The Shadow Project (Ben Hope #5), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

With Scott Mariani at the helm, Ben Hope is sure to be back on another thrilling adventure, set to reveal what might have been a significant change in history. Enjoying his life in Le Val, his training facility in Northern France, Hope continues to provide top-notch service for those seeking to protect the more vulnerable people of the world. When a training seminar goes too far and Hope loses his temper, a fight ensues; one that could be more costly than the broken bones that Hope’s opponent suffers. Hope is forced to take the team back to Switzerland and offer the kidnap protection service to billionaire Maximilian Steiner, who possesses an interesting document, having procured piece of the Nazi’s larger plan that never saw the light of day. While guarding Steiner, a group attacks his compound and Hope sends in the troops, only to come across a woman from his past, which derails his efforts and leaves Steiner completely enraged. Hope is fired and returns to France, only to discover that his entire business is about to be financially decimated by a lawsuit related to the aforementioned fight. With everything to lose, Hope travels to Austria to track down these neo-Nazi soldiers in hopes of learning a little more about the woman as he tries to piece things together. Meanwhile, a collective of top scientists have been found murdered. Dr. Adam O’Connor learns that his friends have died, but thinks nothing of it until his son, Rory, is kidnapped. Willing to do whatever it takes to save Rory, O’Connor falls into the clutches of these neo-Nazis, who are resurrecting a new type of weapon, nicknamed The Bell, which might have turned the tables on the Allies back in 1944 and closely relates to the document Maximilian Steiner owns. During his search, Hope crosses paths with this technology and learns that Maximilian Steiner is anything but an honest man. With limited time and a new ally in this mystery woman, Hope must dismantle this weapon and learn all of Steiner’s nefarious plans. A needed jolt in this novel has put the Ben Hope series back on track and scored Mariani some well-deserved points. Fan of the series will surely agree that Hope is back in true form and those looking to learn more about Ben Hope have much on which they can base their first impressions.

After a lull in the writing, Mariani seems to have found his groove again, aided with some breathtaking backstory development of the protagonist. The Le Val complex helps develop some of Hope’s character, as his leadership skills are tested, along with his ability to manage his temper. Mariani tests this and the ability for Hope to hold down the business end of the character through various issues that evolve in the story. There is also some development within Hope’s personal life when the aforementioned ‘mystery woman’ emerges back in his life (I choose to let the reader discover her identity by reading the novel). There is surely an emotional investment in the story and Hope pulls on old memories to help shape his present-day interactions. Significant advancement within Hope’s personal life emerges, which could likely return as a minor thread in future novels. The story itself proves entertaining, as is most anything wrapped in a veil of mystery from the past century. The Nazi angle pulls away from the traditional concentration camp discussion, but does allow the reader to wonder ‘what if’ with some degree of fear. The narrative keeps the story moving forward on two tracks and the ‘hinged’ aspect is surely something for which Mariani remains known. I enjoy piecing together where things will cross or how a seemingly minor side story will eventually inflate and take over the central role in the latter chapters. Mariani is back with some exciting ideas and places Hope in precarious situation that force him to rein-in some of his emotional expressions. The reader benefits most from this, through significant enjoyment and story arc advancement.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for keeping your Ben Hope series fresh and exciting. You know just when to crank up the excitement to keep the reader curious.

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