Book Review: "The Adventures of Deacon Coombs: The Case of the Vanishing Vesper" by Ambit
My goodness what a long title this time around! As ever, here is your spoiler warning before the review ultimately begins. I will be going into some detail while attempting to remain as spoiler free as possible. I never make promises on my level of consistency when it comes to this.
It is 3533, and Earth has bonded with her allies, found peace in new friends, and realized the benefits of space trade and space travel in the form of Vespering, a technique perfected long before man evolved on Earth. Even as goodness seems to reign, however, a powerful malice nurturing a limitless hatred for mankind prepares to carry out his evil mission of conquering all life forms. As the diabolic being puts his plan into action and unleashes his terror on the galaxy, the Tetrad Alliance commissions Earthling detective Deacon Coombs to investigate the alien's origin and its true, murderous ambitions.
Coombs travels to faraway star systems, forges unlikely companionships, and uncovers an age-old mystery. In doing so, he embarks on a dangerous journey into space and mind where only evil has ventured before. With the help of his two androids, Gem and Jim, Coombs answers his own doubts about how to defeat the creature in four startling confrontations. In this science fiction adventure, a detective discovers the true meaning of friendships and sacrifice, tragedies and triumph, and bonds and betrayal-as the future of mankind awaits its destiny.
For those of you who are familiar with this blog, you would be familiar with the fact that I am not a savvy sci-fi reader, so this listing may have come as somewhat of a surprise. It had been to me too, but as you know, I'm always willing to try what my friends recommend.
Welder's book is as sci-fi as they come, with the added structure of a detective mystery within its tapestry of a colorful, futuristic future. Initially, that was both a good and bad thing, I realized, as I flipped through its first few pages. Detective stories are always exciting and usually finding their way to my book shelf (take a gander at the collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's and Agatha Christie's). My reluctance, as you may expect, came with the science fiction that made its way through the every sentence as I ventured onwards.
I should interject all of the description and aliens were a joy to read, even though it took me a few flip backs to keep everything straight in my head. I'll also interject that this issue I ran into has more to do with my difficulty reading sci-fi and less to do with Welder. I have a criticism to follow up with in terms of his style of narrative, but we'll circle back to that.
Impressive sci-fi terminology aside, the ride was an exciting one with imaginative planets, side characters and the perfect lead character to tie it all together.
I found the main character of this story to be an enormous relief for several reasons. I should start off by saying I harbor no hatred for Dr. Who, nor characters that either literally or loosely echo Sherlock Holmes' character because what I'm about to say may suggest the very opposite. I was relieved Deacon Coombs was no Sherlock/Dr.Who or any other variant. As much as we root for these ingenious, quirky master minds, they've become an excessively overused trope that does result in the story's originality being tested.
Thankfully, we don't have that here. On the contrary, Deacon Coombs is starkly different from these tropes all together. Coombs is an everyman, someone who is slightly overweight, still jumps at the unexpected despite his impressive resume and isn't afraid to admit when he doesn't know something. He's a man driven by realism to the extent that is very relatable.
Perhaps I accepted this with such relief because I already had a sci-fi world to wrap my head around (again, this is a personal struggle). The mystery itself has plenty of drama and a great supporting cast who each have a stake in the mystery itself. Intrigue and excitement keep teh story fresh while Coombs keeps us grounded. Overall this book is a forgiving read for one like me who struggles with this particular genre. That all being said, I suppose I should go ahead and take the opportunity to cover what criticism I do have for Welder's story.
I mentioned earlier that I had some criticism towards Welder's choice of narrative, so let's focus on that...because truth be told it is the only criticism I have for Welder's book (hats off to you Welder).
Each chapter begins and ends with subchapters that initially had me wondering if I was in for a book with chapters that were only half a page long and starting on the very next line. Thank goodness that was not the case. Once I understood that there would be chapters, and then subchapters, I pressed on and met Coombs who had been enlisted to solve this extraordinary case. As I trudged along, I began to delve into Coombs's mind...just before I was tossed into the point of view of another character. I was about three pages past the point of where the point of view change occurred before I realized Coombs' narrative voice had not simply changed.
Let me be clear, there's nothing wrong with changing perspectives from chapter to chapter. When used correctly, it can be a powerful device in one's writing to up the sheer scale of a world and how much impact it is having on the plot and characters. However, when instances of clarity become obscure when the shift occurs, the reader can get lost--which is precisely what happened with me on more than one occurrence.
This is not to say that characters lacked clear definition from one another, because it would be a lie to say so, but the confusion for me stemmed from how rushed the shifts made me feel when transitioning from scene to scene.
I think the greatest praise I can give this book is that if my only problem with it was a few clumsy transitions and not the impressive sci-fi heavy backdrop, then I'd say Welder's book was definitely a mystery worth solving.