The Moscow Cipher (Ben Hope #17), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani is back with another Ben Hope thriller, placing him in the middle of another harrowing adventure to uncover mysteries that would shock the outside world. Yuri Petrov thought he had left his life as a Russian spy in the past. However, when approached by his former superior to help with a coded message that was found inside an old Moscow building, he is wary of what awaits him. After starting the process, Petrov realises that he must flee with his daughter, Valentina, to ensure they are both safe. Meanwhile, back at his compound in France, former SAS Ben Hope is enjoying his life of leisure, working for himself and at his own pace. An old acquaintance arrives with some worrisome news, his grand-niece seems to have been kidnaped by her father—Yuri Petrov—after she was not returned back to her mother in a timely manner. Hope, who spent many years honing his work in kidnap and ransom has much experience working with children and he agrees to help. Sent to Russia, Hope must find young Valentina and extract her quickly, though he is unsure what awaits him, having never ventured into this massive country. Met at the airport by a young guide, Hope begins his search, using intuition and cyber clues to locate Petrov and Valentina. It is at this point that Hope learns about ‘Operation Puppet Master’, a Soviet-era experiment that could control the mind of any subject and wreak havoc. With the Russians inching closer and Valentina his primary concern, Hope must not only extract the young girl, but ensure that Puppet Master in its resurrected form is terminated before it can be put to use. This may be the most harrowing adventure yet, for Hope cannot tell how to locate his enemies or what they might do after placing him in the crosshairs. Mariani has done well with this book and keeps the reader involved. Series fans will surely enjoy this one, as will those who like thrillers with a ‘revived Russia’ theme.

I have enjoyed Mariani’s work since I binge-read much of the Ben Hope series last summer. Each book serves to build on the previous novels, advancing not only story arcs, but well-balanced plots and timely situations. Ben Hope has undergone much change in these seventeen novels, progressing and regressing in equal measure, but there is always room for more, as the reader discovers with each passing piece. Hope is away from home for much of the book and his past does not rear its head throughout, but his compassionate nature is on offer for the reader to weigh against the deadly force he is willing to use against those who threaten his safety, as well as that of his client. A handful of supporting characters help keep the story moving, both key allies and those with dastardly intentions to wrestle control away from Hope. The story is one that seems to be reappearing in thrillers of late, the renewed rise of Russia and its cutthroat push to regain control, flexing muscles in an effort to return to past glories. Reality or fiction, Mariani paints a dark image of what could be to come, should the Russians possess or utilse Operation Puppet Master to its full effect. The reader is left to wonder and potentially quake as this spine-tingling technology is explained in depth, as well as the fallout that awaits. Could it already be in use, in communities around the world? Mariani leaves that opportunity open for discussion as the reader pushes through this latest novel in the Ben Hope series. There does not seem to be any loss of momentum, so one can only hope that Mariani has many more adventures in store for his rugged protagonist.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another well-crafted piece. I thoroughly enjoy the mix of adventure and historical analysis you offer the reader. I am pleased to see another piece is ready for publication and eagerly await its release.

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