Jack McDevitt returns with an all new novel featuring Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath, the heroes of McDevitt’s 2006 Nebula Award Winning novel, Seeker. Though I’ve read a good portion of McDevitt’s output, The Devil’s Eye is the first book I’ve read by him in quite a while (having enjoyed most of his other novels, particularly Moonfall) and the first I’m reading to feature Benedict and Kolpath. Like the earlier Alex Benedict novels, The Devil’s Eye is a science fiction/mystery hybrid. The Alex Benedict novels are set approximately 10,000 years in our future, with humanity having spread across the galaxy encountering intelligent alien species. This other species, Ashyyur, is feared by humanity at large both for the tall appearance, lack of true speaking voice, and ability to read minds. Benedict is a dealer in archaeological antiquities, which serves to connect with the reader in that Benedict shows a predilection for 20th Century antiquities. The far-future setting also is quite recognizable as human, except on a galactic scale.
The action starts when Vicki Greene, a popular horror writer of the era pleads for Benedict to help her, leaving only a cryptic message as his primary clue: “God help me, they are all dead.” Alex is intrigued, though he is relatively unfamiliar with Greene’s work, his partner Chase is and they take the job. With very few clues by which to guide them, Alex and Chase embark on a mystery that spans the galaxy and whose roots have dire ramifications for a planet with both humans and Ashyyur.
McDevitt unravels, or rather the fact that he deftly weaves a number of plot elements together keeps his skilled hand hidden, multiple plot strands throughout the novel rather seamlessly. As such, The Devil’s Eye works on many levels – mystery, conspiracy story, galactic travelogue, alien/human relations, adventure novel, horror novel, character study. Dramatic tension and sense of wonder played off each other quite well. In fact, each element serves the other in the novel very effectively, much like familiar people/characters effectively play off of each other’s personalities.
The aspect of the novel that surprised me the most; however, was that Chase was effectively the protagonist in the novel. Minimially, it was her first-person voice who told us the story which rather effectively relegated Benedict to supporting player. I found this odd mainly because these books fall under the Alex Benedict Mysteries banner. This isn’t to say that having Chase as the protagonist/narrator was bad in any way, he character came across as fully realized as did Benedicts and all of the other supporting characters in the novel.
Throughout the novel, McDevitt provides quite a few Easter Eggs for the keen-eyed reader. Many places and objects take their name from famous Science Fiction writers of the 20th Century. This can be seen as lip service to fandom in many cases, but here McDevitt pulled it off quite effectively.
Given the nature of this novel as a mystery, it is difficult to relay much of the plot without giving away any potential spoilers or clues. Suffice it to say that McDevitt has crafted an engaging mystery, in far-future both recognizable and imaginative, that I found wholly entertaining. Jumping into a novel mid-series/four books in can be a frustrating thing for the uninitiated. I was a bit worried going into The Devil’s Eye that I might be missing something not having read the earlier Alex Benedict novels. I probably would have gotten a bit more out of the book had I read other Benedict novels, but on the whole, McDevitt’s prose and story made me feel quite welcome in this far future world of his. In fact, The Devil’s Eye was one of the more fun Science Fiction novels I read this year and I can’t help but give this one a high recommendation.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford