My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Talent for War is an excellent mystery for a sci fi novel. Jack McDevitt has a real talent for creating new worlds, alien species, archeologies, suspense, and science fiction in general. I really like his books.
In this book, Alex Benedict finds out that his uncle Gabe dies, or rather disappears, in a star ship and leaves his estate to his favorite nephew. Alex moves home — he grew up with Gabe — only to find the house has been broken into and a few things have been stolen, including an important file Gave wanted him to have. Gabe left him a holo telling him he was working on a project and that Alex should find it and continue on, that he would know what to do. And so the mystery begins. With the help of the house’s AI, Alex starts researching various things. First of all, the entire human universe worships the legacy of war hero Christopher Sim, who while getting killed in the process, helped to beat an invading alien horde that had been annihilating human worlds. Sim, and his brother, an orator who also died, has shrines dedicated to him on virtually every world you visit. Then there’s Tanner, a woman who wanted to make peace, then war, with the aliens and who wrote extensively about her experiences. There’s also a poet whose writings seem to have codes in them, if only they were understandable.
A woman shows up at Alex’s house named Chase. She’s a pilot and she had been hired by Gabe to take him way out in space for a couple of months and she wants to get paid. She ends up being a big part of the story and ends up helping Alex out with his research and travels, because he starts traveling to other cities and planets as the mystery unfolds. He finds out that a ship has been out to a distant part of the universe, come back, but can find nothing about it as everything is classified, including even the crew list. However, he finds out who one of the crew members is and starts trying to track him down. And it seems everywhere he goes, this guy, Hugh, has already been there, one step ahead of him. Why? Why is everything classified?
Sim died in a glorious way with seven volunteers he brought up from a planet to fight with him before his ship was blown out of the sky. But things are strange. Turns out his ship makes appearances at this planet one day and then at another planet that should take 11 days to get there some four days later and so on. How does he accomplish this? And who is Matt Olander? How does he figure into this? How exactly is he a war hero?
Alex’s home is broken into again and then, when he and Chase are on another planet, a woman Alex has gone on a few dates with comes up to him in a restaurant and tells him she’s planted a bomb on his skimmer, which Chase is using, and to get her out of there. He’s dumbfounded. Turns out she’s the one who’s been breaking in, stealing stuff, and trying to kill him. Cause he’s getting too close to the truth. Whatever that is. He radios Chase, but it’s nearly too late, so he and this woman take off to go save her and find her in the ocean due to a blown up, disintegrated skimmer, where he rescues her, but the woman dies. Stranger and stranger.
I could keep going on and on, but I’ll just say it’s a fascinating history that McDevitt constructs and a wonderful mystery that he creates and while it can get a little dry at times and while there are too many city and planet names, and people for that matter, to remember, it’s a great story and as you build to the climax, it becomes a real page turner and I couldn’t put the book down over the last 75 pages. The last quarter of the book is shocking, starting with the truth about Olander and Sim, then with the remainder of the novel, followed by the epilogue. Shocking. This is the first in a series and now I want to read the others. I guess I’ll have to put them on my Amazon Wish List. The only reason I’m not giving this book five stars is because it does drag and there is a lot of monologue and history and poetry and mythology and it can get pretty dry for extended periods of time. But I still enjoyed it and heartily recommend it.