Seeker (Alex Benedict #3)
by Jack McDevitt
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted December 10, 2019
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Jack McDevitt is yet another I haven't read as much as I should have. I've accumulated quite a few of his books over the years, but if memory serves had previously read only two of his earliest, Ancient Shores and A Talent for War. The latter was the first to feature his character Alex Benedict, history buff, adventurer, explorer, and antiquities dealer. That came out in 1989, but Alex did not appear again until fifteen years later in Polaris, one year before Seeker, which won the Nebula for 2006. Since I remember very little about Talent, my comments for now will be limited to Seeker, but I titled this page "Alex Benedict" because I do intend to go back and read the first two books, although I have no idea when that will happen. I only have the first three at this time, but the series is up to eight books so far. Based on the third book I'm thinking it would have made as much sense to name the series after Chase Kolpath, an assistant to Alex. She is the first-person narrator here, as she was for Polaris, although I think Alex narrated Talent. Chase also conducts the majority of the investigation into finding the starship Seeker, although most of her moves are based on leads from Alex.
It's essentially a mystery with SF trappings. Alex Benedict researches history to determine the likely whereabouts of valuable artifacts, sometimes on commission from wealthy collectors, other times on speculation, with thoughts of putting items up for bid. In a sense he's like a private investigator, and much of the story plays out in a similar fashion, including a woman coming to his office to request an appraisal on an item she had received (or perhaps had stolen) from her ex-boyfriend. As the investigation progresses more questions are raised and more people become involved, as the provenance of the item points to a thousands year old mystery. And mysterious 'accidents' begin occurring, one of which leads to deaths, with both Alex and Chase suspecting they were the intended victims. Even if the cup was actually from the Seeker, a ship from a long-lost Earth expedition, and not just a souvenir produced on Earth to commemorate the voyage, what would be so important about it to invite such violence?
I enjoyed the methodical plotting as Chase went about her investigations, and Alex impressed with his ability to extrapolate from insufficient data. However, I think it would have worked better to have been written in third person. Chase's account includes several of the requisite red herrings, hints or speculations that don't matter much for the resolution, and little about Alex's intuitive leaps. Add to that a man writing from the perspective of a woman, which resulted in several opinions that struck me as misogynistic. Also, Chase comes into contact with the one alien race that man had encountered, and she continues using the nickname for them that is a slur, even after many others criticize her for doing so. That reduced my opinion of her integrity quite a bit. The concluding chapters were too much of an info-dump, opening up an interesting story that I'm not sure ever got a resolution. A blurb about the fourth book indicates it's about something entirely different. I would have liked more on whether the AIs and created avatars were actually sentient, as Chase believed them to be. Another intriguing aspect was the question of whether or not what Alex does is ethical and moral. Should important artifacts be available to the highest bidder, or should they be reserved for historians and museums? If not for Alex, and some of his competitors, many of those items might have been forever lost, but does that make his actions defensible? That's an interesting question that neither Alex or Chase adequately answer. In spite of my few criticisms, I rated it 4 stars. It was an entertaining read and I look forward to their other adventures.
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