Snow Job (Arthur Beauchamp #4), by William Deverell

Eight stars

Taking a different spin to this fourth novel in the series, William Deverell presents Arthur Beauchamp and the cast of other characters in a new light. Still savouring her by-election victory, Beauchamp’s wife, Margaret Blake, is enjoying life in Ottawa as the sole Green Party Member of Parliament. While basking in her success, Beauchamp, himself, is not as keen, pining for full-retirement back on Garibaldi Island, where he can farm to his heart’s delight. In an effort to pave the way for an Alberta-based oil company to win rights in the former Soviet satellite state, the Canadian Government are hosting a delegation from Bhashyistan. Deverell takes the reader inside the political heads and Cabinet room to show just how painful it is for members of the Privy Council to play nice with these less than refined men, with their forward ways and backwards thinking. Margaret is in her heyday, finding much that she can critique about these men and plays aghast that the Government would so blatantly allow themselves to be seen to curry favour with the environmentally unsound Bhashyistani representatives. While out walking one morning, Beauchamp comes across the security convoy that is shepherding the Bhashyistanis back to the airport, when it explodes before him. Flashbacks to fifteen years before and the country’s former leader, who was assassinated on Canadian soil. The alleged assassin at that time was found not guilty and this would be his ultimate second kick at the proverbial cat. In a state of shock, Canadian officials do all in their power to contain the situation, which includes knocking the Bhashyistani airliner from the skies for non-compliance with emergency security measures. What follows is a declaration of war by Bhashyistan and a Canadian Government unprepared for how the world will portray them. With the five Calgary oil executives taken prisoner in Bhashyistan, the Prime Minister must act quickly, starting with Operation Eager Beaver, in hopes of crushing this wayward state while the world’s opinion remains on their side. As they bumble through this, news that the aforementioned alleged assassin, Abzal Erzhan, was seen taken from the streets just outside his home have fuelled concerns that there may be a tit for tat taking place, putting Canada in the centre of an international diplomatic gaffe. Sitting idly by, Arthur Beauchamp swoops in to act as counsel for the missing Erzhan and his family, a pro bono gesture that takes him around the world. Meanwhile, as the country teeters on the edge from poorly executed extraction efforts, Parliament learns that it has been prorogued and a new election is forthcoming. Margaret Blake does all she can to hold onto her seat and help the Greens grow, while the ruling Conservatives must crush Bhashyistan and hope their efforts lead to a landslide victory. With a Bhashyistani propaganda machine being run through YouTube, the world watches, only to learn that three Canadian women may have inadvertently drifted into the country while on vacation. With eight Canadian hostages hidden away, the war between Bhashyistan and Canada reaches a head, though no one could have predicted the fallout. Deverell plants tongue firmly in cheek with this latest story, that adds a wonderful political flavour to things and keeps the reader hooked until the very end. Series fans may love it, though without that courtroom drama, there is a different angle of enjoyment whenever Arthur Beauchamp graces the page.

I have come to really enjoy all things Arthur Beauchamp, even when there is no courtroom to add a certain spice to the mix. Being a Canadian political nut, I have long sought out a novel that plays into the inner workings of the Canadian system and how effective the parliamentary system might be portrayed in a piece of fiction. Deverell does a masterful job here, painting Beauchamp as a wonderfully supportive husband who is still miserable in all he does. He seeks to make sense of what is going on, but does not hog the entire narrative. The cast of secondary characters, both those known to series readers and new ones that emerge in Ottawa, offer up a wonderfully entertaining connection to all things political and military, as Canada is thrust into a confrontation that rivals the opening day of Roll Up the Rim (you must be Canadian to understand) at the local Timmy’s. The story is wonderfully developed and delivered, placing a mockery of all things political in docile Canada. Still, Beauchamp is able to advocate for his client and meet many an interesting character along the way. I can only hope that with the results of the election, there is more excitement for both Beauchamp and Margaret, whose mission to create a greener (and Greener) country might come to pass before long. Paced beautifully and injected with enough humour to keep the reader hooked, Deverell has outdone himself here.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for keeping things light while addressing some interesting situations. I can only hope that you have more to come in the next Beauchamp instalment.

