Today's book review is Bitter Waters by Wen Spencer.
This is the third book in the Ukiah Oregon series. Reading it without having first read Alien Taste and Tainted Trail is not recommended.
This book continues to have plenty of exciting action, but I fear it's starting to strain my suspension of disbelief. The nature of the aliens that drive the plot seems a little too fluid, seeming to change (subtly, not hugely, but still changing) as the plot needs. And we're getting some religious/metaphysical stuff that is actually plot-driving as opposed to something we can just take as people's own personal world view, such that the book is no longer pure SF. I still find the characters engaging, but I certainly hope these trends don't continue, or I may be ready to give up on the series before the author.
Overall, I think I should give it a 6 out of 10. A little weaker than the last book, but still fun as long as I don't think about it too much.
****PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
At the beginning of the book, Indigo is troubled by a series of kidnappings developing in the area. Ukiah and Max are puzzled to discover that they are being investigated by a Homeland Security agent. Things become personal when Kittanning is snatched. The Homeland Security agent turns out to be a rogue agent tracking down a bizarre cult that recruited his girlfriend. Unlike the kidnappings Indigo has been investigating, this time they get a ransom demand. The threads of investigation for the cult and tracking the kidnapper come together; it turns out that the guy who did the snatch is a cult member, but the ransom demand was a double-cross; the cult killed the kidnapper and took Kittanning from the hideout, but left behind a young girl that the kidnapper had corrupted. And the girl had been corrupted with an Ontongard bio-weapon called Invisible Red, which serves as an aphrodisiac for breeding females, a mechanism for controlling Breeders, and a poison for wiping out unwanted normal males of the host species. The stuff is produced by one of the Ae which mysteriously disappeared in the last book. Since the other Ae are much more deadly -- one of them would produce a virus which would probably wipe out all of humanity -- it is a Big Problem that they are somehow loose. The Pack gets involved, convinced that the cult must really be Ontongard because they have the Ae, but the reality turns out a little weirder. The charismatic nutcase cult leader was trying to jump start the religious faith he had had as a child by looking for the face of God in the eyes of the dying, and working as an EMT gave him the opportunity to see that a few more accident victims died than should have. Cult-leader-to-be Billy Bob was giving up on his crazy method of finding God when one of the accident victims he came across turned out to be an Ontongard Get. When the man with a pipe through his heart got up and walked away, Billy Bob was convinced he'd found some kind of demons and it was his job to track them down and kill them. He managed to put together a cult based on tracking down Gets, and the cult managed to do some serious espionage on the Ontongard. They learned to translate Ontongard speech but made a few errors, somehow learning of the existence and location of the Ae and getting a garbled notion of what they were for. They stole the Ae and left a bomb in their place, and managed to activate the one which produced Invisible Red. The aphrodisiac qualities of the stuff made the cult much more able to brainwash and hold new recruits. At the end of the book, the cult is getting ready to activate the Ae which produces a water-born plague called the Water Death and poison the Monongahela, using Kittanning and two of the innocent random kidnapped babies. Ukiah prays for guidance to find Kittanning and his prayer is answered in the form of his grizzly bear totem animal showing up in a cloud and leading him to a place where he picks up Kittanning telepathically on a crossing highway. Ukiah manages to force the cultists to crash their vehicles, destroying the Invisible Red Ae and letting Kittanning (who is now in the form of a wolf puppy) escape, but Ukiah and Kittanning are separately captured. Ukiah is dosed with Invisible Red and raped. As he's recovering, the Homeland Security agent reaches the cult hideout, gets captured, and loses a hand, but manages to stir up events enough that Ukiah can escape. Max buys a 40' high performance cabin cruiser with the ransom money he had readied for Kittanning but never paid, and they chase down the two speedboats that are rendezvousing for the nasty activation of the Ae. Max, Sam, and Ukiah manage to save the day and the babies; Core (formerly known as Billy-Bob) is killed. Ukiah asserts himself, saying that he wants to see the agency move closer to his moms' place so he can better juggle parenting and work, and they all end up movnig to a posh neighborhood that Max's former wife couldn't handle due to fear of heights. For the next book, we assume we'll be tracking down the surviving cultists who still have two of the Ae including the one which makes the end-of-the-world Air Death. Another hanging thread is that Ukiah had sex with a girl while controlled with Invisible Red; if she survived the explosion when the cult blew up their headquarters, then she is pregnant.