Strangers In Death

Strangers In Death_JDRobb_2494207

SKIN GAME

5 STARS

Thomas Anders is dead in his bed. The wrists and ankles of his naked body are tied to the bedposts with velvet rope. His neck is wrapped in a fifth velvet rope that is lashed to the other four. The cord itself didn’t kill him; the angle of the tie-off choked him to death over a protracted period of time. At first glance, it appears a kinky night has gone awry.

But, as the saying goes, appearances can be deceiving. For Eve Dallas, three things are wrong with this scenario. First, there are too many toys scattered about the room, some new, most unused. Secondly, there are too many things missing from the scene, such as the man’s clothes, the home’s security discs for the last 24 hours, any evidence that the man ever tried to struggle against the choking, and any evidence that another party was actually involved with him sexually. Of course, somebody else had to be there, though. Anders could not have possibly tied his second wrist or his neck by himself.

The third wrong thing is the victim’s wife. Ava Anders is a thousand miles away on vacation with some female friends when she learns of her husband’s demise from their housekeeper. Several hours later, when she strides across the threshold, she is stylishly dressed, perfectly coiffed, immaculately made up, no sign of tears now or ever, and screaming at Dallas about the circus that is now her home and yard.

As soon as the word “homicide” is mentioned along with the idea of sexual infidelity, the widow shifts gears. You practically see her put the back of her hand to her forehead, roll her eyes upward and go into an “Oh, woe is me” routine.

What Eve doesn’t see is any genuine grief. There are a lot of sniffs, remonstrations and demands to see the body, but not any real grief. What Eve doesn’t hear are any questions about the details of the death. And what she does hear is a lot of “I.”

Based on the title of the book, the opening scenes with the body and the unassailability of the wife’s alibi, I felt that J. D. Robb was writing a futuristic adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train.” (No, Hitchcock directed the movie, Highsmith wrote the book.) From this point on, if I was right, it was a matter of identifying the other murder, be it one from the past or one yet to come. Once identified, that murder would lead directly to the identity of Anders’ murderer.

But the whole point of “Strangers on a Train” is that the murderers would have no connection to each other beyond one chance meeting. No connection, no identifiable motive, thus no arrest. But when one of the conspirators chickens out, the other re-establishes contact and the “perfect crime” starts to fall apart.

So, for 300 pages, Robb has us on the hunt for the person with whom Ava Anders made the pact and with whom she was forced to re-connect. We, along with Dallas, push to find that one connection that will foil and undermine the alibis and the smoke screens that Ava Anders has so carefully built. For Ava has told one story about her husband’s character, and not another soul that knew the man will agree with those allegations.

In this entry, Robb forgoes the typical psychotic or serial killer format that usually ends with a serious physical confrontation between Eve and the killer. This time, the battle between the two is truly one of wits, instead. And the denouement is a thrilling, play-within-a-play. However, the best part of the story is the way Robb builds the case, through Eve, step by logical step, against the normal odds, always with an eye on the difference between justice and the law, and always with a focus on the idea of partnership, be it between Eve and Roarke or Eve and her detectives.

But, never fear, Eve does get to take down a couple of non-murderous perps physically as the book progresses. Quite frankly, it just wouldn’t be an In Death entry without a dream or a black eye.

Cover Art From Goodreads

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