"Naked in Death" is the first book in a new series of sci.fi-crime thriller books by Nora Roberts. She writes under the pseudonym of J D Robb, although it's a fairly open secret since the book-cover is published as "Nora Roberts writing as J D Robb"
The book is part of a series - which revolves around the central character of Lieutenant Eve Dallas - who with the New York Police and Security Dept. Its set in the future - 2058 - which provides the author with the freedom to experiment, not to only in terms of the police environment i.e. the equipment, tools and tricks used by cops in the future, but also the framework of relationships and their evolution.
Eve is presented as being a dedicated,shrewd and hard working cop, who is also trying to come to terms with the fact that she cannot (or rather does not want to) remember the first 8 years of her life. The reasons for that are not completely sketched out, something which presumably, future books in the series would address.
The storyline is fairly simple - Eve is in the middle of an investigation - involving a series of sexual murders of prostitutes, and she finds herself strongly attracted to the prime suspect on the case. This is of course the hero - Roarke (no last name) - who is sinfully rich, sinfully gorgeous to look at but is still likeable for all that. Truly the stuff of fantasy. So she deals with the tugs and pulls of the situation - since she inherently does believe in the value of the badge.
"To serve and protect" is not a byline for her, its her philosophy of life. Getting involved could potentially jeopardise the investigation, more importantly if she is wrong about the man, she would ruin her credibility in her own eyes. An interesting sub-angle is the impact of the murders on her own psyche, she finds herself starting to have memory flashes and nightmares about her childhood, even as she deals with the the classic "head versus heart" tug-of-war.
How she solves the crime and whether she gets the man - not necessarily in that order - forms the gist of the plot.
What makes the book readable, and makes it rise above its somewhat clichéd storyline are two things. First, the level of research that has gone into creating a believable environment in the future. For example, "Testing" i.e. a mandatory psychiatric procedure that every officer on the force must go through, after killing on the job, and which involves a strong Virtual Reality component, is sketched in enough detail to be believable and to be in sync with expected developments in current technology.
Second, the author's way with words which redeems the plot and makes it worth the 7 odd dollars one pays for the book. The byplay between Eve and Roarke is interesting - especially since Eve does not deviate from character merely because she is attracted on a personal level, she is not shown to compromise the job, and when it comes to taking the heat from the powers that be, she doesnt flinch from that either. Strength in a woman is attractively packaged here.
The author manages to keep both her characters believable (even if the streak of sentimentality in Roarke is a little out of sync with the rest of him), more importantly she manages to keep them likeable, without making them degenerate into the "diabetic" zone. All the secondary characters in the book are also well etched - making this overall a readable experience.
Given that this is the first of a series, it would be very interesting to see how the author deals with sequels - of maintaining the balance between rehashing material and plot lines in past books - without losing either the repeat reader or estranging the first timer.