The Heretic’s Treasure (Ben Hope #4), by Scott Mariani

Seven stars

Mariani brings Ben Hope back for his fourth full-length adventure, constantly reinventing this highly energetic protagonist. Having been through a number of professions in his short life, Ben Hope still wants to hang up his adventure goggles in some form. However, in the world of Kidnap & Ransom, there is never a shortage of work. Seeing an opportunity, Hope purchases some land in France and opens up his own training facility. With things running smoothly, Hope receives a call from Colonel Harry Paxton, a former colleague, who has a mission for him; find his son’s murderers. Eminent Egyptologist, Morgan Paxton, has been working to uncover the ‘Akhenaten Project' in Cairo, the most mysterious project of his life. While torn, Hope cannot help but remember the elder Paxton’s sacrifice when he was a young soldier and agrees to investigate. However, Hope is also drawn to Colonel Paxton’s much-younger wife, Zara. The attraction seems mutual and Hope forges into Egypt to find the killers and bring some balance to the Paxton family. What begins as a simple mission of redemption soon turns much darker than expected. A double-cross fuelled with Hope’s thinking with his heart pushes him deeper into the Egypt mystery than he pledged. Hope finds himself bouncing around various geographic locations to follow the trail of the Akhenaten Project, culminating in a showdown with a cutthroat terrorist in war-torn Africa. What follows could significantly change the political climate around the world. Who was Pharaoh Akhenaten and how did his secret leave him branded a heretic by those of his era? Mariani keeps the story fresh and the thrills continuous in this Ben Hope story that will have readers curious until the very end. Recommended to series fans and those who need a summer jolt for their reading lists.

Mariani continues to create his Ben Hope character, offering something unique in each of the novels to date. Here, with Hope trying to balance between ‘former warrior’ and ‘fully retired’, Mariani places his protagonist in a spot to explore the teaching role, as if he wanted to pass along his knowledge for the next generation. Of course, that is foiled and keeps him in the game. Interestingly enough, Hope also suffers only briefly with the loss of his wife and turns his eyes (and heart) towards a new interest, though she is surely off limits in the early stages of this book. Mariani continues to portray Hope as a man able to sow many proverbial oats and who has to keep an oak door as the women seek to beat it down. However, this banter between Hope and the lady friends he keeps shows a more tender side to the man who is happy to cut a throat in the line of duty. Turning to the story itself, I found myself, again, less than drawn to the overall idea, though Mariani keeps the reader guessing with all the travel and some of the head butting scenes. One can only hope this lull in the plot does not become a new normal, though with many books yet to go in the series, one can surmise that this is but a brief dial-down. While Egypt has much to offer historically, with scores of mysteries intertwined within its centuries of undiscovered stories, I found this to be less electrifying as I might have liked. Ben Hope has much to offer and the early chapters showed a great deal of intriguing storytelling, but the full-impact story lost me at some points. Again, as mentioned above, there may be a lull here or I might just be a little off my game.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for advancing the Ben Hope character in new directions. There is surely much to be found in this man and his life in the numerous novels to come.

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