Echo (Alex Benedict Series #5)

( 47 )

Overview

Eccentric Sunset Tuttle spent his life searching in vain for forms of alien life. Thirty years after his death, a stone tablet inscribed with cryptic, indecipherable symbols is found in the possession of Tuttle's onetime lover, and antiquities dealer Alex Benedict is anxious to discover what secret the tablet holds. It could be proof that Tuttle had found what he was looking for. To find out, Benedict and his assistant embark on their own voyage of discovery—one that will lead them directly into the path of a ...
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Overview

Eccentric Sunset Tuttle spent his life searching in vain for forms of alien life. Thirty years after his death, a stone tablet inscribed with cryptic, indecipherable symbols is found in the possession of Tuttle's onetime lover, and antiquities dealer Alex Benedict is anxious to discover what secret the tablet holds. It could be proof that Tuttle had found what he was looking for. To find out, Benedict and his assistant embark on their own voyage of discovery—one that will lead them directly into the path of a very determined assassin who doesn't want those secrets revealed.

Echo is the fifth book to feature intersteller antiquities dealer Alex Benedict. The first four titles in the series are available on audio from Audible.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fans of antiquities dealer Alex Benedict will find their expectations fully met by his fifth outing (after 2008's The Devil's Eye). Benedict innocently arranges the purchase of a curious but not obviously significant stone tablet with an unreadable inscription. When the slab proves inexplicably difficult to collect, Benedict and his partner, Chase Kolpath, investigate its connections to explorer Sunset Tuttle's abrupt abandonment of his quest to find another intelligent race. Death hounds Benedict and Chase as they inch closer to an old shame someone will kill to protect. McDevitt's characters may live 9,600 years in the future, but their values are entirely 21st century, which will endear them to some SF fans and turn off others. There are hints of the existential malaise that permeates McDevitt's Priscilla Hutchins novels, but despite the book's terrible events, the series retains its essential optimism about redemption and progress. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"Fans of antiquities dealer Alex Benedict will find their expectations fully met by his fifth outing." —-Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
Through eight millennia of star travel, humans have discovered only one other intelligent species. Twenty-five years after the death of intrepid explorer and alien enthusiast Sunset Tuttle, a tablet with strange, indecipherable markings comes to the attention of antiquarian Alexander Benedict. He seeks more information from its current possessor and Tuttle's former lover, Rachel Bannister, but is rebuffed. Benedict's attempts to discover more about the mysterious tablet and the elusive Bannister lead him on a journey that proves both enlightening and deadly. The latest Alex Benedict novel (A Talent for War; Polaris; Seeker; The Devil's Eye) maintains the author's high standard of storytelling excellence. Benedict is a thoroughly likable protagonist, and McDevitt imagines the far future with precision and believability. VERDICT The author's fans and lovers of sf mystery/adventure should enjoy this polished addition to a popular series.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781937007003
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/25/2011
  • Series: Alex Benedict Series , #5
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 620,158
  • Product dimensions: 4.28 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author


Jack McDevitt is the Nebula Award–winning author of The Devil's Eye, Seeker, Moonfall, and Cauldren, and he is also the author of numerous prize-winning short stories.

AudioFile Earphones Award winner Coleen Marlo has been nominated three times for an Audie Award, winning for Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga. She has also been awarded three Listen-Up Awards from Publishers Weekly, and Publishers Weekly named Coleen Audiobook Reader of the Year for 2010.

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Read an Excerpt

ONE

Antiquities are… remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time.
– Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning

1431, TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS LATER

"Chase, I may have found something of interest." Alex's voice, over the internal comm system, sounded dubious. Maybe he had something, maybe not. I was just getting ready to tackle the morning's work, which consisted primarily of calculating charges for our clients and getting out the monthly billing notices. It had been a good year, and if current trends continued, Rainbow Enterprises would experience breakout earnings.

Interest in antiquities tends to move in cycles, and we were currently riding a wave. People wanted not only ordinary stuff, lamps and furniture from the last few centuries, but they were getting in line for rare, and sometimes unique, items. We'd just moved a chair that had belonged to E. Wyatt Cooper for a quarter million. Cooper had departed the scene more than a century ago, after a writing career that had appeared undistinguished. But his reputation had grown since his death, and today his vitriolic essays had become a staple of the literature. One who took mockery to the highest levels could expect to be defined as "cooperesque."

