Summary: Antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his assistant Chase Kolpath are based on the planet of Rimway some 10,000 years in the future, when humanity has spread across many worlds. All that time and space make for a lot of history; Benedict has become renowned for his ability to ferret out essential facts that have been lost. In this series entry, Benedict and Kolpath dig into a mystery surrounding anthropologist Sunset Tuttle. Tuttle, now dead, spent the entirety of his life looking for alien races; other than the menacing Ashiyyur, humanity remains alone in the cosmos. Tuttle died a disgrace, but a mysterious and untraceable stone tablet that was once part of his collection suggests there may have been more to his story. Did he find what he was looking for? Before Alex can acquire the tablet, it is whisked away by one of Tuttle’s former acquaintances. Soon it becomes apparent that someone is intent on stopping the investigation at all costs.
Review: McDevitt’s characters are, for the most part, easily recognizable mystery tropes, with Kolpath playing Watson to Benedict’s Holmes. In classic Conan Doyle style, Kolpath narrates. Chase makes for a pleasant narrator, but her internal dialogue often betrays the gender of the writer. McDevitt has, too his credit, consistently improved on this point throughout this series, and, hey, it’s 10,000 years from now — who are we to say what will be considered the norm for men or women? And the setting is, of course, the main draw. McDevitt ably evokes the scale and wonder of the setting and it’s past (our future) while keeping it grounded in a world that feels comfortably recognizable. He does it well enough to make all 5 Benedict and Kolpath series entries (of which this is the fifth) compulsively readable. The series third entry, Seeker, was justly awarded the Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction novel in 2005.
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