Joint Review: Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Joint Review: Exit Strategy by Martha WellsExit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Murderbot Diaries #4
Pages: 172
Published by Tor.com on October 2, 2018
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Murderbot wasn't programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah — its former owner (protector? friend?) — submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who's going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it's caught?

Our Review:

Marlene: Kind of an ironic title, this. Murderbot really doesn’t have one. An exit strategy, that is. Not for the immediate problem, and not for the overall problem. It is fun and surprisingly heartbreaking watching it try. I say surprising because, after all, Murderbot itself would decry, loudly and often, the concept that it has a heart in anything other than the biological sense – if it actually has one of those. Come to think of it, I’m not completely sure. It does have organic parts, I’m just not sure if it has that part in particular.

Galen: One of the problems with those organic parts is that they sometimes get in the way of certain things that Murderbot would like to do… like fully delete memories it doesn’t wish to carry but nonetheless help to push Murderbot (and the plot) forward. It is fitting that by the end of Exit Strategy, Murderbot finds itself reconstructing its memories… and ending up with, for the first time, a free choice.

Exit Strategy picks off right where Rogue Protocol left off, with Murderbot knowing exactly what GrayCris was up to. The problem? Dr. Mensah needs to be rescued… and GrayGris is gunning for Murderbot.

Marlene: Exit Strategy, along with Murderbot’s lack of an exit strategy, has an “out of the frying pan into the fire” aspect. Or perhaps that should be the “perils of Pauline” with Murderbot substituting for Pauline. It seems to be endlessly in trouble in this one – possibly as part of its own messed-up reactions. It feels a need to help Dr. Mensah, and it doesn’t want to, both at the same time.

Well, really, it does, but it is having endless difficulties admitting why it wants to. There’s certainly a sense that it feels the need to right the wrong that it has inadvertently caused through its actions in Rogue Protocol. It went to investigate GrayCris, at least in part because it wanted to help Dr. Mensah against them. What it didn’t count on was that GrayCris would interpret its self-willed mission as yet another attempt by Dr. Mensah to get to the bottom of whatever crap they seem to be pulling – and that GrayCris would react accordingly. Well, accordingly for an evil corporation at any rate.

Galen: What GrayCris didn’t count on is that Murderbot’s quest changed it. As much as Murderbot likes to talk about retreating to its bad space soap opera media, it spends the entire series of novellas learning and growing. Concretely, this means that by the end of Exit Strategy, Murderbot has taken down opponents that a stock SecUnit has no business even tangling with. While this means that the action in the novella is satisfyingly complicated, Murderbot’s increased capability as a SeUnit is secondary to its growth as an individual. To be clear, not in the Pinocchio-becoming-a-real-boy sense that many stories about artificial constructs and androids follow, as this passage demonstrates:

“I don’t want to be human.”
Dr. Mensah said, “That’s not an attitude a lot of humans are going to understand. We tend to think that because a bot or a construct looks human, its ultimate goal would be to become human.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Rather, the sequence of four novellas chronicle’s Murderbot’s growth as a being able to make its own choices, including choosing who to associate with.

Marlene: In the end, that is what is so fascinating about Murderbot – not that its line of snark doesn’t have plenty of charms of its own. Throughout Exit Strategy, Murderbot keeps making choices – and those choices increase in complexity and, for lack of a better word, selfishness. Not that it does things that benefit itself – because the ultimate selfish act would be to freighter-hop while playing its melodramas for the rest of its existence. But its actions have become acts of selfhood and self-determination, even if that determination is to sacrifice itself so that the others can escape.

What it does not reckon on is that those others see it as a person in its own right, just as it sees them. And that its ability to grow, adapt, change, try, fail, succeed and ultimately hope is emblematic of its journey to selfhood. A selfhood that is explicitly not humanity. It is on its way to becoming a real person, but not, as Data once aspired to be, a real boy.

And in its confusion of what all that means, we empathize with it, even as it refuses to become one of us, but still manages to become one of itself.

