Review: Echo, by Jack McDevitt

I’m starting off this new spot in my blogging schedule with one of my favorite authors, Jack McDevitt. Specifically, one his more recent Alex Benedict novels, Echo.

Echo, by Jack McDevitt

Before I get into it, I want to say a few words about the reviews I’m going to be doing. First of all, I’m going to do my best to try to remain spoiler-free. After all, who wants a book suggestion that ruins as it recommends? Second, I’m not striving for great literary criticism. These are simply the books I’m reading, and I’m talking about whether I liked them. And lastly, I’m not the fastest reader in the world. My awesome wife, for example, reads upwards of 150 books each year. My count is somewhat less than that. Ok, a LOT less than that. We’ll see if that picks up as I try more books on the Kindle, but let’s just say I’m not making any promises that this one will be a weekly feature.

So, Echo is the fifth novel in McDevitt’s Alex Benedict series. Alex is an antiquities dealer in the 110th century, but in addition to buying and selling them, he also does a certain amount of investigative archaeology. In that respect, he’s a bit like Indiana Jones, except that he’s not all that concerned with saving these pieces for the museum. Starting from the second book, though, the novels have been told from the point of view of his partner and pilot, Chase Kolpath. I won’t say too much about the earlier books except to tell you to GO READ THEM IMMEDIATELY!

All of these tales (including Echo) are a kind of historical mystery. They’re not tracking down artifacts from our history, but rather from our distant future. They frequently start with some object or event that stands out as an enigma. Often it’s a relic of some kind, but there’s something odd about it. Maybe it’s a tea cup or a jacket, but there’s something about it that just can’t be explained. Before long, Alex and Chase are digging deep into events from 20 to 9000 years before, struggling to find the root of this little mystery, and like most mysteries, there’s usually someone who doesn’t want you to solve it.

In Echo, it starts with an old stone tablet at the house of a man who had spent his life unsuccessfully searching for aliens. He retired decades ago and died shortly thereafter. But what does the tablet’s inscription mean? Does anyone even recognize the letters or language? And what was this old kook doing with it?

I liked Echo, and I tore through it faster than usual. I confess there was a slow patch in the middle, but that was more because bad things were happening, and I just didn’t want to see the bad things happening. I think that was more indicative of how much the story was getting to me rather than any hint of poor writing. While the previous book had played out on a vast scale, this one was much more personally visceral. I saw it in the way it affected the characters’ lives as well as in how it affected my emotions. While I have always cared about how the story played out, I think this time more than anything I cared about what was happening to characters I had grown attached to.  (See my earlier column about all the fictional people in my monkeysphere.)

So, I highly recommend it, but do read all the previous ones first. It’s not that the books aren’t stand-alone tales. It’s just that you’ll appreciate the characters and the world that much more, seeing the background.  For the record, those books are: A Talent for War, Polaris, Seeker, The Devil’s Eye, and Echo.  Book six (Firebird) was just released.