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The Martyr’s Curse (Ben Hope #11), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Seeking to reinvent Ben Hope (and have the character do some of that himself), Scott Mariani tries to turn the tables on the traditional path taken by novels in this series. Emotionally lost, Hope spent some time after his last mission in America wandering around the European continent. After settling in a French monastery, Hope uses the kindness of the monks to regroup and turn away from his personal vices. Seven months into his stay, Hope begins to wonder (again?!) if he ought to commit to a life of godliness and away from the toils of the outside world. While running an errand for the monastery, the sole vehicle breaks down and Hope, in a moment of weakness, turns to his old ways of drinking to excess. During this sojourn, Hope encounters someone from his past, only making the situation worse. Picking himself up, Hope returns to the monastery, only to find that all the monks have been murdered. One of the killers appears to have died in the crossfire as well, his getaway bag weighed down by two large gold bricks. After a pat-down, Hope finds a mobile phone and through a series of phone calls, coaxes one of the team to meet him. After grilling her, Hope discovers that this Sylvie Valois is actually working for French Homeland Security, trying to infiltrate a gang headed up by Udo Streicher, Swiss mercenary and devious criminal. Hope and Sylvie begin their slow search for Streicher, learning a little more about some of the hidden secrets the monastery has been saddled with over the centuries, all of which followed the controversial execution of Salvator l’Aveugle. Might Streicher have been stealing the gold as part of a larger plan related to Salvator’s final professions before being burned alive? Heading into Switzerland, Hope and Sylvie do their best to learn more, all while dodging the French and INTERPOL officials. When Hope learns of Streicher’s final plan and a secret kept in ancient documents that could have cataclysmic results, he and Valois must netralise things before they get out of hand. An interesting twist in the series, Mariani shows that Ben Hope can never steer entirely away from trouble or action. Series fans will surely enjoy this addition as Hope continues to show his prowess.

While I prefer not to compare authors or characters, I cannot stop from stating that Mariani’s Ben Hope is becoming more and more like Child’s Jack Reacher with each passing book. Series fans (and those who read my reviews) will remember that Hope messed up with his fiancée Brooke Marcel and left her hanging so that he could go about doing his own thing. As with many of the novels, Hope finds himself working with a female sidekick (though sometimes he is the one following his female companion) and there is always a question of chemistry. Hope tends to keep the females away from his heart (having let two in who pained him) and disappears off to the next location when it suits him. This novel continues that Reacher-esque attitude, with Hope hiding away in a monastery to reinvent himself. Hope wants to live his life and steer away from trouble, but it keeps knocking on his door and he is forced to take action. Mariani offers up Sylvie Valois as the latest sidekick and pushes them into a wonderfully devious story that has history and modern day implications in equal measure. I am happy to see the interactions and can only wonder if Hope will remain the ‘constant wanderer’ that has turned his character into someone new over the last few books. The story itself has some wonderful aspects, to the point that there was a race to see the past in order to stop the future, which always excites me more than a simple “shoot ‘em up” plot. Mariani touches on some of the 21st century technology that keeps thriller novels enticing without needing to use the traditional weapons that find their way into many stories. This new Ben Hope might also prove to be even better, as the reader will remain in the dark over where he is and what he does. Brilliant twist!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for never bowing to the pressure of the genre and keeping readers on their toes throughout the series.

The Forgotten Holocaust (Ben Hope #10), by Scott Mariani

Seven stars

After painting Ben Hope into quite the corner throughout the last novel, Mariani is back with yet another instalment to the series. This forces Hope to pick up the shards of his life after a few illogical decisions have tipped the scales yet again. Hope is back in Ireland, visiting the location of a home he once owned. While there, he meets an aspiring author, Kristen Hall, who shares some of her research. Kristen explains that she is attempting to pen the first difinitive biography of prominent early feminist, Lady Elizabeth Stamford. Hidden within Lady Stamford’s private journals lies a secret that could change the perception of Irish history forever. Hope and Kristen meet early one morning and are attacked by a crew of men, leaving him in the hospital and her destined for the morgue. What could these men have wanted that was so important? Might the journal truly be filled with scandalous material that someone wants destroyed?Meanwhile, across the world in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Erin Hayes stumbles upon a group of men torturing and eventually killing a man in the cottage of her employer. What is even more troubling is that she recognizes the ringleader as the city’s mayor. She has a copy of the murder on her cellphone and tries to approach the authorities, but soon discovers that she may not be able to trust anyone around her, as this mayoral gang goes all the way to the top of law enforcement. Forced into hiding, Erin must try to reveal what she knows, which extends to something even more troubling than a simple murder. Back in Europe, Hope tracks down some of those whom Kristen was to meet for her research. He learns a great deal more about the time surrounding these journals belonging to Lady Stamford and the Irish Famine of the mid-19th century. Stunning revelations come to the surface during Hope’s discussion with a historian, truths that turn the Potato Famine into something far more sinister. The research takes him to Tulsa, where a number of Irish fled after supersaturating the Eastern Seaboard. There, Hope stumbles upon Erin and her plight, learning that their two ‘missions’ are somewhat interconnected. Armed with the journals and what he knows, Hope must try to help Erin before they are both exterminated and a crooked politician reaps even more power. A great historical spin by Mariani keeps the reader curious and should appeal to fans of the series.