While its growth is far from complete at the end of Exit Strategy, it has reached a point where it has grown enough to begun to acknowledge its own contradictions and confusions, just like the rest of us. And it wraps up the loose ends of this part of the story, the one that began in All Systems Red.

But I’ve just heard a rumor that Murderbot will have a full-length novel coming out in 2020. YAY! Hopefully it will come in time to read on the long plane ride to WorldCon in New Zealand.

Galen: Yay indeed! Which leads me to…

Galen’s Escape Rating A: This is a fitting conclusion to the sequence of four novellas; while it wraps up the central mysteries set up in All Systems Red, there is clearly a lot more we could learn about the setting that Wells has made… and I hope to learn that through Murderbot’s eyes.

Marlene’s Escape Rating A: This is indeed a fitting conclusion to this sequence, while still leaving plenty of open threads that can be picked up in that much anticipated full-length novel. The story as we have it is Murderbot’s journey, in the sense that this is its own story. As the story of a machine being rather than a flesh creature, it is fascinating to see the way that the author has given Murderbot selfhood without falling into any of the traps of either it wanting to be human or of it, heaven forbid, falling in love. Instead, it seems to be reaching for friendship and companionship, and most of all, acceptance. Learning to accept itself as it is will be its biggest challenge – one that it is more than up to.

I hope we get to find out how it manages.

Joint Review: All Systems Red / Artificial Condition / Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells
Format read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Murderbot Diaries #1
Pages: 144
Published by Tor.com on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
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In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

 

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells
Format read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Murderbot Diaries #2
Pages: 158
Published by Tor.com on May 8th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
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It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

 

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3) by Martha Wells
Format read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Murderbot Diaries #3
Pages: 158
Published by Tor.com on August 7th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
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SciFi’s favorite antisocial A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

Our Review:

Marlene: I read the first three Murderbot books in a binge one day. I was looking for something a bit different, I was still very much on an SF kick after WorldCon, and I thought, “what the hell, they’re short”. I did not expect to gobble them up one right after the other, and now they are all in a heap in my head, hence the multiple book review. That Galen had read them all in a heap just a couple of days before had absolutely no influence whatsoever on my decision to take the plunge. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Galen: I blame, of course, thousands of people, starting first with Hugo Gernsback. The Murderbot series hadn’t really impinged on my consciousness prior to the the Tor.com/TorBooks upcoming releases panel at WorldCon, where they mentioned the upcoming release of Exit Strategy (which Marlene and I also read; review will come closer to its publication). What sealed the deal, however, was seeing Martha Wells walking up to the stage the night of the Hugo Award ceremony to accept a rocket for All Systems Red. Hundreds of Hugo voters can’t be wrong, right? Well sometimes… but not that day!

Marlene: According to Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos, the voters get it wrong about 30% of the time – but this definitely wasn’t one of those times.

This story is told in the first person singular, in Murderbot’s very singular voice. I’m going to use “it” to refer to Murderbot, because Murderbot has no gender – and is very specific on multiple occasions that it doesn’t need one, doesn’t want one, and wouldn’t have one at gunpoint. As a being who has been forced to observe human behavior in all its messy minutiae for days of tedium upon end, Murderbot sees gender as one of our many, many useless attributes.

Galen: Murderbot’s voice carries the series. But who is Murderbot? It is a SecUnit: a construct combining machine parts and human-derived tissues with both a human nervous system and artificial intelligence. Oh, and lots of built-in weapons — and security protocols and expertise bar none. (One of the reasons Murderbot is not a far-future Pinocchio? It rightly judges that most humans are pretty rubbish as security units.)

In other words, SecUnits are dangerous and most humans find them unnerving. Like many SecUnits, Murderbot gets rented out by the corporation that owns it to provide security; in Muderbot’s case, for a small planetary survey team — and one SecUnit suffices. What keeps SecUnits from running amok? A governor unit… which Murderbot has disabled, making it its own construct. Freeing it to…. watch hours and hours of bad sci fi soap operas when it’s not on duty.

