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Nora Roberts Challenge – Month 6 & 7

She woke in the dark.

Naked In Death

That was the first line of the first book I read in July. As I hit the halfway point of this challenge, I delved into the JD Robb series, In Death, with the plan of it taking all of July and August, and finishing just in time for the new release on September 8th. I did not give enough credit to how riveting these books are. 50 novels, 11 novellas, and I finished them by mid August – literally, on August 18th. I ended up not posting in July because, well, I was just so deep down the rabbithole I couldn’t come back out.

The In Death Series

I’m not listing all the books. I’m just not doing it. If you read the series, you need to start at the beginning. Characters pop up repeatedly and you need to know them. In book one, Naked In Death, you meet Lieutenant Eve Dallas, a murder cop in future NYC, and you meet her future husband, Roarke, a criminal and top-notch business man, him of the amazing blue eyes. I swear, this series and Janet Evanovich’s By The Numbers series will never succeed as movies, because casting could never do justice to Roarke and Ranger, respectively (it’s why One For The Money failed, in my opinion). Anyway, to kick off the series, Dallas has to investigate a serial killer who is murdering prostitutes in the city. You’ll meet some of Dallas’ current and future friends, and learn a bit about her past. Murderwise, the storyline isn’t riveting, but it does an excellent job of setting up the series.

Over the next few books, you’ll meet some other key players – Detective Delia Peabody, reporter Nadine Furst, and so on. Even if a character seems minimal, take note, because they tend to show back up! This series is an excellent example of the care Nora Roberts gives to her character development. Obviously, Roarke, Peabody, and Dallas will all be well-developed but there are others who truly stand out.

Troy Trueheart: Yes, he is just as innocent in the books as he sounds there. He joins Dallas’ squad somewhere around book 9, in uniform and green as grass. He blushes at the slightest mention of anything sexual, he feels bad when criminals cry, and he loves his mom. By book 50, he’s joined in on ribbing coworkers, but he still blushes at anything sexual (at one point, he goes to a strip club with the male characters – had me laughing out loud), he still sympathizes with people, and he still loves his mom. His innocence is never annoying, just sweet, and you kind of want to cuddle him.

Tiko: Literally, my notes on the books just have Tiko!!! in them. That’s because Tiko is that memorable, despite only being in three books. The streetwise kid sells “cashmere” scarves on the street – from his own table, he’s a businessman (boy?), not an employee – and lives with his grandmother. His first mention is short – not even a name – but stands out enough that you will recognize his reappearance several books later, when he comes to Dallas to report a crime because she’s the “top b*tch cop in the city”. The kid is a bulldog, unwilling to accept less than the best, and unwilling to be ignored. By the third appearance, you just have to love him, as he basically scams Dallas into buying half his wares for Christmas gifts. I hope he continues to show up, because he adds a bit of humor to a series that can easily get trapped in the darkness.

Summerset: Butler of Roarke, as well as being the man who raised him, Summerset and Dallas spend nearly every moment in each other’s presence sniping. In the beginning, this is from genuine dislike, but as the books progress, it’s more a habit – neither feels the day is complete unless they each made a disparaging comment. This byplay actually highlights particularly tough days for Dallas, because if she can’t come up with a good comeback, Summerset knows there must be a major problem. On the other hand, while Dallas is his nemesis, he adores children and has a huge heart for the downtrodden, a love of books and learning, and a strong code by which he lives his life.

Dennis Mira: Husband of the NYPSD’s top profiler, Dennis Mira seems like he could be a throwaway character, especially when you compare his personality – soft, dreamy, forgetful – against the hardbitten, jaded cops that frequent the pages. He’s not mentioned at all until…15, 20 books in or so, and even after that, he only makes an appearance every couple of books for the most part. With that said, he has a huge impact on Dallas, and honestly, my heart goes fuzzy every time he pops up.

Through 50 books, I’ve never seen a character do something out of the ordinary, at least not without logical reason, and to maintain that kind of detail over the 50 or so regular characters over more than 50 books is…insane. I’d kill to see the series bible on this, because Nora Roberts must have a giant binder overflowing with detail.