After turning his back, again, on all those who care about him and a journey that would surely have kept him safe from any danger, Ben Hope is left unsure of himself or any choices he has made over the past few months. His ever-evolving character and its development becomes yet another focus in the series, unable to shed the glory of his formidable past. Mariani has stopped looking into Hope’s past and now seems to ask his protagonist to project his own future. Using the traditional ‘hinged narrative’ of the series, Hope meets and tries to help two young women with their issues, tossing himself into the middle of a dangerous situation amid a slew of gunfire. Still, he will not back down when a damsel turns up across his path, though it seems settling down with anyone in particular is out of the question for him. The story is of interest to me, positing a major rewrite from the Irish history books, which might force the reader to suspend reality to a point. However, there is much intrigue in accepting this narrative branch-off and it keeps the early part of the story alive and electrified. In the latter portion of the novel, the reader sees Hope dodging bullets and goons as has become his trademark, where there is no lack of heroics to be had. Hope strives to help and once convinced of a cause, little will deter him. Mariani keeps the reader intrigued with his plot twists and ongoing turns, though I still wonder how the fallout of his matrimonial gamble will play out for our dear protagonist. Hope seems to have thought it was a foregone conclusion that all would work in his favour, though I am curious to see what Mariani has planned.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for allowing series fans a constant rejuvenation of Ben Hope and his adventures. I can only hope that you will keep the calibre this high as the series advances.

The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne

Nine stars

Karen Dionne develops this powerful novel that will pull the reader into an adventure like few others, injecting emotion and pure cunning into each chapter. Helena has a secret that she has been keeping for many years. She is the offspring of a kidnap victim and her captor. Helena has spent the first dozen years of her life living off the land, knowing nothing else. The isolation was something Helena suspected every child experienced, as she learned how to hunt, trap, and subsist without a lick of electricity. Now grown and having fled years in the past, her father sits in prison for his crimes, as the notoriety of the events has long since deflated. The reader learns of how Helena was forced to reinvent herself and acclimate to life in the world, surrounded by others with their social rules and expectation. She has a family of her own, but has not told them about her sensationalized upbringing in a similar community of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When word comes out that her father has escaped prison, having killed two guards before fleeing into the woods, Helena has no choice but to tell her husband the truth. While he tries to waylay the shock he feels, Helena saddles him with the added news that she will not go into hiding with them, but has chosen to scour the woods for her father, in hopes of capturing him for the state troopers. What follows is a narrative that alternates between the present and Helena’s struggles to locate her father, who has taught her everything she knew about these woods, and flashbacks to her growing up in an isolated cabin, having no idea that she was a victim of a heinous crime. Dionne pushes both stories along and shows the slow revelation that Helena made as she came to realize that the man she idolized was nothing but a sadistic control freak. As Helena tries to find her father, the past and present collide, forcing her to play a deadly game of cat and mouse, where only one will survive. Trouble is, both parties are prepare to hunt the other until all that remains is a bleeding corpse. Brilliantly paced and presented, fans across the board will flock to this piece that explores epiphanies and slow maturation with just the right amount of thrill factor to keep the reader guessing.

