||Lando always falls for the ladies, no
matter the story. In this case, they ask his advice and he ends up
working with them on their scheme, against his better judgment. The
story is well-written, with a good mix of suspense and unforeseen plot
twists. As usual with this author, the story feels like it's part of the
Star Wars universe, because he really uses as much of it as he can, even
though the story is so short.
Full spoiler review:
I've always liked Lando as a character, despite the
way he is often written. There were the boring
Adventures, and his various love interests and business ventures as the
authors tried to figure out what to do with him, which were often
hit-or-miss. At least he was the level-headed one in
Champions of the
Force, playing against Han for the Falcon. Then he met Tendra in
Showdown at Centerpoint, and the authors
gave him stability; he's been written pretty well since then, especially
during the Yuuzhan Vong War, but even beyond, where other characters
have gone a little strange.
This tale takes us back a while, to when Lando was
single, and the Empire still ruled the galaxy. Looking to make his
fortune, he enters a sabaac tournament, where two spots are remaining at
the table betting on the grand prize: the Tchine sculpture, one of only
seven in existence, and worth millions of credits.
Before he even gets to the first table, though, he
meets Bink and Tavia, with their sabaac-playing partner Zerba. They plan
to use the distraction of the tournament to steal valuable artifacts
from the organizer's collection. Apparently Lando knows the girls from
previous adventures; I'm not sure I've read about those adventures.
Bink and Tavia decide to bring him in on their plot
when they discover that Jydor (the organizer) has two Tchines in his
collection, when he is publicly known to have only one, and the others
are apparently accounted for. Thinking that one is a fake, Lando agrees
to help them figure out which one, especially since he has apparently
already seen one Tchine up close in a previous adventure.
I like the way their efforts are completely
misdirected half the time. If the plot had gone as it appeared to be
going, the book would have been over several times, and I was wondering
how it could be stretched to fill the remaining pages.
The group decides to make a scan of another Tchine,
which coincidentally resides with its owner in the same city, so they
can compare it with Jydor's statue, as the seven Tchines are absolutely
identical, through some unknown mastery of sculpture. But after Bink
breaks into Lady Vanq's estate and discovers hers is missing (and Vanq
is dead, shot, but still on her bed), they realize that Jydor has stolen
it and that both Tchines are real.
droid appeared to have been reprogrammed, so Tavia (the computer expert)
goes back to see if there is any trace of the programmer left at her
house. There they discover a murder note left by Vanq, implicating Jydor
-and to be sent to the police once the house droids notice that she's
dead. As strange as that seems, Jydor was very upset with Vanq about a
deal gone bad, which cost him a great deal of money, so he has the
Lando and Zerba play long games of sabaac, trying to
stretch out the sessions to give Tavia time to work. But during a break,
as Lando is getting an update, he is brought before Jydor's business
manager, Chumu. Lando bluffs his way through the questions, where Chumu
is obviously suspicious of him, until Bink calls him, pretending to be a
person who makes copies of rare sculptures, in business with Lando. It's
pretty funny to read this section, and it makes complete sense. Chumu
gets nervous when Lando tells him they made a copy of Lady Vanq's Tchine,
implying the grand prize at the tournament might be a fake, so he asks
to see Bink, who offers to make a scan of the Tchine.
Bink and Tavia are really fun to read, as they are
identical twins, so change places often, and though they have different
skills and different personalities, they often think alike. Both have
nervous thoughts that the other is better at what they do, especially
when they change places.
They and Lando come to the conclusion that Chumu is
behind everything, so they stage a trap for him, involving getting one
of the Tchines back to Vanq's vault so Chumu can see that there might
have been two of them (Bink tells him the one he has is a fake, so the
original must still be in Vanq's vault). Then they change the message
and trigger it to the police, indicating that Vanq committed suicide.
Chumu's motive was to get Jydor out of the way, as
well as his two rivals, so he could take control of all the businesses
on the planet of Danteel. Lando had noticed that one of the patrons had
been cheating, but not for himself -allowing one of the others to win,
making it seem less obvious. I liked the way Lando tried to delay the
game time and again, and even folded his hand to exit the game before
the police came.
They ruined Chumu's plot, but then they catch him
threatening Lando on camera, so he is taken away.
The book was well-paced, and gave equal time to Bink
and Tavia, and to Lando. They all do different things (Bink stealing, Tavia
computer systems, and Lando gambling, of course), so they all
contributed to the story. There was a bit of humor, some tense moments,
and a happy ending where Lando gets a warm and fuzzy feeling by doing
the right thing, knowing that he'll find another way to make money and
fund his next venture. It was never over-the-top, which was nice -I
could believe everything that was being done. I could do with another
story like this one.