Whipped (Arthur Beauchamp #7), by William Deverell

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, William Deverell, and ECW Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having finally caught up in the Arthur Beauchamp series, I can bask in the superior writing style that William Deverell brings to Canadian legal thrillers, peppered with some tongue-in-cheek commentary on current events. Lou Sabatino and his family were forced into Witness Protection after an explosive four-part series hit the newswires. Now forced to hole-up in a dingy triplex, Sabatino hides from the Mob and must make the most of his new life. Sabatino is shocked when his neighbour, a Russian dominatrix, shows him a secretly-filmed session with Alberta Member of Parliament and federal Minister of the Environment, Emil Farquist. Minister Farquist shows himself in full BDSM glory and Sabatino knows a scoop when he sees one. Copying the video when no one is looking, he must now find a way to release it to the public. Meanwhile, eminent lawyer Arthur Beauchamp is still rattled upon learning of his wife’s brief affair. It plagues him as he remains firmly rooted on Garibaldi Island, along Canada’s West Coast, as Margaret Blake spends much of her time in Ottawa, Member of Parliament and Leader of the Green Party of Canada. Blake focusses her ire on Minister Farquist and his environmentally disastrous plans for the country. Sabatino knows of this and seeks a secret meeting with Blake, where he plays her a copy of the video. Blake and her assistant are caught discussing the matter on an hot microphone days later, which is recorded by a conniving journalist, who seeks to track down the validity of the claim. Somehow, the recorded conversation leaks through Twitter and Blake is hit with a massive defamation lawsuit by Minister Farquist. Using his hometown of Calgary as the central point for the legal action, Farquist denounces the apparent smear campaign by Blake and promises to end her political career. With no one else to help her, Blake turns to her husband. Beauchamp has never fought a defamation suit, but trusts his wife when she says she saw the video. Trouble is, no one can find either Sabatino or the dominatrix, leaving the defence without a copy of the alleged video and seriously hampering their argument. With the trial in March, depositions are set for just after Christmas, forcing both sides to make their star witnesses available for preliminary questioning. Beauchamp has moved mountains before in his legal career, but he may have bitten off more than he can chew here, as he fights to save his wife’s reputation. Deverell remains on his game with this novel and pulls series fans deep into the legal, political, and humerous aspects of his storytelling. Rich with its numerous plots, Deverell remains one of the premier writers of this genre that I have had to pleasure to discover. Perfect for series fans and those who want a uniquely Canadian legal thriller.

While I was eager to read this novel, I am happy that I located and read the previous six books before delving in. Save for the opening novel of the series (which earned numerously ill-deserved awards, in my opinion), the entire collection of Arthur Beauchamp books have taken readers on a wonderful series through his legal career and paved the way for this hands-on piece. Deverell introduces so many characters to his stories, but is able to juggle them effectively, plotting their development throughout the entire series. Arthur Beauchamp and Margaret Blake have made significant progress in six previous books and this novel is no exception. Playing on their personal and relationship foibles, Deverell sketches out a wonderfully complex banter between the couple, both as a unit and individuals pushed together by this legal matter. The premise of the novel is highly entertaining and educational on many levels, pulling on some of the lower-brow commentary one might expect when BDSM graces the pages, but also injecting a degree of justification and, at times, all-out exploration of it being a mainstream activity. Deverell never shies away from his direct approach in the narrative, which might offend the prudish reader, but goes to show that he makes no qualms of telling things as they are. I found the addition of the political (read: parliamentary) angle to be exactly what I have been looking for in a novel for many years. Deverell speaks with (mostly) error-free confidence about life in Ottawa and within the hallowed walls of Parliament. Any reader who enjoys this most unique aspect of the Canadian experience will revel in all that is revealed in this novel. Brilliant in its balance between series legal matters and off-the-cuff humour, Deverell’s latest is not to be missed by those who seek literary entertainment.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell for such an enthralling piece that does not let-up until the final paragraph. Now that I have finished the binge, I wait patiently to see what else you have in store for readers.

