The Bach Manuscript (Ben Hope #16), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani returns with this sixteenth novel in the Ben Hope collection, after a highly-anticipated wait that was only exacerbated by my binge-reading the previous fifteen. Straddling the past and present in the storylines, Mariani opens new pathways while also trying to fill in previous blanks in the Hope story. After returning to Oxford for a reunion, Hope runs into an old friend, Nick Hawthorne, who has become a renowned classical organist. After agreeing to attend a private lunch hosted by Hawthorne, Hope is shown a rare manuscript by J.S. Bach, complete with a unique stain (coffee?). Hawthorne regales how he found it for a steal, though surmises that it must be a fake. During his time in Oxford, Hope must also come to terms with the memory of his lost love, Michaela, those twenty-plus years ago. Series fans will know the secret she kept from him during their time together. When Hope returns back to his dorm after the luncheon, he tries to put the Michaela situation to rest. Hope receives a call in the middle of the night from Hawthorne, who suspects that he is being robbed. By the time Hope arrives, he sees Hawthorne being tossed from his balcony and landing in a way sure to have killed him. As the authorities arrive to investigate, Hope tries to push himself into the mix, only to be shunned. Hope soon learns that the manuscript seems to have been the only thing taken from Hawthorne’s home, leaving him to wonder who might want it. As Hope undertakes his own investigation, he learns that there is a tie to an old friend of Hawthorne’s, a professor who has unintentional connections to a Serbian gangster. Travelling to the Baltic region to track down the manuscript, Hope comes head to head with a ruthless killer, while teaming up with an American woman whose dedication to finding the manuscript matches his own. In a region where tortuous death is child’s play, Hope must not only locate the manuscript, but fight to rectify a decades-old injustice related to its ownership. All that, while trying to stay alive for one more day. Mariani does well to flesh-out a little more of the Ben Hope backstory while thrusting him into new and perilous adventures. A wonderful addition to the series, sure to impress series fans and crime thriller addicts alike.

While I do not consider myself a Mariani expert by any means, I feel that I have a strong connection to, and a passing knowledge of, Ben Hope. This comes from the binge-read I did throughout the summer of all books in the series and helped fuel my impatient wait for this novel to roll off the presses. Those familiar with the series will understand the complexity of the Hope character, which has been shaped significantly by numerous revelations. Some have helped the reader better understand Hope’s childhood, while others offer some insight into the personal relationship struggles that have become part and parcel with the man. However, most interesting of all is the middle ground, the ‘Jude situation’ as I call it. A thread that was spun over twenty years ago and which began weaving itself into Hope’s present life over the past few years relates to his connection with Michaela Ward (eventually Arundel). While this storyline is minor and plays only in the early part of the story, it’s something I found highly entertaining and engaging, as Mariani reveals much. Other characters create an excellent flow to the story and keep things from getting stale, while also breathing some unique light to the plot’s progression, as Mariani steers clear of typical criminals in this terror-centric era of thriller writing. The story is also one that departs some of Mariani’s past work, not looking for a key or cipher in an object, but rather showing its historical importance to someone. This not only personalises the story, but also offers Hope a chance to foster his goodwill side, rather than the kidnap and rescue or ‘secret codex’ aspect that has permeated the narrative throughout this lengthy series. The stories are not becoming stale, nor in the Hope character. I trust that Mariani continues to have some strong ideas that he wishes to put to paper, which will keep fans such as myself nervously awaiting the next instalment.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for keeping the quality high and the excitement riveting in this series. I tell whoever I can get to listen about how much I enjoy these novels.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: