by Jack McDevitt
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Jack McDevitt has been switching between novels in his Priscilla Hutchins series and his Alex Benedict series. Following 2013's publication of StarHawk in the Hutchins series, he now returns to Alex Benedict with Coming Home, a novel with a title that has multiple meanings within the context of the book. The primary mystery describe by narrator Chase Kolpath, is based on a device discovered in the estate of Garnett Baylee, an amateur archaeologist with a passion for artifacts of the early space era.
The quest begins when Marissa Earl, Baylee's grand daughter shows them a Corbett Transmitter, an ancient device discovered in her late grandfather's closet. Her main interest is to learn what the item is worth before the family decides how to dispose of the artifact. Benedict and Kolpath express interest and suggest Marissa hold onto the object until they are able to research it, and try to determine where Baylee managed to find such a rare antiquity, which might indicate that he found a massive trove of early space age artifacts which he hadn't had a chance to announce prior to his death, which seemed out of character.
At the same time, a missing spaceship, the Capella is about to reappear. Lost several years earlier through a space/time warp, the passenger liner, with more than two thousand passengers aboard, is expected to drop back into normal space for a short period of time, potentially allowing the rescue of a handful of its passengers, for whom only hours have passed. To make the rescue even more personal, one of the individuals on board the ship is Kolpath's former boss and Benedict's uncle, Gabe Benedict. When not trying to track down the origins of Baylee's transmitter, Kolpath is helping the rescue team run simulations and experimenting with ways to rescue the passengers.
The antiquities quest takes Kolpath and Benedict back to Earth, "Coming Home" to the original planet of mankind. As the two travel across a very differently structured political and geographical landscape, McDevitt has the opportunity to explore our near future much more than he previously has in the Alex Benedict novels. In the process, for any who still have illusions that McDevitt's two series are set in the same universe, he gives conclusive evidence they are not. Their explorations take them from Caribbean waters over a sunken Florida to Greece to Hawaii. En route, they find themselves up against mysterious forces who seem to want them to fail, or even die.
On one of their breaks from researching Baylee's discoveries, Kolpath works on the rescue mission, with the hope that the Capella and its passengers will be "Coming Home," if not on this appearance, than on their next appears, five years in the future for Benedict and Kolpath, but only hours for those onboard the ship who may not even realize anything has gone wrong. The two adventures offer an interesting juxtaposition as Benedict and Kolpath try to play the Capella situation safe, given how many lives are at stake, but are very willing to take risks in their Baylee investigation, where their lives and inanimate objects are the only things on the line.
Mixed in with the mystery which forms the crux of so many of the Benedict novels, McDevitt includes a more human aspect with Kolpath beginning a relationship with Khaled Eisa, the ship captain who took Benedict and Kolpath out to dive at the site of the Florida space museum. Benedict's relationship with Gabe also comes to the forefront as he comes to terms with the possibility of facing his uncle and mentor with eleven years of experience in the antiquities business behind him.
McDevitt offers a solid resolution to both story lines for the reader even if his characters may not feel that the resolution offers everything they would have wanted. Nevertheless, while Baylee's story comes to a conclusion, the story of the Capella, along with Kolpath and the Benedicts, leave McDevitt with numerous hooks for future novels and perhaps indicates that going forward he will focus more on Kolpath and Benedict's personal relationship than he has in the past.
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