commander Whitney delicately questions her ability to continue with the Craig Foster case. But continue that investigation is what she does, minute by minute, all day long, diverting all the demands and threats from the still clueless idiot that is Roarke, to her voicemail.
At the end of the day, when Eve must decide whether she will go home or not, she finds herself on the doorstep of her oldest friend, Mavis Freestone. In the end, it is Mavis’ extensive experience with the making of videos that allows her to show Eve, frame by frame, the truth. Armed with that truth and knowing the words she needs to say to Roarke, Eve heads home to end the war over Magdelana Percell.
Back in 2007, when this entry was published, readers didn’t have the twenty-plus additional stories that we have as I write this review. A reader today knows that Eve and Roarke are still together, still a team. But I can just imagine back then the tension readers felt over this situation. I know I felt it even now, all these years later, even knowing how much is still to come. So I can also imagine the deep breaths of, first, fear and then relief, which are exhaled as this scene transpires.
However, every woman knows that a fight over a man does not end when that man and his significant other reach a loving understanding. That fight is never over until the Wicked Witch is nothing but a set of feet poking out of the rubble. And J. D. Robb writes that scene with a style and a content that will have the reader – female readers, anyway – pumping their fist in the air and yelling, “Yes!”
Now, with that major distraction out of the way, Eve can concentrate fully on her investigation. And it doesn’t take her even a day to reach the same conclusion that I reached in the first 30 pages of the book. However, that conclusion is so terrible to contemplate that Eve must now fight a new battle – with the Commander, with Mira, even with Peabody and Roarke – to be allowed to pursue that avenue of investigation.
And in that vein, Robb keeps the action going to the end. Most of it is tactical and emotional rather than the breaking of doors and the throwing of fists and kicks. And the scene where Eve gets the killer to confess is a masterpiece of verbal manipulation.
Though not one single entry at this point can be construed as a standalone, the In Death series just keeps getting better and better. Robb continues to build storylines apropos to anyone’s cognizance. And she has built enduring and endearing characters, whose experiences can touch a chord in anyone, regardless of wealth, social standing or career choice.
Cover Art From Goodreads