Roberts uses some excellent running gags to balance out all of the murder. Beyond the Summerset/Dallas sniping, you’ve got some eye-searing ties, a cowboy hat bet that never seems to end, and my favorite, the Candy Thief, who still has not been caught (I can’t even begin to guess who it might be – it’s the longest-running mystery in the series). These are brought up often enough to be fresh in your mind, but they are never overdone. I can only hope to one day write well enough to balance that kind of detail and sideline.

While most of the books feature relatively standard murders – technique and reason vary, but 3 or 4 victims, a killer who’s smart, but not quite smart enough for long enough – some really reach out. Most readers might cite Creation In Death as one of those, as the case in it will challenge your view of who is good and who is bad, and even becomes a regular mention within the series, but there are others that stand out for me. Portrait In Death has one of the most heartbreaking scenes throughout the series, when a victim’s next of kin is one of Eve’s friends and a character you will fall in love with. Treachery In Death is so gripping, you’ll get angry and want to reach into the pages to exact justice on the b*tch behind the criminal enterprise (you know who it is early, but Dallas still has to gather the proof). Promises In Death is another with some heartbreaking material, involving a character you’ll have gotten to know throughout the series. Some are particularly twisted, either in technique or killer, like Innocent In Death or Brotherhood In Death. Not every book is excellent, but with 61 books, that’s no surprise, and there are some that are pretty extraordinary to balance it out.

I could rave about this series for days. All in all, it’s a must-read. I think it showcases the best of Nora Roberts’ writing, and will keep you riveted. That said, what the heck with Golden In Death!? As the 50th book in the series, a milestone few authors reach, I really expected an impressive, over-the-top case with some great scenes from favorite characters. Instead, I got a generic storyline. It was just another novel in the series. Seriously, Ms. Roberts, I’m a bit disappointed.

Whiskey Beach

(2013)

One that I’d never gotten around to reading, this book was actually surprisingly good. There were a couple of minor disconnects in the murder mystery that were never cleared up, but overall, I enjoyed it. A man struggles after being accused of his estranged wife’s murder, and when he finally tries to restart his life, he learns he hasn’t yet managed to escape the past. The characters were well-written – not annoyingly perfect, nor did they have any sudden and unbelievable changes of heart. I wouldn’t say this book is particularly innovative, but if you just want to relax, it’s a solid pick.

Song Of The West

(1982)

It seems I’m just not a fan of Roberts’ time doing Silhouette romance novels. Sure, there’s a few exceptions, but Song Of The West isn’t one of them. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it certainly didn’t stand out. That’s also why I used August to wrap up the 80s as much as possible – let’s get them out of the way. Anyway this book is a standard formula – girl has a life of her own, meets a boy, and changes everything to be with him. Not my cup of tea.

Search For Love

(1982)

From This Day

(1983)

Her Mother’s Keeper

(1983)

I’ve actually read this book before. I never loved it. The MC makes a lot of assumptions, and then she makes a 180 with the love interest. I just never got those stories, and as talented as Nora Roberts is, even she couldn’t make me believe it.

Once More With Feeling

(1983)

Promise Me Tomorrow

(1984)

Sullivan’s Woman

(1984)

First Impression

(1984)

Less Of A Stranger

(1984)

Rules Of The Game

(1984)

The Right Path

(1985)

Quick Note on this one: Nothing like a bit of sexual assault to kick off a romance!! And that’s what it is. If anyone did that to me, I’d punch them.

Partners

(1985)

Night Moves

(1985)

Boundary Lines

(1985)

Dual Image

(1985)

A Will And A Way

(1986)

The Name Of The Game

(1988)

Impulse

(1989)

Gabriel’s Angel

(1989)

Ok, I just don’t have it in me to summarize each book this month. Forgive me, but after reading 81 books in two months, I’m a bit word-ed out. If I didn’t summarize, it wasn’t impressive in any way – good or bad. Pass on them unless you’re desparate. I’m going to take a couple days reading break, and then you should check back at the end of September to see what else I’ve crossed off this (neverending) list.

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