Having never read any Karen Dionne previously, I was not sure what to expect. While reviews and ‘currently reading’ presence is strong for this book, I cannot always take the insights of others as my own. However, for the second novel in a row, I am pleased that I was pulled-in my the whirlpool of Goodreads popularity a novel has received. Dionne does an amazing job of using the blissful ignorance of young Helena to allow her to absorb all her father wants to teach her, only to turn the tables in the present-day manhunt that takes place to locate him. The reader can see growth in both incarnations of Helena, while also understanding the depth of her victimhood throughout the narrative. Dionne lays it all out on the table, allowing the reader to weigh in and determine if Helena was a victim or simply a product of her isolated upbringing. Adding numerous layers in the form of characters, real and imagined, the story takes on a new depth as the narrative bounced between both time periods. Dionne thickens the plot and the overall story by paralleling happenings in the novel with the fairy tale of the same name penned by Hans Christian Andersen many years before. Brilliant to be able to contrast and compare, as pieces of the tale appear to begin various chapters. The story has crumbs of uniqueness as well as the typical manhunt aspects, though the delivery is so flawless that the reader cannot help but feel drawn in until the final pages. Some will bemoan that the book is falsely labelled a thriller, but I think that if enough time is taken reflecting on the plot and the building narrative, it is clear that there are scores of thriller moments on which the reader can only posit where things will go next. Surely filled with research and dedication, Dionne has blown me away with the attention to detail in this piece. I cannot think of the last time I was so impressed by a story that is so simplistic and yet so complex at the same time.

Kudos, Madam Dionne for offering up this idea. I will have to find time to read more of your work, as you are both a wordsmith and master of slow and steady plot development.

The Nemesis Program (Ben Hope #9), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Just when series fans are likely prepared for Scott Mariani to run out of ideas, Ben Hope emerges in yet another life path, prepared (yet again!) to settle down. Having left Le Val and his training facility in his past, Hope has settled in nicely at the vicarage and serving in the accompanying capacity. Convinced that he ought to finish his theology studies, Hope is also preparing to marry Brooke Marcel after their harrowing proposal in the Peruvian jungles. A few days before the nuptials, Hope and his son, Jude, are busy working on the property when they are visited by an American. However, this is not just any American, but scientist Roberta Ryder, a former flame of Hope’s (from the beginning of the series). She tells of how her close friend in the scientific community, Claudine Pommier, has been murdered. Paris authorities feel that she is the latest victim of a serial killer, but Ryder is not convinced. She uses her wiles and persuasive arguments to convince Hope to follow her to Paris to help investigate. Hope has no bones asserting his decision on Brooke, who protests this gallivanting behaviour, especially this close to the wedding. Refusing to listen, Hope dashes off with Ryder and makes plans to investigate further. While being attacked by a handful of henchmen, Hope learns that there must be something more than a simple murder at play here. Ryder explains more about Pommier’s research into some of the scientific discoveries of Nicola Tesla, who was at work on experiments using energy waves. The Serbian had also begun work on a weapon of sorts that utilised these ideas. Pommier knew secrets related to the weapon that many would either like for themselves, or out of the hands of others. Working with Ryder to locate the other scientist in whom Pommier confides, they head to Sweden, only to learn just how devastating Tesla’s invention could be, if put in the hands of the wrong people. Hope and Ryder must work together to get their hands on Tesla’s research and prototypes, which were confiscated upon his death in the 1940s by the American Government. However, nothing is as easy as it seems, especially with a branch of the US Government working hard to develop a weapon of mass destruction. Victor Craine is at the head of this and Hope must stop him, before the world order shifts permanently. Another wonderful thriller by Mariani, which pushes the Ben Hope character in new and troubling directions. Series fans will surely enjoy this next instalment in the series, though Hope’s troubling behaviour will surely leave some less than impressed with the protagonist.

As I continue my Ben Hope binge, I have come to see much growth and development in the narratives, as well as with the protagonist. Mariani works hard to keep each story unique, though there is still the ‘save the world man’ inherent in the Ben Hope persona. Hope takes his personal life and tries to reinvent himself, though seems weak in his attempts, as he is derailed by a simple plea from a damsel in distress. How he is able to easily to push aside his latest ‘love of my life’ seems problematic, especially in the face of strong criticism by his own son and sister. Mariani uses this novel to draw on a number of the characters that have entered Hope’s life and offers them a part, even if it is only a small role. Returning to historical science, Mariani leads readers down an interesting path and presents a thriller around the ‘what if’ possibilities. Dedicated series fans will likely enjoy something with a little more meat, based on history, as the narrative take some literary freedoms to strengthen its foundation. However, there is a niggling issue that I have wanted to address for a while. I admit, this is fiction and so the reader ought to suspend their beliefs in some form, but Hope seems to always have oodles of money whenever he needs it, cached away in a million spots. I can only imagine that his diamond-encrusted four poster bed awaits him in a future novel. It seems he can always fly to the far corners of the world and just HAPPENS to have tons of cash for anything at the drop of a hat. There, rant over. Bring on the tenth novel!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me entertained throughout. I am grateful to have found this series and love how things are developing.

