_The Cause of Death_ is a pretty good 210-page novel.
Unfortunately, the book is 470 pages long.
Fortunately, the good part is the last half--not the first. The book ends up being an enjoyable read in spite of its serious editing problems.
The setup, in Chapter 1, is good. We're introduced to the fleeing George, given a hint at the bind he's in, and thrown into a good action scene. It ends on a nice little cliffhanger.
But then ...
We get a chapter or two of BSI internal politics, organization, and budget, which is totally irrelevant to the story, and delivered by a character who never shows up again.
We get a chapter that's mostly about the mechanics of starflight, which is totally irrelevant to the story.
There's a chapter about a message sent to our heroes, which is of no use to them and is totally irrelevant to the story.
We get a big lump of exposition about the Pax Humana organization. This *is* relevant, but we don't need to know this much this quickly. It would have been better to release this information in the course of the narrative.
There are a couple chapters in which secondary characters talk vaguely about their plots.
There's a crashing-spaceship scene. It's not bad in and of itself, but it doesn't develop into anything. There are no consequences, nor does it provide any real exposition.
Then our heroes hole up in a hotel for a chapter in which nothing happens. The nothing is described at some length.
And then ... on page 260... our heroes meet the aliens ...
And the story takes off! We find out why George is in trouble, and it's a doozy. We find out some cool stuff about alien culture and biology. We get a sketchy but interesting third character, an alien operative with his own agenda. We get a nifty intellectual puzzle.
There's a lot of talking in this section, but that's inevitable in this kind of tale. Allen keeps the conversation moving nicely. The clues are fairly planted. The ending is sufficiently foreshadowed, but a lovely twist for all that.
I don't know why Allen chose to pad out the book with non-story elements. Perhaps his manuscript came in way under its contracted length; this is evidently meant to be the first of a series. He would have been better served by fleshing out his main story, though. Add in a red herring or two, another crime, maybe an action scene involving the protagonists ...
Part of the trouble is the setup. The message that summons the BSI is garbled, and the detectives start out not knowing exactly what their mission is. I suppose this is an attempt to create tension in the first half of the book.
But this gimmick doesn't really have any effect on the plot. It could easily have been omitted. To make it work, we'd have to see the mission strictly through the agents' eyes--sharing their confusion--and they'd have to actually work at finding out what's going on. The reader would then share in the excitement.
Instead, we get the aliens' viewpoint. They know what's going on, but never mention it. They spend a couple of chapters talking their way rather stiltedly around the issue. This is the worst of both worlds! We readers get neither the thrill of discovery nor the tension of knowing something the main characters don't.
Allen has produced some excellent work in the past (_Farside Cannon_, _The Ring of Charon_). _The Cause of Death_ is not up to that level. But once the story finally starts up, it's quite a good read, particularly for readers who deman intellectual stimulation in addition to mere action. I have hopes that subsequent installments in the series will show more editorial discipline.