The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt
Recently, I had the misfortune to be bored and, without a reasonable alternative, watched a genuinely awful two-part mini series staring Robert Carlyle, Tom Courtenay, David Suchet and other well-known British TV names who should all have known better than participate in this turkey. Called Flood, it dealt with a tidal surge that overwhelmed the Thames Barrier and inundated London and the surrounding countryside. Not only did it contain every major cliché from disaster movies we have known and loved, but it did so on a TV movie budget. The results were breathtakingly plastic without the redeeming Doctor Who standing in front of the sets to hold them up. As with every such ghastly epic, it also failed to deal with the aftermath. It’s supposedly exciting to see people at risk of being drowned. It’s less glamourous to show people mopping up after the water has receded. In this case, the interest would have been as much political as physical since a fictional expert had predicted the event before the Barrier was built. As ex-President George Bush is only too aware, playing the blame game after a major disaster like Katrina is always a fascinating experience.
Thus, it is something of a relief to come to The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt. It shows an author prepared to follow through on the set-up. Unlike mystery writers who tend to stop with the big reveal of whodunit and not worry about whether the evidence would stand up in court to get a conviction, McDevitt divides the book into roughly two-thirds of mystery and one third of dealing with the consequences of solving the puzzle. He is to be commended for not shying away from the political fall-out when disaster strikes. Does the book avoid clichés? For the most part, yes. I cannot remember another SF novel with the core problem in this form. The presentation is elegantly simple and we are carefully walked through the investigation as in a police procedural so we can see all the clues fairly laid out. Following the big reveal, there are one or two standard situations in the final third but, on the whole, the book is pleasingly original and well constructed. McDevitt’s uncluttered prose keeps the pace of the plot going nicely. There is also a blend of genre elements with an amusingly knowing set of borrowings from the horror/supernatural field adding to the enjoyment. I found myself reading it through to the end in one sitting which is relatively unusual for me these days. Two minor comments: authors always play games with the titles to their books and, in this case, the game is completely fair in retrospect. Secondly, the book is properly considered a part of the Alex Benedict group of novels although this particular episode predominantly features his assistant Chase Kolpath. All in all, this is an enjoyable read and, for those who like a hard science problem in a reasonably well-thought-out political thriller context, this book is for you.
Jacket artwork by John Harris.