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Cold Blood (DCI Erika Foster #5), by Robert Bryndza

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

DCI Erika Foster is back, and none too soon for series fans. As Robert Bryndza continues to impress with his dark police procedurals, his fan base grows exponentially as chatter of the series calibre. When Foster and her team discover a suitcase submerged in the water, no one could have predicted what might await them. The dismembered body of an unidentified male sets the stage for the latest macabre case that Foster will head up, though there are nothing but questions surrounding it. Turning up blanks, Foster eventually discovers that a woman’s body was found stuffed in a suitcase a few weeks before. Could there be a serial killer on the loose? When the team learns that the male victim was carrying drugs in his stomach, the narcotics mule angle seems the most likely, though there is still nothing to point towards a killer or whether they will come looking for their stash in the coming days. As the story progresses, the narrative explores the personal struggles of one team member, where the seedy underbelly of London comes to light. The blowback from these struggles put Foster inadvertently in the crosshairs and leads to a brutal assault. Forced off the case, Foster returns to her native Slovakia to reassess her work and personal life, but there is a burning in her belly to remain in her job, protecting others from the world of killers out there. Once Foster is back, more bodies turn up and a clue turns the investigation on its head. Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, the reader learns of the development and grooming of a pair of young people, whose down and out lives take a spin the closer they become. Their dislike of society spirals out of control and soon they have committed numerous crimes, with no end in sight. The kidnapping of twin girls proves to be the climactic event that pushes the case to the edge and a collective breath is held. Will Foster and her team stop the killings before top brass turn it into a cataclysmic event? Only time will tell in this gripping, dark thriller that will keep readers flipping pages well into the night. Series fans can rest assured the calibre of the writing is high and Bryndza’s genius remains firmly rooted.

I have long been a fan of Bryndza’s work and find myself rushing to get hold of any books he releases, which seems to occur with some regularity. Some have vocalised a concern that the stories are too closely tied to a ‘traditional cookie-cutter English police procedural’, but I would deflect that by saying that the caliber remains high and the stories thoroughly interesting as to distract from what might seem repetitive. Character development is high on Bryndza’s list of essentials for each novel, offering newness to most who grace the page. Erika Foster receives particular development, as her proverbial plate has been heaped high over the past four novels. There are many threads left bowing in the wind, some of which Bryndza ties off while others are tugged and lengthened a little more. I enjoy the balance between the professional and personal struggles that Bryndza presents in his novels, as well as the ever-evolving narrative that involves the eventual killer, another form of character development. Paralleling these storylines creates more of a cat and mouse game, leaving the reader to wonder when and how forcefully the two will collide. Bryndza may publish a new novel regularly, but he does not skimp on quality. The novels are always fresh and give the reader a sense of ongoing continuity, if that makes any sense. Always a treat when a new DCI Erika Foster novel hits the literary radar and I seek to dodge the numerous books that haunt my ‘to be read’ pile to get my hands on it. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys police procedurals, but one ought to begin at the series start, to get all the nuances delivered throughout the narrative.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza for another stellar piece. I love the rush I get reading one, though will have to get ahold of my emotions as I wait for more news.

