Coming Home (Alex Benedict series book 7) by Jack McDevitt (book review).

From the start I should probably make it clear that Jack McDevitt’s ‘Alex Benedict’ books are one of my favourite series, so I could tell you how great ‘Coming Home’ is without even reading it. Having said that, I shall attempt to write something sensible about the book rather than just enthusing about it. This is the seventh book in the series and, although they can all be read individually, there is obviously some ongoing character development and back story that add to the novel in question. Alex Benedict is an antiques dealer and archaeologist who lives 8000 years from now so that the ancient past he is digging into is still the future for us. His assistant and pilot, Chase Kolpath, narrates the book in the style of a memoir, achieving a fine balance between informality and literariness.


Although, as I said, it isn’t necessary to have read the previous books, part of the plot of ‘Coming Home’ directly follows on from events in the previous volume, ‘Firebird’. In that book it is discovered that many interstellar ships that have disappeared over the centuries have in fact been caught in space/time rifts and could still be rescued. The effort to save the cruise ship Capella and, with it, Alex’s Uncle Gabe from one such rift, make up one strand of ‘Coming Home’. This adds a background tension to the novel’s other investigation as scientists, media and assorted interest groups have their say on how the rescue should be accomplished, while Alex and Chase’s personal stake keeps them preoccupied for much of the time.

The other half of the plot involves the search for artefacts from the Golden Age of spaceflight, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, artefacts that in Alex Benedict’s time have been lost for thousands of years. It’s in this section that some of the plot elements are somewhat repetitive from book to book, but I guess there’s only so many ways of going about investigating an ages-old mystery. Interviewing historians and other relevant people, researching in libraries, getting warned off by an attack from a mystery party, taking long interstellar-flights are all drawn out at a sedate pace over a lengthy time frame. Jack McDevitt puts it all together so nicely that even when the characters are complaining of the tediousness of their investigation, the reader never becomes bored.

There isn’t a dramatic amount of action and adventure in the ‘Alex Benedict’ books and, while there are interstellar flights and the occasional alien species, there isn’t the sensawunda feel of a space opera. A lot of this is to do with the fact that Chase Kolpath is writing for her contemporaries, for whom the society she describes is routine. Jack McDevitt has chosen to go down the path of maintaining the human race and their society in a recognisable format. There’s no high-concept virtual reality, transhumanism or macroengineering. All of the technological advancements leave his society recognisable, where people still go out for a meal, follow their favourite sports team, take vacations on the beach and wander round museums. It’s the historical perspective offered by the lead characters, referring to thousands of years of history that predate their society, that give it the depth and the realisation that this is the far future; recognisable and comfortable, yes, but far in the future nonetheless.

Intelligent and entertaining, ‘Coming Home’ is another welcome addition to the ‘Alex Benedict’ series.

Gareth Jones

June 2015

(pub: Headline, 2014. 358 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4722-0757-9)

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