As much as I enjoyed the saga of the Lassiter sisters and their foibles in finding husbands, it was time for a change of pace in my attempt to track down and read the works of Rachel Cosgrove Payes. Fortunately, next in the pipeline was one of her science fiction novels, published under the pseudonym E. L. Arch, The Deathstones. This book was published in 1964, and it shows. It's about daring Space Marines out on adventures, and when a woman boards the ship, look out, because dames is trouble! Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but it definitely reflects a pre-moon landing ethos of the genre. Jack Landers is a down-on-his-luck captain of a small vessel in the Ra system, where the seven planets are all named for Egyptian gods. Isis is the main planet, and Landers and his ship, the Motley, are hired to take a party out to Osiris, the rarely-visited outermost planet. Needing a crew, Landers tries out some of the local Ranian beings, who prove to be very adaptable and capable, despite their extreme non/-human appearances and lack of verbal communication systems. All of the members of the expedition are hiding something, and clashes ensue. After breaking orbit, news spreads throughout the system that some stones used by the natives on Isis have gone missing, and the passengers suspect each other, raising even more suspicions. Once they reach Osiris and people start dying, that is when things start getting very messy.
I enjoyed The Deathstones as a story of its time. Payes does a nice job of developing the Ra system and its inhabitants, and the hard sci-fi technology needed for the story. Landers and his co-pilot, Boyd Norton, are well developed characters. The rest of the expedition are more sketchily drawn, mostly because there are an awful lot of characters in it and not a lot of time or opportunity to do much with them. But they all have their motives for visiting Osiris. It's a story that ends the way it should, but not happily.