The Tiger’s Prey (Courtney Saga #16), by Wilbur Smith and Tom Harper

Three stars

Wilbur Smith brings Tom Harper along with him to create the latest in the Courtney saga, returning to the high seas of the 18th century. Tom Courtney is the son of the master seafarer, Sir Hal Courtney. The entire Courtney clan are well known for having control of the seas and have planted many deep roots, especially along the African continent. Tom is rumoured to have turned on members of his family to save his own honour and is rumoured dead. This is the narrative that young Francis Courtney holds close to his heart. When the last remnants of his family are killed, young Francis goes in search of Tom, hoping to discover if he truly has been killed. If not, he will undertake to complete the task and ensure his own father did not die in vain. Francis discovers Tom is alive and well, though has been keeping a low profile in South Africa. Francis lets his bluster get the better of him and Tom is prepared to turn the tables on this young Courtney. Instead, they agree to work together and set sail for the East Indies, sure to find adventure during the journey. What follows is a collection of storms on the high seas and interactions with other swashbucklers as Tom and his crew seek assistance when they arrive on shore. With Francis at his side, Tom engages the locals in more adventure than any man could handle… any man but a Courtney. Limping through to the end, the reader will be lucky to keep their bearings in this addition to what might be the weakest of the three sagas, that of the seas. Many pardons to readers of the review, as I will be the first to admit, my summary of the story is poor, hampered by not being able to connect with the piece, as discussed below.

I have long had an issue when an author passes away or ‘retires’ and another takes over the reins of a series. Many a collection of books have gone down the drain when the original creator no longer has control of their master work. Wilbur Smith’s turning the Courtney series over to others has been a recipe for disaster and yet books continue to be published. Having devoured all of Smith’s past Courtney saga novels (attributed solely to him) and loving them, this was yet another let down for me. One must be careful where to point fingers. It might be Harper trying to slide into the massive literary footprint or the fact that I am not a fan of the ‘Courtneys on the seas’ branch, but this book grabbed me as effectively as marble tossed on a Velcro wall. There was obviously some character development and action peppered throughout, but I just could not find myself grasping onto what was going on. It may also have been that the story was not adequately divided into chapters, choosing instead to be a single blob of writing that continued to flow from page to page (or for us audio listeners, minute to minute). I felt myself lost and without any form of help as I tried to push through this book. The sole redeeming beacon ended up being that the book ended and I could move on to something else. Alas, I feel that my reading the saga may finally have come to an end. I have little interest in continuing if Wilbur Smith feels that he must allow others to trifle with his work. Surely, he has lost that burning desire to create high-caliber work and only seeks the royalties for something that has his name plastered to the cover.

Oh, Messrs. Smith and Harper, how you have disappointed Courtney series fans with this. I hope many readers will not use this book as a benchmark for the entire series, which has had moments of brilliance.

Sing a Worried Song (Arthur Beauchamp #6), by William Deverell

Eight stars

William Deverell offers up another wonderful legal thriller, taking his protagonist back into the earlier days of his eventful legal career once again. By 1987, Arthur Beauchamp has made quite the name for himself as a criminal defence attorney. However, as with any challenging job, there are always new hurdles and adventures to overcome. When asked to act as prosecutor on the retrial of a murder, he obliges. Hoping for a three-day trial where he will again present the air-tight evidence, Beauchamp works against his long-time friend, Brian Pomeroy. The accused, Randolph ‘Randy’ Skyler, is said to have stabbed a down and out clown seven times while visiting Expo ‘86 in Vancouver. The legal approach taken to this apparently motiveless crime suggests that he was fuelled by the desire to commit and thrill kill. That the clown was a well-known homosexual may also have played a part, something that Beauchamp wants to jury to ponder during deliberations. Beauchamp learns of a murder mystery novel the accused and his friend are said to have obsessed over, which outlines the rush felt by the murderer in committing a random kill. Wanting to reach deep into Skyler’s psyche, Beauchamp receives a copy and synthesises it for himself. Using some of the key aspects of the narrative, Beauchamp storms into court and makes numerous accusations, paralleling the story and insinuating that the thrill kill had some similarities to the novel. While some less than legal tactics were used to get to that point, Beauchamp convinces the jury in record time and Skyler is sent away for murder, but not before uttering that he will exact his revenge at some point. Durning this time, Beauchamp is also wrestling with the ongoing infidelity of his wife, Annabelle, and learns that her choice of men is varied and might even cross into his own friend pool. Jumping forward to 2012, news crosses the wire that Skyler has been released on parole and has been making some utterances that he has some business that needs handling. Brian Pomeroy, repeatedly down on his luck (as series fans will know from past novels) surfaces to offer his friend, Beauchamp, some guidance and advice. Is Skyler on his way to Garibaldi Island to kill the man that put him behind bars? The possibility exists, as Beauchamp seeks to remain firmly rooted on the Island and keep to himself. Flashes from the past emerge, fuelled not only by his own memory, but a specific chapter of his biography, A Thirst for Justice. While Skyler has been seen working in Northern Ontario, there remains a strong paranoia that something could go awry at any moment. Should Arthur Beauchamp worry about this or anything else as he seeks to help those in the community, knowing that a murderer is potentially on the loose? And what about his own worries that his current wife is being unfaithful? All this and more await the reader in this wonderfully crafted sixth novel. A must-read for series fans and those who enjoy tongue-in-cheek legal thrillers.

