Lallia by E C Tubb (1971)
Earl Dumarest needs to get off planet fast and when he sees a ship's handler killed in a bar fight he tracks down the man's ship and signs on for the suddenly vacant post. However, the ship in question turns out to be a decrepit tramp freighter with a fatalistic captain that is bound for a treacherous region of space known as the Web. What at first seems like just a bad choice of ships soon turns into a life and death struggle as Dumarest fights for the life of a woman accused of witchcraft on a backwards world and the growing realisation that someone is on his trail for some mysterious reason.
The sixth volume in the Duamrest Saga, Lallia is a change of pace from the standard formula of Dumarest landing on a planet and getting caught between a struggle for survival and the machinations of the galactic nobility. Here, most of the action takes place aboard a spaceship that is one passage away from the scrap heap–if it doesn't break up on the way. It's a hard, constricted life of going from one planet to the next in search of profitable cargoes, dubious passengers and crew mates who range from the idealistic young steward to the murderously alcoholic engineer to the weirdly spiritual navigator and the captain who has been so crushed by the enormity of space that he can't bear to look at it. Along the way, Dumarest becomes involved with Lallia, another traveller like himself who falls in love with him. It's unclear whether he shares that love, but he does accept her as a companion and possibly a wife with whom he can settle down. This being a Dumarest novel, neither happens and while he receives another clue as to the whereabouts of Earth, he also learns more about the secret he never knew he possessed and has made him a hunted man.
Lallia is a neat little gear shift for the saga. The villain of the piece is no surprise, though the logic of the plot and its resolution is neat and clean. We also get a chance to see Dumarest in an environment that isn't one of constant crisis, but one where we can see more of his personality; his likes and dislikes as well as the wary hardness that separates him from his fellow man.
A lean spare adventure, it's also one of the strongest in the series so far.