Jacob, who'd started life as the house AI for Alex's uncle, Gabe, had noticed the chair when it was put up for sale by a young woman who had no idea of its value. We'd intervened, getting to her before anyone else did, informed her of its value, and managed the subsequent auction. And, if you're wondering, yes, we could have bought it ourselves at a price that would have constituted virtual robbery, but Alex never took advantage of anyone, except those blowhards and would-be cheats who deserved it. But that's another story. Suffice to say that Rainbow Enterprises did not want to be perceived as disreputable. Our income resulted from putting clients in touch with one another. And our clients tended to be generous when they made twenty or fifty times what they'd expected for a hand mirror or a bracelet. It was essential to the business that they trust us.

Jacob had a long history of locating valuable antiquities amid the junk offered daily at the Rees Market, BlowAway, Ferguson's, and other online sites.

"Take a look, Chase," Alex said. "You'll probably want to follow up on it."

"Okay."

"Let me know what you decide."

I asked Jacob to show me what he had. He produced two pictures of a pale white stone tablet, taken from different angles. The tablet was rounded at the top, not unlike some of the markers in the cemetery adjoining Alex's property. Three lines of symbols had been engraved across the front of the object. "Actual size," Jacob added.

It was a bit less than half as tall as I was, an arm's length in width, and a few millimeters thick. "What's the language?" I asked.

"I have no idea, Chase. It looks a little like the Late Korbanic period, but the characters don't really match."

"Angle it a bit."

The bottom wasn't smooth. Someone had used a laser to cut it loose from its base. "It appears to be a clumsy effort," Jacob said, "to reduce the size in order to make it fit somewhere."

"Or to remove it from the original site. Who's the owner?"

"Madeleine Greengrass. She's a tour guide at Silesia Park."

"What does she have to say about it?"

"Not much. She says it's been a lawn decoration at her house as long as she's been there. She's giving it away. Wants to get rid of it. Haul it off, and it's yours."

"See if you can get her for me."

I went back to the billings, but I'd barely started when a small, light-skinned woman appeared in the middle of the room. Her blond hair was cut short, and she looked tired. She wore a park ranger's uniform and was in the process of straightening her blouse while simultaneously drinking from a steaming cup. The scent of coffee came through. "What can I do for you, Ms. Kolpath?" she asked, putting the cup down.

"I'm interested in the tablet."

"I'm at Rindenwood," she said. "You know where that is?"

"I can find it."

"Good. Gold Range, number 12. It's on the front porch."

"Okay. We'll be over later today."

"It's all yours. But you'll need a couple of guys to haul it out of here."

"Ms. Greengrass," I said, "where did it come from?"

"It was here when I bought the house." She looked away. I got the impression she was checking the time. "Listen, I'm running late. Take the tablet if you want it, okay? I have to go."

———

Alex was seated in the conference room, studying the pictures, which had been blown up to make the symbols clear. Behind him, an overcast sky pressed down on the windows. It was the first day of autumn. Despite the threatening weather, a few sailboats were out on the Melony. "Wish we could read it," I said.

"If we could, Chase, it wouldn't be half as interesting. Jacob, get me Peer Wilson." Wilson was an expert on all things Korbanic.

Jacob said okay, he was already on it, and Alex wondered aloud how old the tablet was.

"We have a recording," Jacob said, and played it. It was audio only: "This is Dr. Peer Wilson. I am currently unavailable. Leave a message."

"Peer," Alex said, "this is Alex Benedict. Give me a call when you can, please."

"What do you think?" I asked. "Is it worth anything?"

"Hard to say, Chase." I knew what he was hoping: That it would turn out to be a remnant from some forgotten colony world, seven or eight thousand years old. Something from the very beginning of the Great Emigration. "Where's she been keeping it?"

"It's on her front deck now."

"I mean, where's it been the last few years? It looks as if it's been out in the weather."

"In the garden, I guess. She said it was a lawn decoration."

He sank into a chair. "Even if it is Late Korbanic, it's only going to have minimum value. Unless it turns out to be Christopher Carver's gravestone. Or something along those lines."

Carver, of course, was the Korbanic hero who'd gone missing three centuries ago while walking in a park. "It looks like a grave marker," I said.

"I was kidding."

"I know. But it does look like a marker."

"All right. Let's get the stone."

"Jacob," I said, "get Tim on the circuit."

The lifting would be done by a couple of guys from Rambler, Inc., which provided a variety of services for Rainbow. Its manager, Tim Wistert, was a quiet, reserved guy who looked more like a bureaucrat than a mover. "Two guys?" he said.

"It looks heavy."

"Okay. But we won't be able to get over there until late this afternoon."

"What time?"

"About four?"

"Okay. I'll meet them there."

———

Peer Wilson might have been the tallest man in Andiquar. He'd been around a long time, probably more than a century. His hair was beginning to lose its color. But it was stiff like prickly grass, and stood straight up, making him seem even bigger. He had a neatly trimmed mustache, and he made no effort to hide the fact that he disapproved of the way Alex made his living. Wilson, like many in the academic community, considered him a glorified grave robber.