William Deverell has mastered this series through a collection of well-plotted novels that develop the Arthur Beauchamp character in a slow and methodical manner. Working not only to advance the current Beauchamp, these flashback novels seek to allow the reader to fill the voids left by character trait breadcrumbs on offer in the first few novels. This story pulls on a well-established Beauchamp of the 1980s, whose career is rising with a strong reputation in the community. Going all-in with this rare prosecution, Beauchamp shows that he has a passion for the law, even when the case is not flamboyant. However, Deverell is clear to also add some angst to the mix as it relates to Beauchamp’s personal life, if only to keep that story from suffering bouts of tunnel vision. Series fans will know that Beauchamp struggled with alcohol abuse for many years, but it is in this novel that the kernel of his sobriety comes to the surface. Balancing things out with a wonderful modern narrative on Garibaldi Island, Deverell keeps his cast of characters exciting and playing their role in the larger story. The novels are rich with detail and humour, which helps propel the reader through them with ease. No one can say that Deverell lacks the ability to tell a story or that is pieces fall flat. Nuggets of literary genius pepper every page, as long as the reader is patient enough to coax them out. Brilliantly told and wonderfully written, this instalment of the series is yet another gem!

Kudos, Mr. Deverell for tantalising me repeatedly with all your wonderful stories, pulled on actual experiences from your legal career.

I Know a Secret (Rizzoli and Isles #12), by Tess Gerritsen

Eight stars

Returning with the twelfth novel in her popular series, Tess Gerritsen shows that she is still able to captivate audiences with her Rizzoli and Isles police procedurals. When the body of Cassandra Coyle is discovered, her eyes surgically removed, Detective Jane Rizzoli is concerns that there is a new and sadistic killer on the loose. The detail of the bilateral globe enucleation has even Dr. Maura Isles baffled, especially with no real clues as to who the killer might be. When another body is discovered a few days later, Rizzoli and Isles wonder if Timothy McDougal’s arrow riddled body could be the work of the same killer. With nothing linking the two victims, Rizzoli and her team try to find anything that might prove similar, finding a scrap of something in their funeral attendees. When Isles mentions the cases to a close personal friend, he makes the sweeping suggestion. Might these killings be tied in that both victims were killed in a way by which certain Catholic saints met their demise? Rizzoli cross-references the murders and makes some disturbing parallels, only further exacerbated when she makes another connection between them from decades past. Could there be a degree of retribution at play here and, if so, how might they locate the next victim? Meanwhile, Isles must come to terms with the realisation that her birth mother, Amalthea Lank, is a sadistic serial killer whose days are numbered as she suffers with end-stage cancer. Forced to come to terms with her feelings on numerous levels, Isles must face the reality that this is the last connection to her bloodline, real or adopted. As the case heats up and suspects emerge, Rizzoli and the rest of the Boston PD Homicide DIvision race to find a killer with deep-seeded resentments, but nothing is quite as it seems. Gerritsen returns to her former glory with this captivating piece that taps into the depths of the cat and mouse game found in superior police procedurals. Series fans will surely be pleased to see the caliber of writing is back and the plot is filled with twists to keep the reader guessing.

