(Mike Resnick; 216 pages: PS PUBLISHING, 2012)
MASTERS OF THE GALAXY is Masters… Jake Masters. Okay… that was lame. Jake Masters is a hard-boiled private dick with a heart of gold and a not-too-well-hidden soft spot for the underdog, much in the vein of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade or Mike Hammer. The difference here is that Jake works on an out-planet of a galaxy-wide Democracy and his clients tend to be alien governments, alien crime lords, or just your average everyday alien. This book collects all four Jake Masters novellas (roughly 50 pages each) and a brand new short story to sweeten the pot.
“Guardian Angel” introduces us to former cop turned detective Masters, as he’s hired by a distraught mother to bring back a wayward son. The father, the head of a criminal empire exiled on another planet, is the most logical place for Jake to start his search. Once our hero figures out that the son has very good reason to hide (in an interplanetary circus, no less) from both Mommy and Daddy, he takes the young man under his protective wing. It is, as they say, all down hill from there. “Guardian Angel” is an excellent way to kick things off as the detective work is believable, the action exciting and the outcome… not even close to what I was expecting!
Some of the detective and mystery genre’s best tales come from stories called “locked-room mysteries.” Even though “A Locked-Planet Mystery” works on a much larger scale, the feel is the same. A retiring corporate head has been murdered at his solitary retreat on an otherwise uninhabited planet. The solar system’s sole police force is located on the only inhabitable planet, four worlds away and they don’t even know what a murder is. The head of the police force, a being characterized by the detective as “a purple beachball with legs” comes to Jake for help. Everyone at the retreat has good reason to want to see the murdered being dead and, with the help of the beachball (who has an unpronounceable name that Jake shortens to “Max”), ferrets out the murderer in the best “locked-door” manner. Max is a fairly likeable character and since, as mentioned above, Jake Masters is really a softy, he takes the alien under his wing and makes him his partner. The fact that he was kind of a blank slate and an entertaining sidekick makes the third story, “Honorable Enemies,” a bit of a let down, as the case sends Jake to the “Alien Quarter” of his home planet, Odysseus, to search for Max’s killer. Along the way, he meets an alien crime lord and a potential rival kingpin, a human from a planet called New Warsaw. As both vie to have Masters as an integral piece of their empire, Jake only cares about avenging the death of his friend. There are plenty of twists and turns in “Honorable Enemies,” as alliances are made and broken on almost every page.
“If the Frame Fits… “ is a very entertaining piece of political intrigue, as a primary peace negotiator of a planet outside of the Democracy is murdered at a Democracy embassy on a planet nicknamed “Purplehaze.” Security issues and a general distrust by and of the three distinct life-forms at the embassy make Jake’s job even harder than the close-mouthed bureaucrats who hired him. As he is wont to do, Masters enlists the aid of a being from each of the alien races involved in the peace negotiations. The story is rather fast paced and, like the rest, is one fun read.
Author Mike Resnick has truly captured the feel of those old mystery books and film noir movies, as well as the essence of a really great science fiction yarn with this series. As such, I really wish that he’d fleshed out the new short story, “Real Jake,” more. As you can probably guess from the title, there’s a Jake Masters imposter leaving a trail of upset life-forms in our hero’s home base of Homer. The story’s good, I just wish there was more! For a fast-paced mash-up of sci-fi and detective mystery genres, you absolutely cannot go wrong with MASTERS OF THE GALAXY.