Naked In Death (In Death #1) by J. D. Robb

(Hunh, I thought I’d posted this when I’d originally reviewed it. Apologies.)

There is so much about this book to like, from the fully realized near-future setting to the compelling, scandalous murder mystery to the damaged protagonist (and victims) to the clear moral and political stance J. D. Robb has on women’s rights and crime and violence. But. And here I’d like to take a moment to assure readers who are fans of this series that what I’m about to say isn’t a criticism of you personally. Everyone is entitled to like the characters and relationships they enjoy, and when I criticize one of those, I’m not telling you you’re a bad person with terrible taste. There is so much about this book that is awesome, and woman-positive, but there is one hugely questionable part of it, and when I talk about him (yes, him, and you already know where this is going,) I want you to realize that this isn’t a criticism of you or the good parts of the book or your enjoyment of the book at all. But I can’t not talk about something, someone so problematic.

So yes, obviously, Roarke. My criticism is two-fold, and first is the believability of his feelings as presented in this book. Guys, no one falls in love like that. No one who’s made their money out of illegal dealings, who’s been involved with that many women, who’s clawed their way to respectability, is as open with their most vulnerable feelings the way Roarke proclaims to be. I buy that tough, damaged Eve Dallas shoots herself in the foot by getting involved with him. She’s completely believable, even when she’s being unbelievably stupid. But he is not a real person. No one who’s evaded suspicion and placing trust like that their entire life would then jeopardize their sense of self by telling a cop that they love her and meaning it, not over the course of several days.

But more importantly, I was really disturbed by his manipulative, abusive behavior. It’s not okay for him to ignore her stated wishes. At the very least, it’s disrespectful, and a terrible basis for a healthy relationship. Sure, he does nice things, but he also does really crappy things, and it all looks like he’s creating an unhealthy atmosphere of unpredictability around her that depends solely on his whims. That is classic abusive behavior, which I found completely repulsive. I’m supposed to believe that he knows better than she does what’s good for her, and that’s a negation of her personhood that I find utterly distasteful. Sure, he doesn’t actually sexually or physically abuse her, but treating her like less than a grown woman who needs to make her own decisions is a belittling that makes their relationship imbalanced and, again, unhealthy.

Also, the sex in this book really wasn’t that great. I’m glad I read Book 2 first because it’s definitely better than this one, and I can only hope that the series continues to improve as it goes along. This book was published in 1995, after all, and plenty of things change in twenty years. Hopefully, the books’ awareness of what’s healthy and not in a romantic relationship is one of those things that improve for the better as this series progresses.

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