I have long been a fan of Gerritsen’s work, particularly with this series. I was a fan of the television programme when it aired as well, though did find myself trying to place the two protagonists into a small box as I watched or read, which might have hampered my ability to enjoy the characters in these two mediums. The banter between Rizzoli and Isles usually proves the most interesting aspect of the novels, working together and yet in their own sphere to solve these murders. What some might consider the greatest secret of all is how Gerritsen took a series that was beginning to turn stale and breathe new life into it. I was forced to play a little mental catch-up to reacquaint myself with the characters (not helped by the alternate development made on television) before I could feel entirely comfortable with the larger plot, remembering how I skimmed through the lesser quality novels preceding this one. Gerritsen does well to pace this story and keeps the reader wondering, while plucking breadcrumbs from the early narrative to spin wonderful branch-offs throughout. The story’s development is slow and methodical, taking the reader on a few major twists before revealing what seems like the true path towards the killer. These literary forks in the road serve to advance the story and keep the reader unsure what awaits them. While some past novels fell flat, Gerritsen seems to have found her groove and one can hope this will continue for as long as the series remains an active project.

Kudos, Madam Gerritsen for a wonderful novel that keeps the reader guessing and shows that you have not lost your writing spark.

The Babylon Idol (Ben Hope #15), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Returning to the series roots, Mariani pens this fifteenth novel in the Ben Hope collection in hopes of revisiting some past skirmishes to shape his current thriller. Still gathering their wits after a harrowing adventure in Africa, Hope and Jeff Dekker return to Le Val to revive the training centre and shape the future of tactical security. While tending to the grounds, Dekker is struck by a sniper’s bullet and clings to life. With Dekker in an induced coma, Hope cannot stand idly by, waiting for answers. He begins planning to seek revenge, which is derailed when he receives a mysterious letter from Italy. Within the letter is a message, indicating that rogue Italian archbishop, Massimiliano Usberti, is alive and plotting to exact revenge on many who foiled his early plot of a highly important alchemical secret. Usberti is still smarting that his organisation, Gladius Domini, was brought down by the likes of a single former member of the British SAS. Hope remembers Usberti from years ago, when he was still involved in the kidnap and ransom game. Seeking to contact many from that long-ago case, Hope learns that they have also been slain, which only goes to solidify in his mind that he was the intended target of that bullet. Hope rushes to contact Dr. Roberta Ryder, whose path crossed his during that original case, but also led to his matrimonial demise more recently as well. Sending her into hiding in Canada, Hope turns his attention towards Professor Anna Manzini, whose clashes with Ryder created much drama all those years ago. Locating the researcher in Greece, Hope makes his way there to learn of her latest book, which details a golden idol from ancient times. It was purported to be of King Nebuchadnezzar, though during one of the Babylonian conflicts, it disappeared. Now, new clues may provide hints to its location, which Manzini wishes to uncover. However, Usberti would do well with this priceless piece as well, fuelling him to hire a handful of men to kill Hope once and for all before locating the idol. As Hope and Manzini rush across ancient biblical lands, they must decipher the clues while dodging Usberti’s men, who will stop at nothing to destroy those they are tasked to find. When Hope falls into a trap, he and Manzini become prisoners and everything seems lost in the deserts of modern-day Syria. With a Civil War raging, their demise might come from a bullet aimed in multiple directions. Mariani brings new life to an early story in the series, impressing series fans with more Ben Hope adventures. Wonderfully paced and developed until the very end.

