The Killing Machine/The Palace of Love, by Jack Vance
I picked these two Vance books somewhat at random; it turns out that they are books #2 and #3 of a pentology. Still, it works out ok as they are largely seperate stories that can be read independently. This series is Vance's take on James Bond; the protagonist is an investigator/hunter/spy in a sci-fi universe who is hunting the 5 larger than life villians who destroyed his home. Unlike the other Vance stories I've read, the main character is competent, has some integrity, and is moderately attractive to women. There are still bits of Vancian word play and reversals, but there is not a constant stream of them like in Dying Earth. I do like the basic structure of the stories; each 150 page book covers the investigation and hunt for one of the villians as you find out more of their history, psychology, and abilities. The Killing Machine was ok, and in that book the villian is primarily concerned with Terror. You don't find that much out about the villian psychologically, the main reveal is more about the methods & abilities the villian has. The Palace of Love was better. It does have slow sections, but I liked how it is more involved with uncovering the villian's psychology (hilarious) rather than his powers. His eventual defeat is also wonderful, and doubly hilarious.