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- Published on Amazon.com
Timothy Zahn has created a rather different universe to play in, one of the more memorable of his career. This is the concluding book in the series - if you haven't read the previous books, this is not the place to start.
It's science fiction - but it's also a mix of mystery/spy tropes with some romance and adventure as well. Zahn has come up with a future where humanity is just a minor player among a number of species who engage in commerce across a galaxy linked by the Quadrail - trains that operate through a kind of hyperspace between star systems, run by a mysterious race called the spiders. The stars are now only hours, days, or weeks apart. Think of classic movies involving trains, exotic destinations, colorful characters, damsels in distress, spies, people with hidden agendas, deadly mysteries - and then drop in all kinds of aliens, high tech gadgets, and more than a dash of film noir atmosphere.
The first novel in the series, Night Train to Rigel, sets the tone. Frank Compton, a former intelligence agent at loose ends because his investigations unraveled some schemes by the rich and powerful, finds himself offered a job by the Spiders to track down some disturbing threats against the Quadrail system. They assign him a partner, a human female named Bayta who doesn't seem to quite have all the normal nuances of being human down quite right, and secrets of her own. Not to mention the story starts with a man dying at Compton's feet while trying to pass on a message...
Through the five books of the series, there's an ever growing trail of bodies, charges and counter charges of murder, discovery of lie upon lie, secret upon secret, and slow revelation of a danger to not just the Quadrail but all the races who ride it. Compton's original job tracking a vague threat has become an epic struggle. Meanwhile, his relationship with Bayta takes some twists and turns as he fills in gaps in her knowledge about intelligence work, dealing with deadly threats, the finer points of alien cuisine, and the lessons to be learned from such human classics as Casablanca, the 39 Steps, the Lady Vanishes.... And if that's not enough, Compton's employers seem to find his success as much of a threat as the dangers he's struggling against.
Judgement at Proteus takes Compton and Bayta right to the heart of the conspiracy they've been uncovering. Genetic engineering, mind control, deadly gadgets, deadlier foes - Compton finds himself transformed almost against his will from a lone agent into the axis upon which all efforts to counter the enemy's moves turn. Further, the man who started out an embittered loner is now finding himself drawn ever more strongly to his partner. Reversal upon reversal, revelation upon revelation, crisis after crisis - Zahn keeps ratcheting up the tension as Compton is forced to use all of his resourcefulness to survive while also keeping his eyes and ears open to pick up the clues around him as he develops a plan to stop the enemy he and Bayta have uncovered before that enemy can achieve a final victory that will throw the galaxy into slavery.
Zahn has developed a talent for creating worlds with specific elements, then using those elements to build the story. Details count; clues are everywhere, and Zahn's characters succeed or fail on their ability to note the puzzle pieces around them and assemble them into the larger picture. The Quadrail series takes that to new heights. Compton can comment on something in such a way that you don't realize the larger implications until he shows you how it all fits together later on in the story. If you enjoy murder mysteries and puzzles in general, you'll find plenty of that here, along with some good science fiction.
The five books of the series: Night Train to Rigel, The Third Lynx, Odd Girl Out, The Domino Pattern, and Judgement at Proteus could make an awesome miniseries. Think Masterpiece Theater crossed with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, add in a dash of Bogart, a dollop of Murder on the Orient Express, a slice of Indiana Jones with the promenade from Deep Space Nine, and you begin to get an idea of the epic tale Zahn concludes in this book.