A Review of Polaris

Polaris (Alex Benedict, #2)Polaris by Jack McDevitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very enjoyable, even exciting, sci fi mystery featuring Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath. Alex is a dealer of valuable antiques and Chase is his pilot who helps out around his business. The book takes place some 12 years from when the events in the previous book took place.

Sixty years ago, a starship called Polaris went far, far away to watch a collision between a star and a white dwarf, something that happens once every thousand years or so and which would result in a huge explosion. Other ships are going too, with scientists who are going to be collecting data. Polaris has a female pilot and six passengers. They are high profile scientists and notables who are being treated to this VIP experience by Survey, the agency responsible for such missions. After the explosion, the various ships head back. The pilot of Polaris radios Survey to announce that departure is immanent and then nothing is heard from them again. Ever. Eventually, Survey sends another ship out to look for it. They find it drifting, board it, and find no one on board. There are no people there. And thus the mystery begins. The ship is hauled home and about 50 ships are sent out to the site to look for aliens or something like that, something that could have boarded the ship without leaving a trace and captured the people aboard. Nothing is found.

Fast forward 60 years. Alex and Chase are approached by Survey to attend a pre-sale of artifacts from Polaris, stuff that would be very, very valuable. They’re given a limit of seven items they can take. They take some items they consider worthy and leave. On their way out, an announcement is made that there’s a bomb in the building and to evacuate. Everyone scatters. Sure enough, the building blows up and all of the Polaris artifacts are destroyed. Except Alex’s.

They go home and set up deals with clients to sell five of the items, keeping two. They go out and upon their return, find the house has been broken into. Some coins are missing, but that’s about it. The valuable stuff out in the open is untouched. Very odd. They notice, however, that the pilot’s flight jacket has been moved, although nothing has been done to it as far as they can tell. They call the police, who basically do nothing in this book. The break in frustrated me, because in the previous book, this happened several times to Alex and his life was even threatened, so you would think he would have invested in a good security system, but nope. Now he does.

They start hearing from their Polaris clients. A man and woman are approaching them and asking to see their new artifacts, and to touch them. Alex is worried about theft. They go to one of their clients’ house to await the arrival of the man, who had contacted her in advance. He appears, touches the artifact, apparently loses interest and leaves. Alex thinks he may be behind the break in, so they follow him in their skimmer, gaining on him as he goes out over the ocean. They fail to notice, however, another skimmer that draws alongside them and then its pilot shoots at them, damaging their skimmer, forcing them to crash land in the ocean. Murder attempt number one. The police are annoyed he didn’t tell them about things. They beg him to stay out of it, to let them do their job. So he goes home and they spend time researching the people on the Polaris, as well as the people on the rescue craft. Turns out one of the two people on the rescue craft had been killed. They take their new skimmer and go interview his widow. Meanwhile the police get back to him with IDs on the man and woman after the artifacts. They have pictures. The woman looks like the Polaris pilot. They wonder if she had had family, a daughter, but she hadn’t. However, they found out she had been married, and her husband had been killed in an accident that a lot of people thought was a murder committed by her. They travel to her hometown and interview some people. Apparently, she was snooty and standoffish, but not too many people now thought she would have murdered him. They thought he slipped off a mountain by himself when they were out walking. On their way home, their space craft turns out to be sabotaged and they nearly die, again. This happens several times in the book and is one of my few complaints about the book. How many times do you have to be nearly murdered before you learn to check out your craft before flying? How many times does it take before you just lie low? How stupid could you be? Are you really that dumb? A lot of reviewers think so.

Another strange thing they find out about was that the leader of Survey was supposed to go on Polaris, but got called away at the last minute by some unknown pressing engagement. Three years later, he walked out of his office and was never seen again. Something else that is strange is that none of the people they’re researching have pasts. None of the dead people, none of the people trying to take the artifacts. It’s like they don’t officially exist and never did. Weird.

Alex and Chase begin wondering about things. What if the people on board were part of a conspiracy? What if they wanted to disappear and leave Polaris a mystery? Were there habitable planets nearby? Were there space stations nearby? They had their AI do a search and he came up with several. They decided to take their space ship out there to look around and that’s where I’m going to stop, other than to say they solve the mystery and I found that very satisfying. I had my suspicions for some time, but it was good to read the details about how Alex and Chase arrived at their conclusions and what resulted from that.

I’ve read a lot of poor reviews, all by women, critical of the author for his portrayal of Chase. In the first book, Alex is the protagonist and narrator. In this book, it’s Chase. A lot of women think she doesn’t sound like an authentic woman and couldn’t and don’t buy her as one. Thus the poor reviews. Frankly, perhaps because I’m a stupid man, I didn’t notice that. Her dialogue didn’t bother me in the least and I found it very believable for her character. But like I said, I’m a guy. I guess women would know better than me.

I think McDevitt is an exceptional writer and I love this series. I’m ready to start the next one and I can’t wait. I love the science and I love the personalities. It’s a really good book, and while I think everyone should read the first one first, I strongly recommend this book.

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