by Jack McDevitt
Review by Ann Cecil
Jack McDevitt fans know the mantra: Things are not as they seem. In this book, even the main characters know it! The book starts with a very cool variation on the Marie Celeste mystery: a spaceship named Polaris, carrying a group of high-powered intellects who were out viewing a stellar event, is found floating empty. There are no clues as to what happened to them; intense searches turn up nothing.
Sixty years later, the government has finally given up on ever finding answers and decides to turn the whole affair into a profit: They will open an exhibit of the items found on the Polaris to the public, and after enough tickets have been sold, auction the items off. Our hero, Alex Benedict, a dealer in antiquities with a very large streak of curiosity and sharp instincts for "things that don't fit" gets invited to an advance viewing and chance to buy some of the remnants of the Polaris. In the middle of the opening party, everyone is cleared out because of a bomb threat (that turns out to be all too real). Alex, demonstrating his bull-dog tenacity, manages to save his remnants and get out alive.
The treasures include personal items from the crew: The pilot's vest, her cosmetic case, a book someone was reading, etc. The bomb completely destroys the exhibit; the government and Alex assume the bombing was an attack on a political guest, but soon Alex (and the reader) begins to suspect otherwise. Someone is approaching Alex's clients, the ones he sold the pilot's relics to, and they aren't always polite. When Alex and his cohort/pilot/female partner Chase start investigating, someone starts trying to kill them. Alex doesn't give up, and Chase is resourceful enough to save their lives in several really nasty fixes.
The answers to the puzzle unfold gradually, logically; the end is a twist, where the author follows his own logic to an inevitable conclusion, and yet ...
At times the pacing seems a little slow (compared to the headlong rush of previous McDevitt books), but all the apparent side trips turn out to matter in the end. The most interesting device is the narrative voice: Chase Kolpath is the narrator, which gives us a new and different view of Alex (Alex was the narrator of A Talent for War, one of my all-time favorites). Other reviewers mentioned their disappointment at seeing Alex in a less than positive light; I didn't find that true. Just because Chase ascribes certain motives to him doesn't mean they are all he feels or understands.
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