Jack McDevitt's A Talent For War is a very well-crafted and well thought out book. I liked this book very much, and I plan to read more of McDevitt's work as a result. A Talent For War was first published in 1989, so I am a bit of a late-comer to the party, so to speak. I have been reading SF on and off for the last five decades, but for some reason I never got around to any of McDevitt's books until now. I would not have purchased this book had I not read a positive book review for the most recent Alex Benedict novel. Rather than start at the end of the series, I thought it best to start at the beginning.
I read a number of other readers' reviews before I purchased A Talent For War. I was intrigued that a number of readers thought it the best SF novel ever written, and several readers mentioned re-reading the book multiple times. Other reviewers declared that it was less than a SF novel and more of a mystery story.
Although I liked the book very much, it is far from the best SF novel ever written, in my opinion. I can see how some readers consider it to be more of a mystery story than hard SF. To be sure, there are many great SF classics that involve mysteries or puzzles that are solved by the protagonists, and I don't think that makes them any less of a SF novel. In the case of A Talent For War, an array of mysteries or unexplained events are presented to the protagonist, Alex Benedict, which he, sometimes laboriously, thinks through and figures out. Although intriguing, this laborious effort of working through clues and piles of obscure documents negatively affects the pacing of the book. However, if you are patient to get through those sections, the author rewards the reader with a great ending that artfully reveals the answers to all the mysteries.
McDevitt is a good writer, not a great writer, and he knows how to tell a story. Some reviewers have commented that McDevitt's novels are weak on characterization. I can see that, but I do not consider it a flaw because he is such a good story teller. I will take a good story over good characterization any day. I also appreciate a good ending. A Talent For War is a great story with a great ending.