Having binge read the entire series, I feel a strong connection to Ben Hope and some of the things Scott Mariani has done to energize his protagonist. The arc of Hope’s life in the series has been significantly shaped by the fifteen novels and additional short stories that have comprised the collection. Interestingly enough, the end of my binge brings me back to where it all began (novel-wise, at least) for me, with Gladius Domini and the high-impact thriller that shaped Hope. After all the meandering throughout the series, Hope is back at Le Val and seeks solitude and normalcy, though neither are seen with much regularity for this man who attracts peril. Fuelled to help others and set things right, Hope will not rest until he feels balance has been restored, on his terms. Tossing in many former characters that have graced the pages of the novels, Mariani turns this book into a ‘homecoming’ of sorts, though there are times of despair that offset the joy of seeing old friends return. Turning to his old technique of ‘hinged narratives’, Mariani begins the novel with the dramatic shooting of Jeff Dekker and Hope’s desire to hunt down the sniper, but things soon turn on their head and he is off helping others. There is little time for rest or peace, though a lack of funds never seems to be a problem for either Hope or Manzini throughout the story. Balancing history, biblical storytelling, and a thrilling modern adventure, Mariani weaves together a wonderful story that will remind series readers why they started these novels at the outset. Exciting and leaving the reader wanting more, Mariani has proven himself as a master storyteller.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me hooked throughout these varied novels. I cannot wait for the next book in November, though it seems so very far off.

I’ll See You in My Dreams (Arthur Beauchamp #5), by William Deverell

Nine stars

Taking the reader on a heart-wrenching journey, William Deverell presents his fifth novel in the Arthur Beauchamp series and shows his literary brilliance throughout. With the recent release of Beauchamp’s biography, A Thirst for Justice, much has been made of the eminent lawyer’s first murder case in 1962. This becomes the premise for the story, as the reader is pulled back almost five decades to a point when Arthur Beauchamp was still extremely wet behind the ears. Handed the defence of Gabriel Swift, who was accused of murdering Professor Dermot Mulligan, Beauchamp is forced to swallow his pride and gut feelings. It appears that Prof. Mulligan was not only an acquaintance of Beauchamp’s, but his thesis advisor before the law became a more alluring mistress. Swift denies having anything to do with Mulligan’s murder, though does admit that he was employed to tend to the yard and did see him on the day of the alleged crime. With no body having ever turned up, Swift (and Beauchamp) cannot see how this sham of a charge can stick, even with a jailhouse snitch swearing he heard an out-and-out admission one night. An outspoken man with strong ties to his Native roots, Swift turns his attention to shining the spotlight on the disparity that has befallen his people at the time when the law and authorities would not only ignore their pleas, but intentionally twist the facts to convict and incarcerate Native Canadians. Working with what he has, a large pile of circumstantial evidence, Beauchamp tries to navigate his way through preparing for trial and the actual legal presentation of facts, only to hit the same wall. Pitted against a legal legend, Beauchamp cannot even use the confidence his second chair exudes to remain firmly committed to seeing the trial through and seeks to convince his client to take a plea, rather than face capital murder charges and hang for his alleged crime. Through a series of influential conversations with others, Swift takes the plea, but refuses to speak to the details of the crime, still holding firm that he is innocent. It is actually the release of the biography in 2011 by Wentworth Chance (series readers will remember him from an earlier novel) that lit a fire under Beauchamp to re-examine the evidence and to probe deeper into the crime, examining the life of Mulligan all the closer. With his wife busy in Ottawa and his friends on Garibaldi Island engrossed in some of these early stories about their favoured son, Beauchamp puts all his efforts into overturning the guilty verdict through the Court of Appeal. However, with so much time having passed and Swift in hiding in South America after an escape, is there any point? Deverell stuns the reader with raw truths and suppositions from the early 60s while portraying Beauchamp as a younger and more scandalous version of the man who has spoken frankly about his legal past. Not to be missed by series fans or anyone with a passion for Canadian political or legal history.

