The Pandemic Plot (Ben Hope #23), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

When first I discovered the work of Scott Mariani, I could not get enough of the action and great plots of his novels. Now, with the 23rd novel in his Ben Hope series, I still feel the same excitement, something that is rare when things have gone on this long. Hope finds himself in another mess, as his son has been arrested for a murder in England. Hope travels from France, in hopes of untangling the web, only to have the young man land in prison and await trial. Hope traces the murder back to an investigation the victim had been undertaking, which leads to a mysterious journal. Within the pages of this book lies the cornerstone of a secret that could change the face of history. While Hope is baffled by what he discovers, it is more important to find the killer and clear his son’s name once and for all. Mariani pens another winner that had me riveted throughout.

Ben Hope may be former SAS, but even he likes the idea of some downtime on his property in rural France. All that is shattered when he gets a call from his son, Jude, who has just been arrested for the murder of a man staying at the family estate in England. Hope rushes to help, only to find a cocky Jude unwilling to abide by the legal rules. Jude is tossed into jail ahead of his trial, as Hope tries to get to the root of what happened.

Hope soon learns that the victim is a Canadian investigator who’s been hired to look into some family events. At the centre of it all is a journal from almost a century before. As Hope tries to peel back the layers, others who are involved in the investigation turn up dead, leading him to believe that there is cover-up taking place. As he tries to get a handle on what’s taking place, Hope connects with a police detective who is not quite convinced that Jude is guilty either. Together, they try to pry open some doors and figure out what could be fuelling this murder spree.

As Hope reads the journal in question, he learns of a young woman’s path into the criminal world. These petty crimes culminate in the theft of a rare book, which proves to be more than simply a piece of literature. Between scouring the pages of the journal, Hope connects with a man who has much to share about the pharmaceutical world, admissions that could pave the way for ruthless criminals to get their hands on debilitating weapons. These two storylines connect, albeit loosely, to open the door to questions about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and what one company might have known all those years ago.

While Hope tries to help exonerate Jude, the young man finds himself making both friends and enemies behind bars. An act of bravery earns Jude the thanks of a ruthless gang leader, who organises a prison escape. Now, with Jude on the lam, Hope must worrry about his son and a killer who is sure to strike again soon. It will take everything Hope has to keep everyone safe, while ensuring he lives long enough to present the truth to the authorities.

While there are some authors who write long series and tend to run out of ideas, Scott Mariani seems to be on point deep into his Ben Hope thrillers. The stories are poignant to the day and the action is never diluted. I have found few series that can say as ‘fresh’ after so many adventures, but Ben Hope seems always to find new ways to entertain readers with his antics. I enjoy whenever I hear of a new novel by Mariani, particularly when Ben Hope is in the middle of yet another adventure.

Ben Hope has lost none of the lustre of the early novels in this series. Passionate about those who matter to him, Hope always finds a way to help them while thrusting himself into the middle of a troublesome situation. The reader usually sees him traversing the globe to find answers, but this novel keeps our protagonist within the confines of England for the most part, using his brains and brawn in equal measure. Hope is fuelled by trying to help his son, a connection that is still fairly fresh for him, as series fans will know well. I can only hope to see more of the softer side of Hope in the coming novels, though his love for the few family members he has shines through this novel.

Mariani offers up a strong cast of supporting characters, both those in a returning role and new faces to keep the story flowing. The reader is able to see things in a new light, particularly in the flashback sequences and those characters who carry the story along in the 1920s and 30s. There is a nice balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ individuals to keep the plot moving along, something that permits the reader to contrast and compare with ease.

The story was a well-balanced piece of work, something that I enjoy so deep into the series. The narrative flowed well, developing the plot effectively in the two timelines. A mix of chapter lengths allow the reader to get ensconced in all the sub-plots before being thrust into action and cliffhangers as well. All of this permits for a thoroughly enjoyable read. As Mariani is apt to do, there is a spin on history that forces the reader to open their mind, as they wonder how much could actually be truth as opposed to fictional supposition to add spice to the story. Many will ask, can the book be read as a standalone? While I suppose it could, I will repeat what I often do when asked this question. Why would you want to miss out on the nuances that pile up throughout the series and culminate here? Series fans will surely love this one, as it is another winner. Those who are new to Scott Mariani had best decide how much of a ride they want. I’d highly recommend getting their proverbial feet wet at the beginning, as it is an excellent series worth the investment.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what Ben Hope has coming up in the future!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/the-pandemic-plot/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Demon Club (Ben Hope #22), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Back for another tale in the Ben Hope series, Scott Mariani has again succeeded in keeping the momentum going. This series, which always seems to have something new to add, provides thrills and entertainment, as well as a few twists to keep the story sharp. Who doesn’t love a demonic cult of rich men? Sure to impress series fans and those looking for a well-paced thriller.

Jaden Wolf’s been given a mission to exterminate a man with a sizeable bank account that accompanies his stellar reputation. Wolf’s scouted him out and follows the prominent fellow to a rural part of England, only to stumble upon some sort of ritualistic event that ends in the sacrificial offering of a young woman. He’s got it on video, but only realises after the fact that his presence has also been caught on film, forcing him to flee.

After returning from a romantic weekend, Ben Hope is eager to see if this new belle might be someone worth keeping around. However, his thought processes are interrupted when someone approaches him on one of his flights back to France with a mission, find and kill Jaden Wolf. Otherwise, a certain ‘lady friend’ will be killed. Hope knows that he cannot risk the life of an innocent woman, so he reluctantly agrees.