The Fourth Monkey (4MK#1), by J.D. Barker

Nine stars

In this captivating series debut, J. D. Barker pulls the reader into the depths of a serial killer’s mind and how a spark in youth can erupt into a wildfire of indifference. Chicago Homicide Detective Sam Porter has been working to capture the Four Monkey Killer for over five years, watching as the victim count mounts with minimal clues, saving the severed pieces sent in boxes. When called to the scene of an early morning pedestrian-vehicle accident, Porter is baffled as to why he would be involved. What awaits him is perhaps the most curious and yet relieving scene; apparently the Four Monkey Killer has been neutralized after being launched through the air. Within a box like all the others, an ear sits inside and the address of a prominent real estate mogul penned on the label. Additionally, there is a diary that recounts some of the early thoughts of the killer There is little time for victory dances, as Porter must locate the victim before it’s too late. Taking time to read the diary, Porter learns that the writing depicts a man remembering his childhood and how one summer day, his peaceful life was rocked when he discovered the depravity his parents found entertaining. The reader collects much of the backstory here as the story evolves and a neighbourly indiscretion has severe consequences. With the victim completely isolated, Emory Conners tries to reason with herself to learn why she has been taken and what awaits her. Is there someone there, bantering with her, or has the terror led her to hallucinate at the worst possible moment? Just as Porter thinks he has it all figured out, the case turns on its head and the entire foundation comes crumbling down. Will the Four Monkey Killer have the final laugh in his macabre game of monkey and… zookeeper? Is Emory the final victim, or are there more in other locations, waiting to be slain as well? Barker spins a sadistic, but enthralling, story here and keeps the reader wondering until the very last page. He refuses to tie things off entirely, even at that point, paving the way for a sequel that will be much anticipated. Perfect for those who can handle some psychopathy with their thrill reading.

I have heard much about this book over the last while, as it fills my Goodreads review emails. I am happy to have taken the plunge and have already signed myself up to read and review the sequel. Barker does much in this first novel, entertaining and educating the reader on many levels. The split narrative forces the reader to keep up with three essential and interconnected pieces, while also following the progression of the individual storylines. Porter may seem like a well-adjusted detective, but he has much in his own life that has him unsettled, which only goes to thicken the plot and the development the reader finds herein. The story itself, based loosely on an expansion of the popular “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys from Chinese lore, looks to the lesser known “do no evil”, which serves as the fourth monkey. Barker explains the history while developing a gut-wrenching narrative to tie it all together. The plot itself is not overly unique, but the way it is expressed individualises the story nicely, which leaving much open for interpretation. It is one of the better psychological thrillers I have read and I can only hope that Barker will keep the series going, whether Sam Porter remains in the protagonist’s chair after the sequel or not. There is much found herein that leads the reader to see much potential and I can only hope that fans will stumble upon this book in short order and discover that the hype is justified.

Kudos, Mr. Barker for this wonderful debut. I am eager to see what else you have in store in the coming novels.