Marlene: Murderbot may be a bit more “human” than it would like to think. Spending its downtime watching (and re-watching) bad sci fi soap operas strikes this reader as a sign of the humanity that Murderbot would disavow rather strenuously.

But speaking of Murderbot, it named itself that. SecUnits don’t have individual names, and if they have individual numbers or unit designations we don’t see that. By hacking its governor unit, Murderbot has given itself free will, although it could be argued that it would have needed at least some free will to decide to hack its governor unit in the first place!

However, it knows that if anyone in authority discovers its hack, it will be forcibly re-governed – or just stripped for parts. So part of its internal commentary is about its necessity to keep its freedom a secret at all costs – and the way that freedom conflicts with its programming to keep its clients alive.

As Galen said above, Murderbot is certain that humans are rubbish as security units. In fact, it thinks humans are rubbish at dealing with security issues at all. It’s always seen a part of its job as doing its best to prevent its human clients from doing stupid things and endangering themselves against its instructions. Now that it has free will, it has to constantly weigh how active it should be in preventing that stupidity.

The more I talk about Murderbot’s free will, the more it reminds me of Shale the golem in Dragon Age Origins, who also has unexpected free will after her (she does discover she has gender after all) controller rod is irretrievably broken. Without those years of watching bad broadcast melodrama, Shale has much less feeling for the other members of her party than Murderbot does for at least some of its clients. Just as TV has often been used by immigrants to learn the language of their new country, Murderbot has also used entertainment media to learn the language of what is effectively its new country, the world of self-willed, independent-thinking augmented humans. Murderbot is just a bit more augmented than most.

But we should probably get back to the books themselves, shouldn’t we?

Galen: As I mentioned, in All Systems Red Murderbot finds itself on a contract to provide security for the PreservationAux team doing a planetary survey. While some of the local wildlife are indeed looking for a light lunch of Dr. Mensah and her folks, the team finds itself with a bigger problem: another team wants Mensah’s group off the planet… and doesn’t necessarily care how. Keeping the team alive and exposing their antagonists occupies most of the plot. Along the way, Murderbot has to make some disclosures, work on dealing with humans outside the confines of soap opera plots, and at the end, choose its freedom. Why the PreservationAux team found itself is such hot water is the central mystery of the rest of the Murderbot Diaries sequence.

In Artificial Conditions, Murderbot learns how to simulate human behavior better under the tutelage of a cargo starship and seeks to find the answer to another mystery: why, apparently, prior to the events of All Systems Red, did it run amok and kill the group of miners it was supposed to protect? Along the way, it finds itself helping yet another group of humans with no clue about proper security… or rather, it chose to, somewhat to its surprise.

In Rogue Protocol, Murderbot travels onward to investigate the original mystery: what was so important that PreservationAux couldn’t be allowed to see? It ends up on a terraforming station that was abandoned, and finds itself protecting yet another group of hapless humans who are also investigating the mystery. This time, Murderbot does have the help of human security specialists… though that is a decidedly mixed blessing. This culminates in a decision to return… home?… and leads us to the final novella (so far) in this sequence, Exit Strategy, which we’ll review later this year.

Marlene: Exit Strategy may be the current final novella in the Murderbot Diaries, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the ending. I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not.

The story, at least so far, seems to be Murderbot’s journey towards independent personhood. I would compare him to Pinocchio by way of Data, but Data actually does want to be “real boy”, or at least a much closer facsimile than he is at the beginning of Star Trek Next Gen.

Murderbot wants to be itself. It has zero desire to be human. After all, it thinks humans are generally stupid – and it’s generally right on that subject. But it does want to be independent, while at the same it wants purpose, and purpose keeps leading it to more involvement with humans. They need it. One of the truths that it is hesitantly reaching towards is that it needs them.

