Picking up moments after the end of the previous novel, Mariani has readers on tenterhooks in this fourteenth book, and for good reason. Explosive and brilliant in its delivery, Ben Hope fans can only wonder if this is the end of the former SAS hero. Having seen Jude carted off by General Jean-Pierre Khosa, a bloodthirsty Congolese warlord, Hope and his crew face significant issues. Hope has to decide if he will rage to free himself, thereby jeopardising Jude’s life, or play it calm and try to plot in his mind. Choosing the latter, Hope becomes a military advisor for Khosa, all the while trying to surmise how he and Jeff Dekker will be able to get out of this mess. Firmly in possession of the Star of Africa diamond, Khosa begins bandying around selling the stone to fund his own army and looking to enact a coup to gain even more power. While Hope and Dekker toil for the crazed man, Jude is hidden away, where he meets a young American journalist. After learning a little more about the region’s recent history, Jude discovers that there is an international mining aspect to the larger story, one that could present this country’s leader with many riches, while keeping the population firmly in a state of abject poverty. Plotting their escape, Jude and Rae Lee try to outmanoeuvre guards with little impetus to do their jobs, hoping that they can reach out to Hope before it is too late. All the while, Hope is suppressed and subjected to countless beatings. This has gone beyond a mere diamond or territorial grab, pitting one man’s soul against the other. However, when in the Devil’s Kingdom, the rules don’t matter. Perhaps the most impactful of all Mariani’s novels to date, series fans will surely flock to this after reading STAR OF AFRICA. I can see few being disappointed with it, as word of mouth will surely garner many new fans for Scott Mariani.
Pairing some of my comments from the previous review with this one, the reader can surely see much growth in Ben Hope. From a man whose concern was for his team while with the SAS through to a solo life thereafter, Hope has always known exactly what needed doing and how to accomplish that. However, with the introduction of Jude Arundel, the possibility of a change arose, only exacerbated when danger befell the son Hope never knew he had. These two novels force Hope to choose parental worry over self-preservation, or at least test that crossroads. When Hope chooses to save his son at his own peril, the reader can let out a cheer that things may finally be taking a turn and the shards of his recent self-destruction may be coming back together. Mariani pulls on the reader’s heartstrings repeatedly, bridging the relationship between the two men, even when they are not together. Continuing with some of the other characters in the novel, their personalities shape things significantly and allow the reader to tease out even more development by the protagonist. The brutality found in this novel surpasses most anything that has been seen previously. While some may criticise Mariani for creating a ‘savage mentality’ of the African soldiers (particularly Jean-Pierre Khosa), one need only look to news reports of clashes in the region over the past twenty years to see that this is a different type of fighting and brutality that ignores the treaties of humanity. Graphic, yes, but it pushes the limits of what the series has shown the enemy combatants capable of doing to get their own way. It also pushes Hope and his crew completely out of their comfort zone, which adds a layer of intrigue and thrill to the genre, needed to differentiate it from much on the market. The story is gripping and takes the reader to the depths of despair on many occasions, which is needed and appreciated by some series fans. Hope cannot always be expected to waltz in and crack a few skulls before scooping up the captive and prancing off. Blood will be shed and lives will be lost. It is only a matter of how patient and dedicated the reader is to see the story arc through to the end. Please pardon the pun as I say Mariani executed his intended delivery flawlessly and has cemented my dedication to his writing.
Kudos, Mr. Mariani stepping it up yet again. I am constantly surprised at your pool of ideas and cannot wait to see what comes next.