Kill All the Judges (Arthur Beauchamp #3), by William Deverell

Eight stars

William Deverell brings Arthur Beauchamp back for a third novel in the series. Putting a new spin on more Canadian legal drama, Deverell keeps the reader hooked into this whodunit until after the final gavel resonates in the courtroom. Again happy with his retirement (and going so far as to pledge to ‘retire from unretiring’), Arthur Beauchamp is happy to enjoy life on Garibaldi Island. However, Margaret has her eyes set on a new prize, the nomination for the Green Party in the upcoming federal by-election. Working diligently to woo potential party members, Margaret is happy to shuffle her opinionated legal scholar of a husband off to the other side of the island. Beauchamp, on the other hand, wants away from anything legal or political, though does agree to tend to some minor matters when legal proceedings reach the recreation centre one sunny afternoon. While there, Beauchamp is pestered by Cudworth Brown, island poet and somewhat of a smarmy man who shared a tree perch with Margaret a few years before to protest some environmental issues. It would appear that Brown is being accused of tossing a judge off his own balcony and leaving him for dead, before driving off and passing out behind the wheel. This is but the latest in a series of judicial deaths, none of which has been adequately explained. To make matters worse, Brown’s current counsel, Brian Pomeroy, has been slow to build his case in the real world, while penning his own quasi-fictional novel about the entire event. When Pomeroy succumbs to a life of cocaine-induced delusions, Beauchamp reluctantly agrees to take the case, though the deck seems stacked against him, with a judge who is strongly pro-Crown and a second chair, Wentworth Chance, whose legal experience has been notably as a researcher and life-long fan of Arthur R. Beauchamp, Q.C. With a Crown attorney happy to defer to Beauchamp, the case progresses, though the salacious one-nighter between Brown and the victim’s wife is denied by no one, only fuelling the motive to kill this less than pleasant judge. Can Beauchamp find an out and point the finger before the jury brings back a verdict? While he worries about this, Beauchamp must also wonder if Margaret will pave the way for her own successes and end up in Ottawa representing the constituency. Deverell spins a wonderfully complex tale and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat until the final page, even then wondering what has just happened. Brilliantly executed for those who love legal thrillers.
Deverell continues to impress with this series and shows the complexities that can befall a well-crafted legal thriller, given the time investment. Arthur Beauchamp remains a wonderful character whose blunt nature works well while surrounded with a number of interesting characters. His see-saw battle with trying to leave the legal profession is done in such a way that the reader cannot help but chuckle, more because it is seen to be a part of his ever-aging DNA than anything else. Cudworth Brown and Wentworth Chance keep the story intriguing for diametrically opposite reasons, which allows the reader to see a wonderful contrast. Margaret remains the busybody, though her plunge into federal politics should prove interesting down the road, should Deverell take the reader into that precariously balanced relationship with her across the country. The story was on-point, though I will say that the first third of the novel alternated between the ‘novel’ that Brian Pomeroy was writing about the murders and actual events, leaving the reader to parse through both to determine which is which. Making matters worse, the novel uses the same characters and similar conversations to fuel itself, forcing the reader to reach for a beverage, if only to offer a mental reset. Legal matters flow with ease and the reader is again taken into the courtroom and all that is Arthur Beauchamp in the mastery of legal matters. Deverell is a master at laying out the courtroom and the banter between all its actors, if only to add another complexity to this already heavy piece. Still, it is well worth the journey through all aspects of the piece and anyone with a penchant for legal and courtroom matters will not be disappointed they invested some time.
Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for educating and entertaining on all this legal, particularly homicide. Your twists and turns throughout the narrative are wonderfully executed and kept me guessing.

The Armada Legacy (Ben Hope #8), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Ben Hope is back for another high-octane thriller, pulling him in many directions. Still smarting from the recent fallout with Brooke Marcel, Hope has been trying to coalesce and mend his emotional troubles. When Hope hears from one of Brooke’s friends, worried that she has gone missing while at a gala in Ireland, Hope rushes to the country of his birth to look into it. When he arrives, Hope discovers that Brooke was there to learn of an exciting discovering made by a recent underwater exploration company. However Brooke is gone and its founder has been murdered, both his hands cut off. Hope switches to work mode and begins piecing together the clues, turning first to former IRA operatives who used the same technique in their heyday. What begins as fanning the flames as it relates to Irish politics soon takes a darker turn, when Hope learns that a land title from over 500 years before has been taken. Meanwhile, Brooke awakens to learn that she is being held captive by Ramon Serrato, in South America. She learns of the document from the 16th century, but the reason she, herself, was captured leaves a chill running down her spine. Will Hope make it to her in time, before Serrato completes his most dastardly plan yet? Assisted by a local cop with a vendetta, Hope searches through jungles and more primitive dwellings for Serrato and to remove Brooke from any more danger. Mariani does well to offer new and interesting angles in this eighth thriller in the series. Fans of Ben Hope will enjoy this one, which pushes things out of the European theatre and into the deepest jungles of the Americas.

