My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book turned out to be a real disappointment and I think the author did a pretty poor job on it, which is very unlike him. I normally love Jack McDevitt books and I love the Alex Benedict series, starring Alex and his assistant and pilot, Chase. They’re into finding and selling very expensive antiques to rich clients. The basic premise of the book had promise, but the author kind of blew it by writing two different books in one. And by making it pretty unrealistic in the process.
Alex and Chase have been visiting old Earth for the first time with two Mute friends, aliens who are telepaths and are considered repugnant by humans. Of course, they consider humans to be repugnant. However, these four get along. On their way home, Alex gets a transmission from author Vicki Greene, asking for his help, stating that “they are all dead.” And that’s about all there is. Alex is bothered by this, while Chase is ready to forget about it. Until they get home and find that Vicki has wired two million credits into Alex’s bank account. Now Alex feels an obligation to help her, somehow.
Vicki Greene is a well known horror writer who pumps out a book a year. She’s spent the past year on a far off planet called Salud Afar which is well known for supernatural occurrences — hauntings, werewolves, etc. Good stuff to start your next horror book with. However, when she gets home, she doesn’t seem to be herself, seems a little depressed, and when Alex tries to contact her, has disappeared. He eventually finds her brother and they talk. Turns out Vicki has voluntarily mind wiped herself, a process usually reserved for hardened criminals. It’s basically murder. Your life is over. You have no more memories. You start over as a blank slate with a new life. Alex and Chase find out the psychiatric institute that did this process, but the administration and doctors there won’t tell them anything about why she would do this or where she is now. So, what to do?
They decide to go to Salud Afar and trace her steps to see what she could have found out that was so disturbing that she mind wiped herself. They arrive and play tourist. They ask questions. They start getting some interesting answers and then … they’re kidnapped. By cops. They escape, barely, but Alex is caught again while Chase gets away and heads for a taxi to take it up to her ship. They’ve discovered something important happened on an asteroid and there’s something important about the lone star in the system. She goes with a friend and his wife to the asteroid. And finds nothing. But then finds something in space which explains everything. When she gets back to the planet, the corrupt cops contact her and she tells them every news agency on the planet will have her news in an hour unless she gets Alex back. She does. And Alex had guessed what the mystery was.
And this is one of the book’s problems. Halfway through the book, the book’s mystery is solved. It’s over. What to do now? Politics! Yeah, that’s what I’ll do, thinks McDevitt. So, that’s what he does.
There are skirmishes between the humans and the Mutes in space, leading to wrecked space ships and casualties. It looks like war is imminent. But the head of Salud Afar asks Alex and Chase to go to the Mute’s capital as diplomats to try and get them to agree to a cease fire, so that the humans will also agree to a cease fire. The goal is to get the human fleet to the planet to aid in evacuating it before disaster strikes in three years. And so Alex and Chase go. And Chase gets interviewed by a major celebrity, which everyone sees. As a result, the Mutes declare a cease fire and eventually the humans do too. Then the humans announce the fleet is on the way. And they send 11 ships. Eleven. WTF? They’re holding back to attack the Mutes. Alex and Chase return to Salud Afar, which is incredibly stupid, because their ship had already been impounded for the next three years to aid in the evacuation and they were going to be held as virtual prisoners on that planet. So instead of going home to their freedom, they head back to that planet. Real bright. And their ship is impounded again. They resign themselves to spending the next three years of their lives there. Let me tell you, they handle the news better than I would. I have to say, it’s pretty unrealistic. I think the author did a pretty piss poor job with this. I would have been livid with the government. I would have gone ballistic. Alex and Chase just go Yeah. So, shock of all shocks, the Mute fleet arrives, along with tons of individual Mute ships, to aid in the evacuation! Chase’s interview had really gotten through to them. So now they’re heroes on the planet. And they get their ship back. And next thing you know, the actual full human fleet is on its way to help out too. And the planet is saved. And all is right in the universe. And the second half of the book had very little to do with the first half.
And here’s what I consider to be the one major problem of the book, and that’s its original premise. Why would a successful author whose memory has been partially wiped, on her return to her home world, want help? What kind of help? Why not from the government? Their version of the FBI, CIA? How about private Is? How about mercenaries? Of all people, why does she turn to an antique dealer for help and transfer two million to his bank account before he does anything? It literally makes no sense whatsoever. It’s stupid. And then, after contacting Alex for help, she’s moved to go get a mind wipe and virtually end her life as she knows it. To what end? For what purpose? To draw attention to what she found on Salud Afar? If so, it seems like a stupid way to do it. I think McDevitt must have been drunk off his ass when he wrote this book, or wrote so much of it, that when he realized how bad it was, it was too far along to ditch it, so he finished it, knowing it was trash and sold it to us, the readers, as a normal Alex Benedict book. And I’m annoyed by that. Very annoyed. Normally I give his books four or five stars, but this book gets two and it’s definitely NOT recommended.