Jack McDevitt



359pp/$24.95/November 2008 

The Devil's Eye
Cover by John Harris

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Jack McDevitt returns to the work of Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath for The Devil's Eye, the fourth outing for the antiquities dealer and his Boswell and pilot.  Rather than focus on lost artifacts, The Devil's Eye drops the characters into a missing persons case which turns out to have much broader ramifications than either Chase or Alex could have ever anticipated when the became involved in the disappearance.

Upon returned from a sight-seeing/acquisitions visit on Earth to Rimway, Benedict receives an urgent message from horror author Vicki Greene. When Benedict and Kolpath arrive on Rimway, they discover they're too late.  Greene has undergone a mind-wiping procedure and taken on an entirely new persona.  Before she did, however, she had placed her call to Benedict and arranged a massive cash transfer to his account.  While Benedict could have dropped the case and returned the cash to Greene's family, that action isn't in his nature and Benedict and Kolpath are soon en route to the distant planet Salud Afar, which stands outside the Galactic disk and whose night sky is dominated by the titular star.

While the previous novels have focused more on Benedict, he is practically absent for much of The Devil's Eye, with McDevitt turning most of his attention to Chase Kolpath's first person account of her own activities as she works with Benedict, and on her own, to discover what happened to Greene during her own sojourn on Salud Afar.  Much of the book almost seems a travelogue, as Kolpath and Benedict travel from tourist site to tourist site to interview people who had been in contact with Greene.  In some ways, these segments don't work entirely.  Throughout the novel, Kolpath indicates that Greene's strength was her ability to create the mood necessary for horror novels.  Invariably the places Kolpath visited had some ghost story associated with them, yet McDevitt did not take the opportunity to recreate the macabre sense of place that Greene was so good at depicting. However, it is important to note that McDevitt is writing a science fiction-mystery, not a horror novel.

The majority of the book is pointed at discovering what caused Greene to voluntarily undergo the mind-wipe procedure, however, and Kolpath manages to discover it, in the process learning much she shouldn't know about the inner workings of the Salud Afar government, which has only recently replaced a dictatorship.  This recent change in the government is still being felt across the planet as people are learning to trust their new governments while fearing that the worst excesses of the dictatorship are just under the surface.  The fragility of this relationship between governed and governing means that any crack will be magnified.  Naturally, Kolpath's investigations cause cracks to appear, and neither she nor Benedict are entirely sure who or what, as outsiders, they should trust.

Politically and culturally, Kolpath's discoveries shake Salud Afar to its core and have insterstellar and interspecial ramifications, which McDevitt handles well.  The politics and racial relations play a major role in the novel's denouement and grow out of the situation set up by McDevitt from the earliest pages of The Devil's Eye.  While his treatment of the alien Mutes is not particularly detailed, McDevitt provides the information necessary for the story, leaving the reader to hope that he'll decide to reveal more about the race in a future novel.

The Devil's Eye is a satisfying novel.  As with all of McDevitt's novels, it provides the reader's sense of wonder with numerous fantastic settings and situations. McDevitt's universe, while not exactly space opera, provides the feeling of that subgenre imparts to its readers while incorporating the science of hard science fiction, well-defined characters, and, in the case of The Devil's Eye, a mystery to be solved.

Purchase this book from Amazon Books.

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