Mariani continues to impress with this piece and explores new ways to keep the attention on Hope and Brooke, as well as their strained relationship. As always, there is much to explore in their backstories, as well as trying to mend the issues that arose when Hope was sure she had turned to another man. Additionally, Hope has the secret of his son, Jude, to share with Brooke. He has not been able to do that yet, though now seems like as good a time as any. Mariani also tackles the tension between the two and tries to weave together an understanding, at long last. Adding a wonderful collection of other secondary characters, Mariani propels the story forward while taking events to Peru. Hope’s search takes the reader along with him, where he continues to show off his soldiering skills in an effort to save Brooke from another sadistic killer. The narrative flows effectively and the reader can feel enveloped in the fast pace of the story, as Hope pushes himself to the limits. Keeping the reader involved to the final pages, Mariani shows that his fountain of ideas is far from running dry.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for more excitement in this enthralling series. I am eager to see where things will move from here and how you will top the thrills you have laid out already.

The Sacred Sword (Ben Hope #7), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Mariani continues to impress in the seventh Ben Hope novel, pushing much onto the reader about the personal struggles of the protagonist, while entertaining with a high-impact mystery that is full of historical curiosity. Still smarting from the fallout with Brooke Marcel, contract psychologist at his training facility and one-time potential romantic interest, Hope heads to Oxforshire to present an award named after his late wife. While there, he runs into Simeon and Michaela Arundel, friends from his days as a theology student. He agrees to spend time with them, having not seen them for over two decades, though hopes that he is not imposing. Simeon is a vicar now, having completed his studies and moved to work under the umbrella of the Church of England. When he arrives at their vicarage, Ben is met by news that Simeon is writing a highly secretive book about a Sacred Sword, though little else is revealed at the time. Soon thereafter, the Arundels are involved in a car accident, though it smells strongly of a murder plot, and someone arrives at their home to retrieve something. Hope is highly suspicious and wonders if it might have something to do with the book Simeon has been writing. Adding a wrinkle to everything, no one has yet reached out to their son, Jude. Hope makes the effort to track him down and deliver the news, alongside some interesting additional information about a Catholic priest who was part of a recent expedition that Simeon made to Israel. Meanwhile, there is someone who wants access to all the information about this Sacred Sword, if only to destroy its whereabouts. As Hope is armed with a few fragments of information, he must be stopped, alongside Jude, who seems to have latched onto the man in their effort to find out the truth behind what Simeon uncovered. Their journey takes them to the Holy Land as well as to the United States, where a reclusive billionaire might have some knowledge essential to better understanding the Sacred Sword, its historical significance, and why that put Simeon and his friends in such danger. Mariani keeps the tension high throughout this novel and offers up much for the reader to explore as it relates to Ben Hope the character. Series fans will enjoy this and can surely promote it to those who might want to find a new series on which to binge in the near future.

Mariani’s significant time spent on the Ben Hope backstory in this novel is readily apparent and appreciated. As I have been binge-reading the series, I have come across a number of wonderful nuggets that help build the Ben Hope character, but there seems to be a rich find in each successful novel, enough to stun series fans. Taking Hope back this his theology days, if only for a time, proves enriching, as some will know that he had pondered returning before having a lapse of faith during one of his missions. There are some key revelations in this book that will only add new chapters to Hope’s emotional development and backstory, alongside the strain of trying to process where he stands with Brooke Marcel. There are a few tie-ins to past novels, including mentions of some of the storyline from The Lost Relic, but the book does stand on its own fairly well. The story is strong and while it does seem Hope enjoys traipsing all over the place, the story holds up well during this race for answers. Religious relics always hold some strong interest for me, as it allows the writer to develop truths or suppositions and then build on them, though there are surely those who will speak from their ivory towers to dispel myths found embedded in these pieces of fiction. Yes, fiction is supposed to allow a few smudges to tell the story, though some seem to forget that and rant on about the errors. The story moves swiftly as Hope works with Jude as a relatively useful sidekick. There is a sense of a small ‘checklist’ in each novel, but it is not as blatantly presented as some authors might use, allowing the narrative to grow and develop with a number of wonderful surprises.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for another wonderful novel in the series. I am hooked and I cannot wait to dive into the next novel to see where it takes Hope and the rest of those we have come to know so well.

