Mariani presents his sixth novel in the Ben Hope series, filling it with action and excitement while also stoking the fires of mystery and intrigue. While his training facility has continued to function effectively, Ben Hope is looking to get out of the business once and for all (have we not heard that before?!). Preferring to hand the reins over to a feasible candidate rather than sell, Hope visits a former military colleague in Italy to propose a business opportunity. Unable to garner the expected excitement, Hope meanders through the Italian countryside and stumbles upon a small art gallery. When a gang of Russian thugs attack, Hope goes into combat mode, helping to keep the casualty count low. Heralded as a hero, Hope tries to dodge the limelight, but remains curious as to why only a single piece of art was sought, surrounded by countless other items whose values are exponentially higher. Meanwhile, as the thieves lick their wounds back in Russia, Hope’s name is bandied about as the one who cost them much and orders to have him killed are sent down the line. Additionally, there seems to her an issue with the stolen artwork, an apparent forgery. It is soon understood that there is a connection with the actual sketch and a priceless item from Imperial Russia, the Dark Medusa. While still adjusting to his hero status, Hope is fingered in the murder of a popular Italian and begins life on the lam. Were that not enough, an organization by the name of SOCA is targeting Hope as well, in hopes of luring the Russians out once and for all. As pandemonium erupts and the Dark Medusa remains hidden, Hope must dodge all those who seek his head while preventing this lost relic from falling into the wrong hands. Set in various locales around the globe, Mariani keeps the thrills coming and thrusts the reader into yet another Ben Hope adventure where nothing can be completely predicted. Series fans and thrill seekers alike will enjoy this piece, which exemplifies Mariani’s writing abilities.
Mariani continues to impress those who have taken the time to follow the Ben Hope series with a number of well-paced novels. The continued evolution of the Hope character, both in his present life and through many pieced of backstory, proves effective in entertaining the reader while allowing the plots to educate on matters of history. Ben Hope remains that man that the reader seems to know well, while always producing new and exciting aspects to add to his already complex nature. In this piece, Hope is not summoned into a dangerous mission by a patron, but seems to stumble upon it, which only goes to support my sentiment that he has some Jack Reacher luck. Both men seem to be full of backstory that is slowly revealed and prove to be a draw to various women who cross their paths as their respective series progress. Mariani extends the story a little by creating a subplot involving Brooke Marcel, the psychologist who sometimes works with Hope in his training courses and holds out a flickering flame for the man, even if he is too dense to pick up on the signals. Marcel’s own personal struggles weave their way into the story and leave me to wonder if there might be more to come with this woman in the next book or two, as she has already remained on the periphery. Looking to the larger story, I have often commented that Mariani uses a ‘hinged narrative’ approach, building two stories in the background and taking the readers on an adventure before a literary right angle turn at some point to focus on a secondary thread. This is readily apparent here and it works out so well. There is talk of the Dark Medusa, but it is buried behind all the Italian manhunt storyline that it takes much of the novel to develop and switch while building significant momentum. The reader will revel in this dual plot development and find much excitement as the chapters build effectively. I know the series has much yet to come, but I have seen so much great writing to date that I can only guess where things will go in the coming novels.
Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another wonderfully developed and executed novel in the Ben Hope series. I can see you have a firm grasp on where things are going without tipping your hand as to how we’ll get there.