Trigger warning: sexual assault
I have an app on my tablet called BookBub. Every day it shows me cheap books in genres I select. I mean $0-$1.99 cheap. Some of them are self-published and absolutely dreadful. Sometimes there are books by authors I’ve actually heard of. This week I saw a book listed as a thriller. It was a detective story by J. D. Robb. I’ve heard of the author before and I like a detective story, so I looked further. Turns out J. D. Robb is a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, queen of romantic schlock. She said she published it under a pseudonym so she could go in a new direction, rather than romance. The premise of the book sounded promising, so I looked further. It turns out the book is number 8 or 9 in a series of about 50 books about this female detective. All of the books are “stand alone” but I hate walking into the middle of a psycho-drama, so I picked up the first book in the series. If I like it, I’ll move on to the others.
The first book was published in 1995. But it had a science fiction edge – police work in 2058. I’m having fun seeing what she got right. In the book email is ubiquitous, as are cameras and cell phones. They also have flying cars and a few off-world colonies. Sex work is legal, as is marijuana. There’s even a back story about an uber conservative ass who wants to run for president. His platform would be to ban sex work, premarital sex, LGBT rights, abortion and end the ban on guns. Sounds familiar.
The book is following the romantic trope of she hates her romantic interest until she loves him. Not my favorite style but I guess Nora does what’s always worked for her. Never having read her before, I can’t say. But what is standing out is that the book is chauvinistic, misogynistic, patronizing, demeaning to women and celebrates sexual violence. What the hell, Nora?
I know, I know. Society has changed since 1995, but that much? Early in the book the female detective is interviewing a suspect at his home. He is obviously the one who will eventually become her romantic interest (doesn’t hurt that he’s a billionaire). He decides he wants to have sex with her. She tells him no. He maneuvers her up against a wall and begins pawing and kissing her. She resists and tells him to stop. He doesn’t. He manages to get her into his bedroom because she’s confused. I guess everyone knows that a woman loses the power to think when a handsome man assaults her. She struggles and tells him no. He gets her clothes off and begins having sex. She continues to struggle and say no. Afterward there’s a peaceful interlude (which I found very odd) until he wants to do it again. She says no. He shoves in her and does it anyway. She spends the night.
I don’t see how this could read as anything but a rape. But Ms. Roberts seems to be presenting it as romantic. And then we find out the woman was so severely sexually abused as a child that she has no memories from before she was 8. This new rape sure isn’t going to help her mental health.
So is this commonplace for Nora Roberts? Do all her heroines have to be raped in order to find out they love their attacker? If so, then something is seriously wrong with this woman.
Maybe I’ll buy the latest installment of this series, written in the 2020s. See if Nora has grown with the times, maybe evolved into a human being.