Alex had signaled me when Wilson's image showed up, and the conversation had already begun when I walked into the boss's office in back.

"—not Late Korbanic," Wilson was saying. He was seated in his office, behind a nameplate, awards prominently posted along the wall behind him. Northern Linguistic Association Man of the Year. The Gilbert Prize for Contributions to Historical Research. The Brisbane Award for Lifetime Achievement.

"Peer," said Alex, "you remember my associate, Chase Kolpath. Chase, Professor Wilson."

"Yes. Of course." He smiled politely. "I believe we've met somewhere, haven't we?" Then he plowed on, not waiting for an answer, which would have been Yes, several times. "No, there is some slight resemblance to one of the Korbanic codas. But it's purely superficial."

"Professor, do you have any idea what language it might be?"

"May I ask where this object is at the moment?"

"At the home of a client."

"I see. Doesn't he know what it is?"

"The owner is a young woman. And no, she seems to have no idea."

"Yes. Well, I wouldn't get too excited about it, Alex. I assume you'd like me to research it for you?"

"If you would."

"Ordinarily, I'd expect a consultant's fee. But as it's you—" His lips parted in a contemptuous smile.

———

"Nitwit," Alex said, looking up. "Chase, I've been checking on the previous owners of Gold Range number twelve."

"And—?"

"At one time it belonged to Somerset Tuttle."

"Tuttle? The guy they called Sunset? Who was always out looking for aliens?"

"That's the one."

"He's been dead a long time, hasn't he?"

"Twenty-five years. Give or take."

"You think the tablet was his?"

"Maybe."

"If it was his," I said, "the language probably doesn't make any difference."

"Why is that?"

"If he'd found it in an archeological site somewhere, and it had any value, he'd certainly have known about it. I doubt it would have ended its days as a lawn ornament."

"That would certainly seem to be a logical conclusion. Still, it seems like an odd thing to keep around the house. Let's look into it."

"Okay, Alex, if you say so."

He smiled at my skepticism. "Stranger things have happened, young lady."

"How did he die, Alex?"

We were still in his office in the back of the country house. A light symphony was playing on the sound system, and he was splayed out on the lush sofa he'd inherited from his uncle. "Sunset Tuttle enjoyed sailing. He used to go out on the Melony. One day he sailed into a storm. The wind caught one of the booms, swung it around, and clipped him in the head with it. He was alone, but there were witnesses in another boat. They got to him as quickly as they could, but—" Alex shrugged. "He had a reputation for being preoccupied. Not paying attention to what he was doing. He was 139 years old at the time. I wonder if it's possible—"

"If what's possible, Alex?"

"That the tablet is from an alien site."

I laughed. "Come on, Alex. There aren't any aliens."

"How about the Mutes?"

"The Mutes don't count."

"Oh? Why's that?"

I gave up. Alex likes to think he keeps an open mind, but I was thinking how sometimes it's too open. "So what are you saying?" I asked.

"Well, I don't know. It makes no sense. He spent his life looking for aliens. If he found them, Chase, either living or otherwise, any evidence at all that they existed, he'd have put it all over the media."

Alex keeps a couple of tabitha plants near the window. He got up, inspected them, and got some water for them. "His colleagues laughed at him. Lectured him for wasting his life. If he'd found the slightest evidence, he would not have held it back, believe me." He finished with the plants and sat down again. "Maybe it's time we talked with the great man himself."

"Jacob," I said, "does Tuttle have an avatar?"

Jacob needed a moment. "No, Chase. He was apparently a very private person."

"I guess that's a result of all the ridicule," I said.

"How about his wife? Did she have an avatar?"

"Which one?"

"How many were there?"

"Three. India, Cassa, and Mary."

"Can we reach any of them?"

"They've all passed away. The last of them, India, died just last year."

"So which ones had an avatar?"

"India does."

"Okay. Which years were they together? He and India?"

"From 1380 until 1396."

"Did they have any kids?"

"He had one child. Basil. And before you ask, he seems to be still alive."

"Good. Can you connect me with him?"

"Unfortunately, Alex, I have no link. Or address. His last known residence was in Foxpoint."

"On the other side of the continent?"

"No. Not that Foxpoint. This one's out in the desert in the southeast. But he moved several years ago."

"Okay. See if you can track him down." He smiled at me. "Somebody has to know something," he said. Then back to Jacob: "Get us through to India."

Moments later India Beshoar blinked on. She had lush brown hair, a good smile, a great body, and deep green eyes. Of course, everybody looks good in avatar form. You ought to see mine. "Hello," she said. "Can I be of assistance?"

