Purity in Death

J.D. Robb
2002, Futuristic Romantic Suspense
Berkley, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 042518630X
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Hot

This review represents an accomplishment for me. Although I'd been a Nora Roberts fan for years, I avoided all the Robb books until about two years ago. There were too many to read in order, and who had the time? But fellow review Jennifer Schendel lent me the first two books, and I started making the time. I didn't really get into the series until the fourth book (Rapture in Death) but once I did, I was hooked. And finally, I can say that I'm caught up.

Since I've read the books within a shorter time period than most people, I am pretty aware of the conventions and similarities they share. Certain scenarios pop up again and again:

  • Roarke always seems to own the company/hotel/theater/planet/apartment building where the crimes begin.
  • Eve can only be convinced to submit to a haircut and beauty treatment when cornered by Trina and Mavis.
  • Eve must be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the hospital, or at the very least, she must have any pain blockers crammed down her throat.
  • Roarke has the mouth of the poet. If you didn't know that by the first book, you'd likely know by the second or third, and you'd definitely know by the last.
  • Roarke will be obligated at some point to use his unregistered, kick-ass computer equipment.
  • And with the later books, Roarke must assist Eve with her investigation in a civilian capacity. Eve always resists said involvement, but at this point the NYPSD might as well issue him a badge and have done with it. Sure, the man owns most of the universe, but he always has plenty of time to conduct business and help Eve.

The latest installment actually gets away from a few of these conventions. Roarke didn't seem to own any of the key properties. Eve never had to go to the hospital (though a couple key secondary characters did). Eve's cut-with-a-rusty-knife hair doesn't get mentioned, and Trina doesn't hold her down and put glittery stuff on her breasts. And, Eve and Roarke don't even have sex in the shower. But the unregistered equipment and "civilian" assistant? Well, I'm not sure it's possible to have an In Death book without those.

Purity in Death features Eve and company on the trail of a vigilante group called "the Purity Seekers," who are responsible for spreading a deadly virus that can transfer from a computer to a human being. Infected people die in agony as their brains expand and burst, and they burrow in their homes as they experience dreadful headaches and bleed from their ears. The group is quite specific about its targets; they are the scum of the earth. People who peddle drugs to middle schoolers, deal in child porn, and rape children. These aren't the type of folks who inspire pity or mourning; they are people who fell through the cracks of the judicial system. Criminals who many think deserved what they got. Eve doesn't particularly like "standing" for these people, but she knows her job is to protect the law and the concept of due process, and that killing a criminal is still a crime. Roarke, the original man of action, has some trouble seeing things Eve's way. He can't really bring himself to be sorry that these people are dead.

Throughout the investigation, the police department and the city government wrestle with spin control as they try to fight the Purity Seekers. Their position is helped when several innocent people die as well. Eve is thrown into the media spotlight, and has to deal with politicians - never her favorite pastime. Meanwhile, she and Roarke continue to grow and develop as a couple as they work together and support friends who have been injured.

Readers of the series aren't usually on again, off again types; most people either try them and keep on reading them, or try a few and decide the series isn't for them. Every once in awhile, I've seen people ask if the books can be read out of order. The answer for Purity - and every other In Death book - is no. While those of us who have read the books joke about the similarities between them (Oh look - Roarke's telling Eve to "go over" again!), we also enjoy the fact that Robb/Roberts shows a married relationship that continues to grow and change. That's one of the main reasons to keep reading the series. Eve and Roarke are richer and sexier than any married couple I know, but I can relate to their ups and downs, and occasional differences of opinion.

In addition to the view of married life after happily ever after, there is the fun of recurring characters. Of course Peabody, McNab, and Nadine show up, but we also get to see characters we may have forgotten, like Jamie (remember the tech-savvy kid in Ceremony?), who plays a critical role in the investigation.

So how would I rate this one? I've liked all of the books to some degree, some more than others. I found Purity better than the last one (Reunion), which had a villain I found too cartoonish. The whole computer/human virus seemed a little off the wall to me, but I liked the way Robb treated the themes of vigilantism vs. due process and the nuances of spin, politics, and media.

One also might say that this book showcases the e-men in their finest hour. Often they are in the background of an investigation, but here Feeney, McNab and might-as-well-be-a-cop Roarke are really in the trenches bonding and strutting their stuff. It was pretty fun stuff.

I didn't find that Purity reached the DIK heights of earlier books like Rapture and Vengeance, but it was still a great effort that I thoroughly enjoyed. As long as Eve, Roarke, et al continue to evolve as characters, I'll continue to be there.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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