Friday, December 4, 2009
The Devil's Eye, by Jack McDevitt
Jack McDevitt delivers again.
The Devil's Eye starts off with Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath receiving an enigmatic message from an interplanetary bestselling horror novelist. Author Vicki Greene tells them that she's gotten in too deep, talking about all the people who were dead. By the time Alex and Chase get back to their home planet, Rimway, Vicki has already had a memory wipe performed on her: an invasive procedure that completely wipes a person's personality and memories away, leaving them free to start a new life without hinderment from the past (usually only performed on repeat-offender criminals).
But before Vicki deep-sixes herself, she deposits two million dollars into Alex and Chase's account (which thousands of years in the future is still about what it's worth now; apparently in the future they find a way to stabilize inflation for good). Vicki wants them to discover what she did--what was so disturbing that she decided she couldn't live with the memory.
The last place Vicki had visited before sending Alex and Chase the message was Salud Afar, a borderland planet known for horrific legends and home to a recently overthrown dynasty of dictatorship and ruthless cruelty--the perfect place to research her next novel.
And off Alex and Chase go to unravel a deeply disturbing mystery on the edge of the Milky Way.
I thoroughly enjoyed Seeker, McDevitt's Nebula Award-winning novel preceding The Devil's Eye, so this novel had a tall order to fill. The mystery element was as strong as in Seeker, with the mystery almost as heavy as the sci-fi elements. As with Seeker, McDevitt uses the tools of science--astronomy and astrophysics especially--to unravel and solve the mystery.
Chase and Alex's characters developed more of an spark in this novel than in Seeker, giving the reader a sense of possibility while they still explore other options. McDevitt tries to make in Chase a female cavalier; she's her own woman and is tied down to no man. This role fits her as the pilot of the archaeology operation, but sometimes you just want to see her find love--the stuff which you're not sure will ever grow between her and Alex. Alex tends to come across as a rich collector who doesn't truly have an interest in people as he does in relics from a long-dead age. This hampers their three-dimensionality as characters, but ultimately they are enjoyable characters--Chase more so than Alex.
The Devil's Eye throws some twists into the story that I didn't see coming and that at first I was disappointed about because I was expecting something else. The twists were well-executed, though, and finally created a better ending that I predicted would happen. He did this with Seeker in a much better way, but it still works for TDE.
The Alex Benedict series is very standalone in the truest sense. I started on book three in the series, Seeker, and missed nothing. He's good at bringing you up to speed and only makes a handful of minor allusions to the previous books. For anyone who hasn't tried the sci-fi mystery genre yet, I'd strongly recommend McDevitt as a starting point.
The Devil's Eye, by Jack McDevitt. Ace Books. 2008. 368 pp. $7.99 (PB).
P.S. DJ, it's not too scary for you. :)