As uncomfortable as humans, their messy emotions, and Murderbot’s even more emotionally messy reactions to them make it feel, it can’t seem to stay away. It particularly can’t manage to stay away from the PreservationAux crew. They, with one exception, treat Murderbot as a person. Not a human person, but a person with its own needs, wants, desires and oh yes, feelings. Even if Murderbot distances itself as far as it can from dealing with those feelings, first by immersing itself in those terrible SF soap operas, and then by taking itself as far away as possible.

It turns out that even rogue SecUnits can manage to paddle up the river DeNial if they try hard enough – and Murderbot is certainly trying.

Galen: One of the themes of the Murderbot Diaries is duty. After All Systems Red, Murderbot could have chosen to lose itself in soap operas, as it is certainly a good enough security systems hacker to stay off the radar indefinitely. However, it doesn’t do that: it has questions it needs answered. Moreover, although it really would rather not, it continues to interact and protect the humans it runs across. Often that interaction is at a remove—if you can interface with every camera in the room, you don’t need to look someone in the eye—but it happens, and Murderbot gets better at it as the novellas progress. And—horrors—Murderbot just might find family, of a sorts. But on its own terms, as its own being.

Marlene: Murderbot does, indeed, have lots and lots of questions – and is willing to stick itself in harm’s way to get them answered. It can’t seem to resist helping the humans it comes across, even as it snarks about their behavior, bodily functions, and general ineptitude. Their emotions make it uncomfortable, but it has a difficult time within itself dealing with that discomfort. Looking people in the eye forces it to admit that there is an “I”, and that’s not something it is quite ready to face. But it might. Someday.

Galen’s Escape Rating A-: The Murderbot Diaries depend on the strength of Murderbot’s voice. Fortunately, it’s up to the task: a human/artificial construct with anxiety and a sense of snark that’s never unbearing, and has learned from its soap operas how to tell a good yarn.

Marlene’s Escape Rating A-: Galen is correct that the Murderbot Diaries depend on Murderbot’s voice, not just its storytelling ability, but also its strengths, its weaknesses and in the end, its, well, humanity for lack of a better term. At times, Murderbot seems like a cross between an urban fantasy or noir snarky detective and Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. At times, it can come across as a child savant, in that it knows so much about hacking and security and so little about human emotions or how to cope with its own. Or even admit to its own. Its growth as a person from the All Systems Red to Rogue Protocol is fascinating to watch – and continues apace in Exit Strategy.

I hope Murderbot’s diaries continue.

Joint Review: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

Joint Review: The Obsession by Nora RobertsThe Obsession by Nora Roberts
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Pages: 464
Published by Berkley on April 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The riveting new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Liar.
Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous.
Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.
Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away.

Our Review:

Marlene: While I absolutely adore the In Death series that Roberts writes as J.D. Robb (even when the current entry is not so great) her Roberts books are a bit hit or miss for me. Sometimes they absolutely draw me in, and sometimes they are just okay. Without the continuing “family” of In Death, they don’t always work, or at least not for me. While you can probably guess where I’m leading, it’s time to let my co-reviewer get a few words in.

Amy: I take a slightly different view of Roberts’ work from Marlene’s; for me, she’s a go-to girl, with utterly reliable reads (well, almost all the time.) Most any of her books will at least get a good look, if not a full read. I tend to find myself falling into her trilogies (as my recent review of Blue Dahlia, and my forthcoming review of Black Rose point out), but this standalone piece gave Roberts plenty of time to tell us a thoroughly involved story. I have a sneaking suspicion that Marlene and I may run in completely different directions on this review!

Marlene: I found the opening sections of this story completely absorbing. The tale of what Naomi did when she was a girl, grabbed me and shook me, hard. The background of Naomi’s fear of her emotionally abusive father, her restlessness, her shattering loss of innocence, was very atmospheric and completely riveting. We’re with her on that dark journey, and we shake, cower and soldier on when she does. As the story in the past continues, we feel for her as she and her family try to find a way to get past the evil that flourished in their midst. While I wouldn’t have wanted to have read through all the intervening years, when the story shifted from the past to Naomi’s present, it lost its urgency for me.