April Fool (Arthur Beauchamp #2), by William Deverell

Eight stars

Returning to the world of William Deverell, I found myself enthralled by this second novel in the Arthur Beauchamp series. Free of the inherent glory of literary awards, the reader is able to get to the core of the story; two powerful legal matters. Enjoying life as a goat farmer on Garibaldi Island, off British Columbia’s mainland, Arthur Beauchamp has not missed the fast-paced life as a defence attorney. Married to his once neighbour, Margaret, Beauchamp has been able to enjoy the quiet life. Margaret, the consummate protestor, has turned her attention to her Save Gwendolyn Project, seeking to prevent companies coming in and destroying the forests, particularly when a pair of eagles are spotted in a nearby tree. Ramping up her efforts, Margaret agrees to sit in a makeshift tree fort to protest the environmental issues. The authorities began cracking down and gathering up some of the protestors, which brings a few lawyers in to help defend the Gwendolyn protestors, including Lotis Rudnicki, newly drawn to the profession but with a long history of small-screen stardom. Meanwhile, one of Beauchamp’s former repeat clients, Mick ‘the Owl’ Faloon has found himself wrapped up in a murder charge related to a therapist with whom he was fraternizing in Port Alberni. Faloon decries his innocence, but all the evidence points to his guilt, particularly seminal fluid found inside the victim. Beauchamp agrees to help, but is soon thrust into first chair after a familial breakdown befalls the original attorney. Working on both the environmental matter and trying to prepare Faloon for trial, Beauchamp begins to develop a closer working relationship with Lotis Rudnicki, the new-age flower child of the legal profession. With Margaret holed away in the tree, Beauchamp must use his mind rather than any other ‘brain’ to move forward and keep things proper. While away on the mainland fighting these two cases, Beauchamp cannot crack how his client’s DNA might have been placed at the scene of the crime, though does not dispute Faloon’s innocence. On the eve of the trial, Faloon organizes an escape and flees to Europe, leaving Beauchamp to begin the trial with the accused in absentia. Paired with a Crown attorney who is eager to push the case quickly before the jury and the Chief Justice presiding, Beauchamp is in for quite the legal circus. Focussed on the murder trial, though always hoping that the Gwendolyn folks remain one step in front of the legal decisions being made in an adjacent courtroom, Beauchamp cannot help but worry about Margaret and her decision to roll the dice to further enamour herself with the environmental activists around. A stunning legal thriller with the perfect development into a courtroom drama, Deverell redeems himself after a less than well-presented series debut. Those who love a good Canadian legal thriller will lap this up and soon see that William Deverell is a master at his trade.
While only the second novel in the series, I am captivated and drawn to the Arthur Beauchamp novels already. Those who had the chance to read my review of the series debut will know that I was confused by all the literary prizes for a piece that seemed to toss too much at the reader in the form of massive chapters, as if it were meant to weed out the less dedicated. Here, Deverell returns after a writing hiatus to develop the Beauchamp character a great deal. With an equally long lull in legal matters, Beauchamp has become a small-town citizen who loves his farming but still spouts Latin to anyone who will listen. He seems to love the peace and quiet that becomes his every day, though there is surely a part of him that remains sharp when it comes to legal matters. Deverell develops less of a backstory on Beauchamp than to build this post-attorney foundation and the happiness in rural British Columbia. However, the old dog still has it in him and Arthur Beauchamp is able to return to the fray at the drop of a hat, though perhaps a little more hesitant and definitely with increased sobriety. Tossing in a more grounded Margaret and a slew of other secondary characters, Deverell offers the reader some interesting contrasts within the story, if only to exemplify the various sides of Beauchamp. The story is crisp and flows with greater ease than the debut, paced out with excellent chapter breaks and poignant forks in the narrative, which allow the reader to see all that is going on. Without weighing things down too much, Deverell does force the reader to become one with the legal battles taking place, therefore he chooses not to skim over key aspects in a single sentence or paragraph. The legal arguments are strong and yet not lost on the non-legal minded reader who might enjoy some courtroom banter. Brilliantly presented and thoroughly enjoyable, William Deverell has a definite winner on his hands when it comes to this series, as long as things continue to build on this powerful second novel.
Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for making the law so entertaining and yet not skimping on it. You foist Canada into the limelight and show just how different we can be from a genre that is supersaturated with vapid American legal stories.