The Coruscant Nights series is an attempt by Lucasbooks to cross noir murder mystery with the Galaxy Far Far Away. The cover, the title, the blurb on the back of the book, all connote the feel of a Dick Tracy novel. I think it is marginally successful.
Jax Pavan is a Jedi, though not a very good one, surviving in the underbelly of Coruscant after the Great Purge (the destruction of the Jedi). In order to make ends meet he sets himself up as a Private Investigator. He turns out to be a terrible PI, not because he can’t follow clues but because he can’t bring himself to ask his clients for money. Helping him in his investigations are Laranth, a blue skinned Twi’lek female (who left the Jedi order to join the Grey Paladins – a militant group of force users who eschew the Jedi dependence on lightsabers), the Sullustan reporter Den Dhur, and the sentient protocol droid I-5YQ.
Jax is trying to lie low, when he is hired by a Zeltron woman to investigate the murder of her partner, the famous Caamasi artist Volette.
This story hits all the noir mystery points, the beautiful woman coming to hire the PI, the frumpy but cunning law enforcement who doesn’t like the PI but respects his anyways. There is even the usual array of suspicious acquaintances and friends of Volette. The book plays out much like a mystery – with a twist. Darth Vader knows that Jax is still alive and feels intent on killing him. Vader, however, is busy with the Caamas disaster and several other nefarious works. So he hires Aurra Sing, the famed Jedi hunter to find Jax and bring him in.
All these elements together make for a compelling idea, one that I expected to be quite exciting going in. Michael Reaves is a competent writer – Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter (featuring Jax’s father and I-5YQ) is an excellent book – and I expected a fun twist on the usual uprising of an unknown dark Jedi/Sith Lord.
Mostly my expectations were met. Jax forgets to feel things in the Force. This causes him some trouble in solving the mystery of who killed Volette, it also gets him into trouble when people are intent on killing him – which is the major flaw in this book.
Every chapter ends with some bodyguard attacking Jax, or a droid in a marketplace shooting at him. He gets in fights everywhere he goes. Each of these fights has later consequences which either help him or hinder him in some way so they aren’t completely gratuitous but they get tedious quickly. It feels like the author was not comfortable with the mystery aspect of the story so he added action scenes to spice it up.
This book, like most Star Wars books, feels a little uncut. I think that’s because they release these books so fast that the authors don’t have time to really write carefully and edit the story into a concise form. Michael Stackpole said that from approved outline to final manuscript he is usually given three months. Most authors take much longer than that to write a novel.
The introduction of Aurra Sing brought a significant amount of tension to the story. Aurra Sing has faced off with Obi-wan, Anakin, Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, and several other legendary Jedi. She’s also killed a number of them. Having her on Jax’s tail kept the tension high and accelerated the ending into a bit of a thriller – it’s nearly impossible to escape Aurra Sing once she’s decided to come after you.
The side-plot of Captain Typho, former Captain of Padme Amidala’s guards, is touching and sheds some light on Darth Vader’s personality and some depth to the character Typho.
The mystery is interesting. I thought I knew who had done it then was totally surprised to find out who really did it (the butler). Michael Reaves does a good job of painting a picture of what life in the streets of Coruscant is like, down below the clouds and the skyhooks and the air speeders.
As far as Star Wars books go I enjoyed this book. It isn’t among the best, but it is far better than the worst. It mostly succeeds at what it is trying to do, which is to introduce new characters to a genre that has become stagnant with overuse of characters (how many times can Han, Luke and Leia save the galaxy before they become fed up with it and just let it die). It is a competent mystery, a mild thriller, and a touching story of a man trying to live after everything he ever knew has been completely destroyed.