Amy: I concur; the backstory at the beginning was incredibly rich, and attention-getting. Roberts had a *lot* of pages to tell us that story, so we had a better sense of the personae than usual. Like you, the “jump-take” to the present time struck me as a little bit jarring. There were loose ends that hadn’t been tied up for me, like what happened in the years after her mother’s passing, and how she came to be the wanderer we meet in the present day.

Suddenly involving Naomi in that huge house, and the precise spot where we joined the present day, just struck me as a little out-of-character, like there were useful bits of the story that got skipped. Roberts quickly recovers from that stumble, in my mind, though, and starts getting us involved with the locals.

Marlene: I liked the locals and the whole atmosphere of the town that Naomi finds herself settling in. The way that she was introduced to them gradually also worked very well for introducing them to us. I will confess that the dog she finally named Tag drove me crazy. Not because I didn’t love him, but because he reminded me so very much of a situation in another book. (After much searching, I finally figured out that it was in Jaci Burton’s Make Me Stay, where the hero gets adopted by a dog who is eventually named “Not My Dog” because the human always responds to any comments or questions about “his dog” by asserting that “he’s not my dog.”)

But the situation with the dog was somewhat symbolic of the story for me. While I liked the locals, and obviously loved the dog, so much of this part of the story felt a bit too familiar. They were all nice people but it didn’t feel like there was much different going on from too many small-town romances and romantic suspense titles that I’ve read before. So while I enjoyed watching Naomi put together her dream house, for this reader it went on a bit too long.

Amy: Anyone who expects a formulaic romance author as prolific as Nora Roberts to *not* have a formulaic section–well. This was, to me, kind of expected, and I’d spend the first big section of the book wondering when the extras would start showing up. When we got here, I kind of knew, and it was a comfortable spot…okay, here’s where we meet The Man, and The Helpful Other Man, and The Man’s Best Pal, and so on. Roberts did a good job of making what could be a whole stage full of cardboard cutout people at least *somewhat* interesting; our hero Xander–what a name!–jumps off the page fairly quickly. But once we got those folks identified, I started to wonder what on earth she was gonna do with all those pages–where’s the conflict gonna come from? Turned out, when it came time for that, she threw me a curve that totally blew me away.

Marlene: Yes, there is always a formula, and I expected one here. I think what threw me with this particular formula was that I believe that if I looked hard enough, I’d find a very close approximation to this exact story in one of the In Death books. (I looked, I think it’s New York to Dallas) It felt like I’d read a bit too much of this too close together before.

I did like Xander a lot. I wish we saw a bit more of what makes him tick, because he’s really interesting. He owns/is the local car mechanic, is in a very good cover band, half-owns the local bar and owns a couple of buildings. His journey must be pretty interesting all by itself. I also liked Kevin and Janey. Both that she found an adopted brother and best friend, but that the romantic tension in the story was about Naomi and someone other than the guy fixing her house.

However when the suspense element seriously kicks in, at 55% of the book on my kindle, the suspense factor went out the window for me. I knew instantly exactly who the villain was. To me, it was a grand case of “Chekhov’s gun” and there was simply no second choice. It had to be who it was, and it was. My only questions from that point were how was he going to get caught and how much damage would he do along the way.

Amy: I agree with you about Xander–he seemed like a really neat guy, and not–like some bodice-rippers–too good to be true, but a guy who’d worked hard and had some talent and lucky breaks. I’d have loved to hear more about that. But when it comes to the suspense, that’s where we start to differ. Now, to be fair, I’ve not read but one of the J. D. Robb books, and that was long, long ago. I totally did not have any sense of our villain, and kept wondering if anyone had thought to call up the prison in New York to see if that monster of a father of hers had escaped! Finally, someone said, “he’s in prison, and will be forever,” or something similar, and that’s when I started to get an inkling. It took me quite a while to sort out the villain.

