Gender and Genre Bending: The Futuristic Detective Fiction of J.D. Robb

Publication year
Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture

Roberts may be the Queen of the Romance, but the J.D. Robb In Death series rests on the nexus of three genres of popular fiction: the romance, the detective story, and science fiction, incorporating recognizable elements of each genre, but reformulating them to her own design—a design that not only contests the systemization of the elements of each genre, but the gendered roles of both women and men common to the traditional versions of these genres. Each of the above-mentioned genres is a kind of formula fiction, which implies “their essential standardization.” As we will see below, there are fixed rules and concomitant reader expectations to which authors must adhere in order to be a romance writer, a sci fi writer, or a mystery writer (Cawelti , Adventure 8). As Frederic Jameson puts it, “genres are essentially contracts between a writer and his readers,” or in this case, a writer and her readers (Frederic Jameson quoted in Cawelti, Mystery 102). Robb takes the standardized elements of each genre, elements readers of those genres will recognize and indeed expect, and transforms them into something new—a new genre that retains identifiable aspects of the three parent genres and contests conventional gender roles along the way. In the Robb series, for example, women may be stronger and fiercer than men, while men may be more romantic, more nurturing, and much better cooks than women. (paragraph 2)