The Third Lynx is actually the second book in Zahn’s Quadrail series. It took me a long time to get around to reading this book because I didn’t really care for the first one. Night Train to Rigel had an interesting premise but kind of spent too much time explaining things to be really exciting.
The Third Lynx has stepped it up a notch, mostly because the setup has been done already and now we can get to the fun stuff. The fun stuff is what Zahn does best: interesting aliens used in surprising and fascinating ways.
If Brandon Sanderson is famous for his surprising use of magic systems then Zahn does the same things with aliens and technology. It’s always fun to see him at work raising the stakes.
The Third Lynx, much like the first book, is kind of a mashup of James Bond and Raymond Chandler noir mysteries but with mind controlling aliens and interstellar trains. There are mysteries layered on top of mysteries and the story folds up in a series of satisfying twists.
When Zahn gets it right I can’t put his book down until it’s done. When he gets it wrong, well, at least I’m along for the ride because it’ll be fun. The Third Lynx is somewhere in the middle.
My biggest hangup, though is in the main character, which is a problem in a first-person narrative because he’s also the only point of view character. Frank Compton is sort of like Sherlock Holmes in his deductive reasoning skills and a lot like Jack Reacher in his shear luck of guessing right with almost nothing to go on. At first he seems impressive but then it starts to feel too easy. He’s always one step ahead of everybody else — but without the personality ticks that make Sherlock interesting (or the Watson to give us some reason to like him). He also is accompanied by Bayta, who is sort of his partner in his job only he is constantly grabbing her arm every time they start walking. I suspect Zahn meant something else but the picture I always have is Compton dragging her behind him while holding on just above her elbow like an angry parent and a rebellious teenager. It sort of ruined the image of friendship they were supposed to have.
The book is fun and Zahn is in form showing us aliens and technology and then building a climax that could only work with that particular combination. There is better Zahn out there but even with this you won’t be bored.