Marlene: I’ll admit that I don’t know quite how I was so certain it wasn’t daddy. If it had been, I believe that someone would have called Naomi the minute the scum got out of prison, if it hadn’t been all over the news. This is someone who is, after all, never getting parole in this or his next several lifetimes. No prison break equaled “not daddy dearest”. I did have a momentary flitting thought that Naomi’s brother might have gone “dark side” but that didn’t feel right either. Not to mention that little brother became an FBI profiler. That left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun sitting on the mantelpiece of the past, just waiting to be taken down and set off.

Amy: “Every memorable element must be necessary and irreplaceable,” sure. Chekhov’s Gun. True enough, but for me, the first meeting with our villain just *wasn’t* that memorable, other than the odd circumstance they found themselves in just then. I was rather tied up in what was going on there, and he was–in my mind–a schoolmate, nothing more. I started to “get it” when Naomi’s brother and the local cops started to connect the dots, showing what a prolific monster our villain really was–as bad, perhaps, as daddy dearest.

…and that’s when, like you, I started to wonder how they’d catch him, what sort of trap they’d have to set, or if he’d catch Naomi and force Xander and a Cast Of Friends to do something Amazingly Heroic.

Marlene: You’re absolutely right. When originally introduced, our villain was not terribly memorable. However he did set off Naomi’s creep-o-meter just enough to get her to write her own version of her story for the New York Times. But to quote both Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

It couldn’t be daddy dearest, it couldn’t be little brother, which left Mr. Chekhov’s Gun as the last man standing. And once I was sure it was him, at, as I said, 55% of the book, it was a long wait and a few too many dips into his very nasty mind before he was finally given his just desserts. While I know that logically it would take the FBI and local law enforcement a bit more effort to gather evidence than my semi-logical leap, that process wasn’t entertaining enough for me.

Amy: I enjoy police procedurals on television, even when I *know* that our heroes will all go home at the end of the forty-five minutes with the bad guy behind bars. So for me, watching the dots get connected was kind of entertaining; it did fill in the holes for me about why it *wasn’t* her father or some other previously-unmet person. One thing I’ll agree with you fully on here–that dude was *creepy*. His headspace was a truly messy place, and I always felt a little…dirty, I guess…after peeking into his thoughts. Not someone I’d want to be around, at all.

But for me, maybe I’m a little one-dimensional, but the only way I’d have picked up on our villain as quickly as you did would have been if we’d seen something like him leaving her a nastygram that says, “You’ve not heard the last of me, Naomi!” or something similar. I’m *good* at suspending disbelief like that.

Marlene: Clearly, one result of this review for me is that I probably will stay away from Roberts’ non-In Death books for a while. I love the police procedural aspects of that series, because I’m invested in all of the characters that make up the “family of choice” that readers follow in the series. In this particular book, the dot connecting, while very necessary for the resolution of the story, went on just a bit too long for me. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, and in this case obviously does. That’s what makes joint reviewing a book so much fun.

In summary, there were parts of The Obsession that I liked, particularly the stage-setting in Naomi’s past. But once the story moved to the present day, it felt a bit dragged out to me. I liked the characters, especially the “not my dog” named Tag, but the suspense plot lacked suspense. I figured out “whodunnit” much, much too early.

Marlene’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: B-

Amy: There were a lot of likable bits in The Obsession for me. As someone who *doesn’t* read a lot of suspense stories, there was more of it than I’m used to, so I was able to let go and enjoy that part of the process. Our characters were interesting and engaging, and I would have loved to learn more about them. The backstory was one of the strongest parts of this story for me as well. I was a little jarred by the switch to present-day, and the following few chapters hit me as just a little bit *too* formulaic–I expected it, but it just seemed a little out of place for an otherwise-engaging story.

Amy’s Escape Rating for The Obsession: A-