It’s hard to believe. I mean, it seriously feels as if it were at the most five years ago, but J.D. Robb has been writing a set of beloved characters for nearly 20 years. Introduced in June 1995, Eve Dallas, an intrepid New York police lieutenant in 2058 New York City, and her lover, the enigmatic Irishman Roarke—no full name required—have been solving horrendous murders for two years. Unlike soap operas, the timeline crawls by, with just a month or so passing in each book. The 37th book in the series, not counting all of the novellas, will be published September 17th.
Beginning with the first “In Death” book, Naked In Death sets the stage with a strangely familiar New York City populated with thinly disguised inhabitants who use only slightly futuristic gadgets and eat soy dogs and drink tubes of Pepsi. The transportation devices bring to mind the first Total Recall (1990) movie with Schwarzenegger. In fact, I often just think of the movie as the novel’s background. Eve Dallas jumped off the pages in this first book and quickly found her way onto my favorite-reads shelf. I was actually late to the party in discovering Robb was really Nora Roberts; I think I was on Book 3 when I made the connection. Immortal In Death (1996) solidified me as a compulsive fan. Populated with a supporting cast of characters, Immortal explores relationships between friends, colleagues and lovers. The cast is what makes the series so readable, no matter the dicey setting. Peabody, Mavis, Nadine, Mira, Somerset, Feeney, and the Captain are all characters who add so much to the story and help to bring to life the cardboarlike Eve, with her childhood trauma, nightmares and difficulty dealing with every day relationships and life.
Seriously, in the early books, Eve Dallas used to hate dressing up and wearing makeup; even hanging up her own clothes was beyond her. She could handle graphic and horrendous murder scenes—Robb does love to get very descriptive with blood splatters and really gory bits—but ask Dallas to buy a simple gift for a party and she freaks out. So her relationship with the out-of-this-world rich guy Roarke was fraught with social landmines that made for some amusing reading. Although I must admit I sometimes thought it was too much. How could she make the rank of lieutenant without learning at least a few social graces? Especially in a futuristic setting with ubiquitous data sharing, the answer to everything should be at her fingertips. Eve always seems to be calculating one thing or another; so throwing in a search for proper party attire wouldn’t be so difficult.
But I digress; the big picture is Eve Dallas’ evolution over 37 books. In the first books, Eve was a mess. A real mess. Not professionally; but she had few friends, her colleagues weren’t fond of her and she had a suspicious lover who may or may not have been an active criminal. She couldn’t sleep at night as nightmares were a regular occurrence. The police shrink was trying to help her dig out of the morass into which her life had descended. Throw in a graphically described murder which had her lover as a suspect. This went on for 33 books, but then came…New York To Dallas (2011).
Eve comes face-to-face with her murderous mother who sold her off to the most despicable man—her father—to do unspeakable crimes against her. Although the landscape shifts with Robb’s transition to Dallas, Texas, the book is a turning point for the series. Eve and Roarke both come to grips with their histories and with relationship.
Now, in Thankless in Death (Putnam; September 17, 2013), Eve is a very changed character: She’s able to joke with her team, which would NEVER have occurred in the earlier books; she isn’t as irascible with her nemesis, Somerset; she actually assigns Roarke to use his illegal equipment to hunt down the killer. In fact, we know early on who the killer is, and so does Eve, which turns Thankless from a thriller into a cat-and-mouse game. Not saying it’s a bad read, but it’s really different from the early thriller novels. And we no longer get to see into the lives of the secondary characters. For once, as it was in the first book, Thankless has all its focus on Eve Dallas. And a changed woman has emerged. The hot sex is still there, but the violence has been muted in her character. She’s more in control. And if you stop to think about it, isn’t that the way you want your own life and character to change over the years?
What do you think of the evolution of your favorite characters? Do you stay with a series like In Death or the Dark-Hunters series by Sherrilyn Kenyon that go on for over 30 books? If you missed out from the beginning, are you willing to start? If the evolution doesn’t work for you, do you keep reading? Just curious.
Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com, a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.