A Talent For War by Jack McDevitt
This is the first of the Alex Benedict books. Benedict has been living on another world, but has to return to the planet Rimway after the death of the uncle who raised him. His uncle was an archeologist who had disliked Alex's choice of making a business of antiquities. Nevertheless, the uncle had left Alex information about a very important project he had been working on. Unfortunately, by the time Alex gets to Rimway, the uncle's house has been burglarized in a way to look like a "normal" theft, while it was actually the project information that was targeted.
It is during his first days there that Alex meets Chase, his partner in the following books.
The uncle's project seems to be related to "The Resistance". About 200 years earlier, there had been a conflict between humans and "the Mutes" (the only other known technological species). Some issues have lead the Mutes to attacks on certain human worlds. A relatively small number of humans have cobbled together a number of spaceships to fight against the Mutes, while most human worlds remained neutral for a period of time. The early human fighters were greatly outnumbered and had to carry out something like a space version of guerilla warfare. Eventually, many human worlds joined the conflict. Now, the early fighters are legendary figures.
What follows is largely learning bits and pieces about "The Resistance", certain individuals associated with it, and a few key events in the conflict. There are extended passages in which reminiscences, simulations or other recreations of events tell us the story of those past events. There are intervening parts about Alex and Chase trying to locate that information, and also a few parts suggesting someone wants to prevent them from learning something. The government is mysteriously secretive about one recent exploratory mission that might be related to information on the subject. And as Alex and Chase find out more details about events and people in The Resistance, the more they find that there seems to be something peculiar involved.
When we're (I don't remember exactly) maybe three quarters of the way through the book, the story switches more to the adventures of Alex and Chase. There's one of their death-defying escapes, but not with the kind of clever engineering one often finds in the later books. Then they're back on the trail making serious progress. After that, their real adventure begins. This latter part has a lot to it. Some surprises and an even grander face-off with death.
My perspective on the book may be a bit skewed as a result of the fact I did not read the books in their order of publication (which is also chronological order as far as the fictional characters are concerned). Also, as far as the characters are concerned, a number of years have passed between the events in this book and those in Polaris and Seeker. As a result, there is internal logic to differences between this book and the others - but these differences can seem odd when one reads out of order as I did.
Unlike later books in the series, this book tends to be narrated by Alex, not Chase. Alex does not seem to be so clever in figuring out how to get the information. Alex also seems more willing to forget the search in hopes of avoiding danger or to return to his old life - of course, Chase seems to be the more adventurous or emergency-fixer in the later books, so the change is more of degree than the two switching roles.