This is the book where the series takes a turn and flips everything over.
Timothy Zahn has always been good at building mystery as a sub-genre into his novels. There’s always a question of who, what or how going on in the background. With the Frank Compton novels that’s even more important as each book is basically a future thriller-murder-mystery.
With this one Zahn decided to play off his trains-in-space theme and do a science fiction retelling of Agatha Christie’s Murder of the Orient Express in which, famously, anybody could have done it — and maybe did.
Zahn doesn’t play it quite so cleverly but he builds a good case where Compton is genuinely puzzled for most of the book — quite a feat since he is usually nearly Sherlockian in his observational skills.
This is the penultimate novel of the series and as such is sitting in a strange place. On the one hand it does finally reveal some information that completely changes the game of the series — in typical Zahn fashion. On the other hand, many of the villains, characters and themes of the previous novels are missing, making this feel like just another adventure for Compton and Bayta.
It ends with a good setup for the final novel and I found I enjoyed it the most of all the ones in the series so far. Compton and Bayta have developed quite a relationship by this point in the books and it’s fun to see them working together. They know each other so well that they can communicate with just looks sometimes and Zahn has spent the time in the previous books setting that up so that it doesn’t feel cheap here.
You could probably read this book alone — without reading the rest of the book in the series — but it’s hard to say.