Author: J. D. Robb

Ttile: New York to Dallas

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons

At over 40 books and counting, J. D. Robb's "In Death" series shows no signs of slowing down. And if New York to Dallas is any indication, it's a series that knows precisely how to get the bestselling job done.

The latest installment featuring mid-21st century New York detective Eve Dallas shows that, despite having plenty of wear on its tires, the detective-chases-serial-pedophile archetype is alive and well, albeit more than a little sleepy. In this case, echoes of dozens of other stories, from Silence of the Lambs onward, ring throughout the novel's nearly 400 pages.

That being said, New York is an engrossing, if relatively familiar story. Early on, we discover that Isaac McQueen, a serial pedophile and one of Dallas' earliest arrests, has escaped from Rikers Island and is out for vengeance on Dallas.

He's the archetypal "monster," having kidnapped dozens of teenage girls and held them captive in a soundproof room in his house during his heydey. Dallas was fortunate enough to lock him up once. Now that he's out, his plans are fairly standard for this sort of thing: taunt Dallas, embark on another crime spree, and exact his slow, painful revenge.

The only mild twist in the story is in McQueen's luring Dallas to, well, Dallas, where he sets up his trap. There's method in his madness, for it's in Texas that detective Dallas was herself a victim of abuse as a child, at the hands of her father.

McQueen hopes, it's implied, that he'll cause Dallas to crack under the pressure of facing down her own demons. The pages turn slowly for a bit too long in this tale, and the anticipated showdown between Dallas and McQueen takes place in an unexpected fashion that feels psychologically necessary for Dallas' character arc, but anticlimactic nonetheless.

In delving into Dallas' past, Robb relishes in doling out dark details about the secret corners of twisted human behavior, so things do get pretty dark. Although she's remarkably reserved in actual graphic detail, the pain and suffering is fairly repetitive, if that's possible.

It's a shame that Robb doesn't take as much care with adding nuance to the plot as she does with the composition of McQueen's psyche. Much of the story feels like one extended episode of Law & Order: SVU. There's nothing here a veteran of crime stories hasn't run across in some form or fashion.

What works more effectively is the relationship between Dallas and husband Roarke, its warmth a startlingly vivid touch. At several points throughout the story, McQueen's depravity threatens to send Dallas down a spiral into her dark past, but Roarke's love pulls her back.

Despite the grimy details of the novel's more graphic moments, the fact that Robb has chosen to give love the power to solve such a heartbreaking puzzle is uplifting, and an unexpected component to the story.

Robb has obviously tapped into our innate desire to see evil punished in constructing this and the dozens of other Eve Dallas novels.

While there's merit to be found in these types of stories, in the case of this latest, it feels like something's been lost, leaving a fairly traditional book that cruises, but never fully takes off.  

*This review first published 10/5/2011