Alex introduced us. Then: "India, you were married to Sunset Tuttle."

"Yes. That is correct." Her expression did not change. No happy memory there.

"Were you together in the house at Rindenwood?"

"We were. Why do you ask?"

"What was he like?"

"Sunset? Basically, he was a decent man."

"But—?"

"He lacked some social skills."

"May I ask, in what way?"

"This is difficult for me, Mr. Benedict."

"I'm sure it is. India, Chase and I are trying to do some historical research, and that sometimes requires us to ask personal questions we'd rather leave alone. But it really doesn't matter now, does it? Since you've both passed on."

"I guess not." Those green eyes looked my way for sympathy. "He didn't take his vows too seriously." I nodded. You can't trust guys, I was telling her. We all know that. "The best way to describe our marriage was that I always felt alone."

"I'm sorry to hear it."

"I'm sorry to say it. But it was my own fault. I knew what he was before I married him. I thought I could change him." She shook her head. "I was old enough to know better."

"What did he care about?" I asked. "Other than the hunt for aliens, what was important to him?"

"Aliens were all that mattered."

Alex showed her an image of the tablet. "India, do you know anything about this?"

"No," she said.

"Could it have been in the house, or in the garden, when you were there, without your knowing about it?"

"How big is it?" Alex expanded it to actual size. "No," she said. "I would certainly have known. Why? Is it valuable?"

"That's what we're trying to determine," he said.

She shrugged. "Wish I could help."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 47 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 47 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 26, 2010

    Superb, engrossing science fiction adventure

    I believe good sci-fi and fantasy at its best engrosses the audience and pulls them into a place that truly feels alien or different.

    Jack McDevitt has mastered this art. His books just breathe sci fi atmosphere and his world building is superb. In particular his Alexander Benedict novels combine some good ole fashioned mystery/antiquities hunting and puts it in a world so far in the future that it hardly remains recognizable as our own.

    Echo continues this fine tradition, once again narrated from the the perspective of Alex's independent and strong female pilot/assistant, Chase Kolpath. Once again embroiled into a mystery they can't let go, they chase the equivalent of an eBay lead to the ends of the galaxy.

    Echo doesn't quite hit the plot highs of some of his other work (I really loved Seeker), but it was still a novel that I could not put down until the very end.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The fifth Alex Benedict futuristic science fiction novel is a superb action thriller

    In eight millennium of space travel, humans met one sentient alien race by 1403 Rimway Calendar. Over the centuries since Melony Brown accidentally met the Ashiyyur when she was measuring solar temperatures her discovery led to many people like Somerset "Sunset" Tuttle, the posterboy for scientific quests, seeking other races, but none have been found since.

    However, in 1431, Rainbow Enterprises' Alex Benedict learns of a tablet with mysterious rune like writings on it, possessed by the late Tuttle's lover Rachel Bannister. Alex and his assistant Chase Kolpath visit Rachel to ask if they can study the tablet and translate the writings. To their shock, Rachel says no. Both Alex and Chase wonder why she would refuse to reveal what appears to be a genuine artifact from an alien species that survived time and space; this relic would change Tuttle's place in history from an object of mockery to a successful scientist. The pair also wonders if Tuttle found the historical object as most likely happened; why did he, also like Rachel, choose silence rather than affirm his life's work.

    The fifth Alex Benedict futuristic science fiction novel (see The Devil's Eye and Seeker) is a superb action thriller. The message of how we twenty first century sophisticates interpret ancient scraps to fit our perceptions is made early on with a quote from Frances Bacon: "Antiquities are . remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time". Fast-paced and filled with action, Jack McDevitt fans will appreciate his latest Benedict tale as once again the author combines outer space futuristic action adventures with a thought provoking look at how we "customize" historical objects to Echo our belief system.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Subtle, surprising, and good

    Being a McDevitt fan, I was not surprised that this book was well-written or that the story followed the the formula that he has established so well in previous novels. However, there are several surprises that show up with the characters that I had come to know and I enjoyed being surprised. The subtle writing techniques used make this book worth re-visiting. The almost casual way McDevitt slips in the surprise in the end made me re-read the entire chapter immediately.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2013

    Snowstar to pickapower

    Yes u pas! I hoped u would because we really nead a medicibe cat!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    McDevitt continues to put out good "Space Opera" yarns

    McDevitt continues to put out good "Space Opera" yarns - his "Alex Benedict" series, his "Engines of God" series - all similar in theme and style, and all equally hard to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Best one so far!

    Very interesting story that holds your interest and is very hard to put down! Great book!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2011

    Great

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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