By now, the series reader has a firm understanding of Arthur Beauchamp and all he has done in his career, or so we are led to believe. Deverell’s thorough narratives in the past novels have brought out many of the praiseworthy and horrid pieces of his protagonist, but nothing will prepare the reader for what is inside the covers of this book. Beauchamp is young and naive throughout the novel’s flashback scenes, knowing little about murder, defending an outspoken client, or the struggles of Natives at a time when racism was rampant and accepted in this peaceful country. However, pairing that with his oft-hinted at obsession with drink and the reader can see the early foundations of a long career mired in booze to act as a crutch for a hard day’s work. By also pulling on a minor storyline about his parents, Beauchamp is forced to drag himself from under their smothering and critical ways, only to invent himself at a time when he is still highly impressionable. Deverell also layers much in this story, from the biography, two time periods, contentious murder trial, and in-depth discussion of Native residential schools, it is no wonder that the reader must pace themselves through this literary journey. I will not delve into these areas, for it is the reader’s chance to experience it for themselves and pass their own verdict on how things happened during those times mentioned throughout the novel. I cannot, however, stand here and not comment on how seamlessly the entire delivery ended up being, mixing excerpts from Chance’s own biographical piece with a narrative of the actual events leading up to the trial and then the ‘current day’ happenings as Beauchamp seeks to fix his most serious (known) legal gaffe. Brilliantly portrayed and sure to bring about much discussion amongst those who take the time to read this book. I can only hope that others enjoy this novel as much as I did.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for not shying away from the deep and dark areas of the legal and political past for which Canada cannot hide their blemishes. You have captivated me with all your work and this might just be the best one yet.

The Devil’s Kingdom (Ben Hope # 14), by Scott Mariani

Nine stars

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.

Star of Africa (Ben Hope #13), by Scott Mariani

Nine stars

There is much luck for series fans in Scott Mariani’s thirteenth novel in the Ben Hope series. In a novel that offers some tying-off of loose ends and a highly explosive plot, the reader has little chance to breathe as the action builds continually. As part of his vagabond nature, Hope finds himself back in Paris to sell off his home and free up some capital. Taking a temporary detour, Hope visits Le Val, the tactical training centre he created and gifted to his friend, Jeff Dekker. While trying to fill himself in on some news, Hope learns that Dekker helped Jude Arundel, recently discovered to be Hope’s son, secure a spot on an American merchant marine vessel currently in the Indian Ocean. Jude, tired of playing it safe, has chosen an opportunity to spread his proverbial wings. While Hope and Dekker find themselves busy at Le Val, Jude is in the middle of the ocean with the crew, though he can sense something is wrong. Learning that there is cargo more precious than the contents of the shipping containers, concerns rise that Jude might know too much. When a ship of marauding pirates appears on the horizon, Jude realises that there is much trouble to come and takes desperate measures to reach Dekker back in France. Upon learning of the ship’s issues, Dekker, Hope, and a crew of men rush to locate them, and covertly descend on the ship to handle the Somali pirates. When a storm hits and destroys the ship, Hope leads his crew and prisoners onto a life raft, where they seek assistance and final rescue. It is at this point that Hope learns about the calculated attack and that the Star of Africa, a precious diamond, is the central piece of cargo that many seek to take for themselves. When a rescue helicopter appears in the sky, Hope can only surmise that his troubles might be over, only to learn that General Jean-Pierre Khosa, a bloodthirsty Congolese warlord has his eyes set on not only the diamond, but to turn the tables and take a handful of hostages for himself. Pitting Hope’s love for his son against a general will to survive, the story pushes the decision to the limit, with a cliffhanger that will leave the reader rushing for the next novel. Mariani has pulled together many of the dangling threads form earlier novels to create this electrifying thriller, which entertains series fans and proves that Mariani has much in store for Ben Hope.

