by Jack McDevitt



384pp/$27.99/May 2019

Coming Home

Cover by Stephen Youll

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In the previous Alex Benedict novel, Alex’s missing and presumed dead uncle, Gabe, showed up when the vanished interstellar starship Capella reappears. In Octavia Gone, Alex and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, not only have their normal mystery to try to solve, but also have the added complication of working Gabe back into their lives and the routine which has grown up over the ten years since the Capella disappeared.

Octavia Gone is a typical Alex Benedict novel in many ways. There is an historical mystery that Alex and Chase get caught up in that revolves around some sort of artifacts that comes into their possession. In other ways, McDevitt is branching out to explore new areas, which is one of the intriguing parts of the book. It is also the part of the book that doesn’t entirely satisfy, almost as if McDevitt is not sure of the dynamic he wants to examine.

The historic artifact in this case is a trophy that belonged to one of the scientists working on the Octavia, a space station orbiting a black hole that disappeared several years before. Alex had possession of the trophy for a while, but several years earlier had returned it to the scientist’s sister, who has since disappeared. Unfortunately, Gabe has raised a question about the trophy, which has led Chase to try to track it down, either with Alex or Gabe. Their quest takes them around the planet and into space, including a world which holds the key to the mystery, but is also something they feel they can’t share.

More intriguingly is the conflict McDevitt has set up between Gabe and Alex. When Gabe disappeared on the Capella, Alex was only starting out in life, not the successful scrounger and seller of artifacts that he had become in Gabe’s absence. Gabe’s return has set up a conflict between the two which is reminiscent of the conflict in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Indiana Jones, taking the Gabe Benedict role, insists that the artifacts belong in a museum, while Alex is more mercenary in his opinion.

While there is a tension, it feels more forced that natural. Gabe and Alex’s love for each other always shines through and the reader feels as if the disagreement is a thin veneer over that love. McDevitt doesn’t take an easy way out of balancing their concerns, but it does feel as if the resolution is underplayed. With luck, the conflict will become more pronounced in a future memoir by Chase.

One of the intriguing parts of the novel is how up front Chase is about chronicling her adventures with Alex and Gabe. Just as Watson did for Holmes, the novels McDevitt is publishing are really the writings of Chase Kolpath. In the case of Octavia Gone, where Chase is sitting on a secret that she has vowed not to share, she also struggles in the book with the idea that she is recording a memoir that she’ll never be able to publish, offering a nicely meta feel to those parts of the novel.

McDevitt uses the situation he set up in Coming Home, in which Gabe returns after ten years of being believed dead, to begin to explore the tension of his relationship with Alex. While it doesn't quite gel in Octavia Gone, McDevitt does lay the groundwork for future exploration of the theme, as well as a potential tug-of-war between Alex and Gabe for Chase's loyalty, since she worked for Gabe before she worked for Alex. The familiar parts of McDevitt's work give the reader comfort and a good story, while the relatonship triangle offers the hope of a new area for McDevitt to continue to explore.

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