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Review of Celebrity in Death by J.D. Robb

Reviewed for the Smart Bitches Trashy Books RITA Reader Challenge:

I started reading the “In Death” novels about a decade ago with the publication of Remember When, the joint Roberts/Robb novel that revolved around a diamond heist that happened in the present and stretched all the way into Robb’s version of the future. Picking up the series so late in the game, I was nervous about jumping into a world with characters that had their entire history developed over the span of a decade, but I needn’t have worried. It was like jumping into any soap opera with the added benefit of being able to go back and start from the beginning -- something that isn’t possible with soaps unless you have a VHS-mad relative that saved every episode (and even then you can only go as far back as sometime in the 1980’s). I was also worried about the fact that the novels take place in the future, even if it is a not-so-far-off future. I was extremely afraid that it would be corny at best and Jetsons-esque at the worst. Again I was wrong.

I’m telling you all this because I want you to understand where I am coming from in regards to this series. I wasn’t someone who was even interested in the series when it first started (granted I was about 10 when Naked in Death ( A | BN | K | S | ARe | iB ) was written and I wasn’t into reading anything back then), but I quickly devoured the entire series once I finished Remember When—my library was sick of seeing me by the time I had caught up with the series. Since then, I have read and re-read the series countless times, and I feel that any review of one book has to take into consideration all the other books in the series. This may not be fair to the individual book, but it seems to me that if you’re going to place a book in a series, the book has to be judged on the basis of the other books in the series.

Celebrity in Death is not by any measure one of the best books in the series—not that it is a bad book. There were parts of it that worked for me, but there were other parts that did not. As a stand-alone novel this would have been a fairly interesting book. There were some twists and turns that were surprising, and would have kept me interested in the plot.

However, the only way this book works is as a part of a series because most of the characters involved are ones that we as readers have met before. Coming in to this book the way I did with Remember When, I would have been totally lost. Because it is part of such a strong series as a whole, it is hard to be objective and not compare it to the other books that came out before it, especially when the two previous books (Treachery in Death and New York to Dallas) were very good and emotionally satisfying. I know that Nora wanted to give her characters (and maybe even her readers) a break after the drama they went through in the previous novels, but that did not mean that there couldn’t be character growth at all, which is something I felt was missing from this book. Aside from the references to what happened in Dallas and how brave Peabody is because of what she did in Treachery, Celebrity in Death could have taken place at any other time in the series (after the Icove book—the name of which escapes me). Maybe that was the point, but I didn’t like it.

Another problem I had with this book was the revelation of the murderer and the motive behind the murder. First, there were really no clues as to who the murderer was, but Eve was certain fairly quickly that she knew who the killer was. Gut instinct is one thing, but there was nothing about this killer that said “Hey, I’m a psychopath that has been killing people for the better part of my life!” The fact that this character was killing people for decades before the start of this book and had gone unnoticed by the system is slightly unbelievable. This was a person who was surrounded by deaths—an old roommate, a spouse, and an in-law to name a few—for years and no one suspected a thing. I would like to think that if this were to happen in real life someone would have started to ask questions a lot sooner than they did.

That said, the fact that I couldn’t guess who the killer was, despite being certain of who it couldn’t be, kept me reading past the point where I might have given up had the killer been easily identifiable. Unfortunately, that is not enough for me to give it a great grade. As I stated before Celebrity in Death was lacking. After reading the two previous novels, I was expecting more from this book and I was disappointed when I didn’t get that. What I got was a decent mystery and a visit with friends, but I feel like it could have been much better than it was.

In the end, I feel like this book deserves two grades—one for the individual book and one for a book that is part of a much bigger picture. If it were a stand-alone, I would probably give it a B because the mystery was enough for me to read on and be invested in the plot. However, because it is a part of a much bigger story arc, I would have to give it a C+ because there was a lack of character growth and/or emotional satisfaction.

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