This Ben Hope binge has been highly informative over the past while, allowing me to see much growth in many of the characters, both central and periphery. As I have mentioned before, Ben Hope has undergone much change in the series to date, both progressive and regressive. It would seem that Mariani has surveyed the horizon and is seeking to mend some of these strained connections, or at least bring some resolution to them after Hope’s abrupt choice to kibosh his wedding two days before the ceremony. In this novel, there is much development of the Hope-Dekker relationship, which has always been a minor narrative mention, as well as a stronger and more emotional connection between Hope and Jude, paired together for a significant amount of time. This father-son connection was strained to begin, severed, and has since been resurrected as Hope seeks to play hero. However, Mariani adds another layer to the connection, forcing Hope to decide once and for all if he will choose Jude (thereby showing a parental side) or himself when the stakes are high. There are still a few character relationships that I hope Mariani mends, but the series is not over yet. Turning to the story in general, the excitement of this ‘terror on the high seas’ has me much pleased, as it adds levels of thrill that have been scaled back in some of the past novels. Looking not only to the seas, but the African continent and the search for an important diamond, Mariani pits his characters into a high-octane story that does not let up until the very end. There is truly a contrast in this novel, as the theme and location turns to the African continent, where social, political, and economic flavours differ greatly from the Euro- or Ameri-centric storylines that Mariani has used before. Depicted masterfully, the reader can feel the terror of Khosa’s bloody decisions that seek to exacerbate the already strained relations of the hostages.This is the first of a two-novel mini story arc that seeks to really flesh things out for all involved and forces the reader to buckle down for a detailed adventure that will pull on the heartstrings of many. The delivery is strong and the story development shows Mariani at his best and proves that his well of ideas is far from dry. I can only hope that there is much to come in this series, which has not dipped into going stale or off-putting, as can occur when authors seek to churn out books without careful plotting and slow development.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me hooked this far into the series. What a great choice for binge reading and there are still a few more to go.

The Cassandra Sanction (Ben Hope #12), by Scott Mariani

Seven stars

Continuing with a new-found vagabond lifestyle, Ben Hope tends to open the novel with more mystery, at the hands of Scott Mariani’s infinite list of ideas. Seeking again to live under the radar, Hope finds himself in Spain and witnesses a dust-up in a bar. Stepping in to help, Hope becomes acquainted with Raul Fuentes, who is trying to defend the honour of his sister, who seemingly committed suicide not too long before. The more Hope learns, the more he finds himself aligning with Raul’s belief that Catalina might be alive, her death part of an elaborate plan. Tracing her steps, Hope and Raul try to determine where she might have gone and for what reason. As they scour the European continent, Hope learns that Catalina Fuentes was known for not only her beauty, but the brains behind it. A solar physicist, her work related to sun spots was known within the academic community. Dodging a collection of men sent to deter them, Hope and Raul soon come face to face with the woman they seek, but this is only the start to their woes. Catalina tries to convince them to let her be, but when that fails, she expounds upon some troubling research that she has uncovered. What she knows might be more deadly to her that the world at large, though there is certainly enough to make headlines around the world. With one man seeking to destroy Dr. Fuentes at any cost, Hope must do all he can to save her before it’s too late. Another interesting science-based story from the archives of the master storyteller, Scott Mariani. Series fans will surely want to focus their attention on this one, as it charms and impresses on many levels.

The ongoing metamorphosis of Ben Hope has become a staggered process and one in which the protagonist struggles with shedding his past. Wanting a life free from of drama, Hope seems to be a magnet for it and cannot help but turn towards those in need. However convinced he is to himself, Hope cannot help but crack all mysteries and save all damsels. That said, there is only now a slow thaw as it relates to his family and what he did when he abandoned everyone two novels ago. This progression is an interesting contrast to the aforementioned lifestyle change he seeks. A dozen novels into the series, the story is rich in science and yet the thriller aspect is not lost on the dedicated reader. Things can get a little hung up and this might be one reason I was not able to push through with as much ease as I would have liked. However, that does not mean that its quality was lacking whatsoever. I am highly excited to see where Hope will go and how he will use some of his ever-evolving experience to tackle the next case. I yearn for more, Mr. Mariani and hope you have some real high-impact stories to come, both that address Hope’s need for thrills and his personal struggles that remain unresolved.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me hooked this far into the series. What a great choice for binge reading and there are still a few more to go.