Hope traces Wolf to the outskirts of a Spanish village, remembering how they served together in the SAS. Wolf was a sly soldier and so Hope will have to use all his wits, if it means getting this done quickly and without making any waves. However, once Hope and Wolf come head to head, the truth is revealed about what the latter witnessed, forcing Hope to reconsider his extermination contract.

All the while, Hope’s two associates learn what’s been going on and go into full protection mode, travelling to Scotland to aid a lass from being murdered. This, in turn, takes much of the pressure off Hope and leaves him able to focus on the task at hand, learning more about this ritualistic group. It turns out, its members are all important figures in the British social community and one has penned a tell-all book, but not before being killed himself.

It will be up to Wolf and Hope to learn more about The Pandemonium Club—as they call themselves—and the rules of their game. This could be the only way to truly end the demonic acts these men perform, masked and robed in the dead of night. However, it will be no walk in the park, but more a stroll through the depths of Hell!

Scott Mariani has never failed to keep me entertained with one of his Ben Hope novels. Mixing the thrill of the hunt with some educational aspects of lesser-known groups, the reader is always treated to something well worth their while. While the series is well-established, this being the 22nd novel, things have never waned to the point of overdoing it, as can be said for some series that stretch well past their best-before date.

Ben Hope returns for more protagonist fun. He’s always eager to show off his brains and brawn, though does toss in a little character development on occasion as well. Eager to take on a mission that will leave him vulnerable, Hope knows what it means to stand up against the forces of evil, no matter whose hiding in the shadows. Still, he is less reckless than one might expect, but makes up for it with a great deal of grit.

With a mix of recurring characters and those who are new to the Hope sphere, Mariani uses his supporting characters effectively. The story rests on interactions and narrative momentum that is fuelled by well-established secondary characters. One learns a great deal about Hope’s past, as well as his determination, though the actions of those who grace the pages of the book. Mariani keeps the banter and jokes coming with them, but also injects the needed evil aspects to keep the plot from going stale.

The story itself was entertaining, even if it might not have been entirely unique. A demonic cult of wealthy men with a core sentiment driving them has a way of grabbing the reader’s interest. While Ben Hope is an acquired taste for some, I have come to like the stories, eager when I hear that a new one is on the way. With a mix of short and longer chapters, I can rely on being pulled into the middle of a worthwhile plot and kept wondering until all is revealed. The attentive reader will also see great connections to other books in the series, without rehashing everything at the beginning of each novel. Highly entertaining and perfect for this time of year, which has proven to be very hectic for me.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. I am happy to find that you can still lure me in with your ideas.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Pretender’s Gold (Ben Hope #21), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

A longtime fan of Scott Mariani’s work, I turned to this latest novel in the Ben Hope series, which has never let me down when it comes to excitement. With some new twists and great characters, the story gained momentum throughout and kept me hooked until the final pages. Ross Campbell came across quite the discovery one day in the Scottish Highlands, locating a large cache of gold coins dated back to the middle of the 18th century. He’s smart enough to hide them away, but not to keep his mouth shut about their existence, as he brags around town. Campbell is found days later, floating in a body of water, possibly a freak accident that did him in. His business partner, Ewan McCulloch, is left to handle everything and receives an odd call late into the night about having seen a band of men drowning Campbell. The mystery caller refuses to identify himself, though tips his hand that he is a local poacher. Ewan reaches out to his uncle, Boonzie McCulloch for some help, as he is not sure how to handle things. The elder McCulloch has some time on his hands and travels from his home in Italy to offer some assistance. Ewan stumbles upon some of the coins before his uncle arrives and tries to forewarn him with an email and an attached photo. Ewan’s attacked and put in hospital before Boonzie arrives, which only makes things all the more mysterious. When Boonzie himself fails to alert his wife, the plot thickens even more. Enter Ben Hope, who receives a frantic call from Boonzie’s wife and agrees to make a trip up to the Highlands to sort it all out. When Hope arrives, he thinks this might be a simple case of peeling a Scot away from his single malt bottle, but soon learns that there is more to the story. Working with a local police constable off the books, Hope learns that Boonzie’s disappearance and the beating that Ewan took might be tied to one another. When he sees a photo of the coin, he’s sure that it is all part of a larger and more sinister scheme. As the hunt progresses, Hope learns of a man who claims he is part of the bloodline of a Scottish monarch and wants the gold for himself, thinking that it might have been hidden away to keep it safe. In a game of cat and mouse, Hope must battle his henchmen and try to find Boonzie alive, all while trying to make sure the coins don’t fall into the wrong hands and leave him with nothing. There will be danger and Hope has everything to lose, including a dear friend and a young woman who’s come to mean a little something to him. A great addition to the Ben Hope series that proves Scott Mariani still has it. Recommended to those who like a good thriller set away from the big city, as well as those who have followed and enjoyed Ben Hope from the beginning.

I cannot remember who pointed me in the direction of these books by Scott Mariani, but once I started, I could not get enough. The stories are quite good and the series builds effectively, with strong characters and an equally captivating set of plots that are different enough so as not to appear cookie cutter. Ben Hope has long outlasted a backstory, but he continues to forge ahead and uses the past to his advantage as he finds himself in hew and exciting adventures. His determination to help others remains strong, even though it has cost him a great deal in the past. He is gritty, hard working, and never one to shy away from a fight. Mariani uses a strong cast of secondary characters in this piece, as usual, all of whom help build a stronger plot and provide the reader with something on which they can be well pleased. Offering a number of perspectives, the story is flavoured with the banter and interaction of all those who grace the pages of the book. A strong story that, admittedly, opens with a few tangential aspects, gets stronger as it finds its legs, permitting the reader to find their pace and enjoy it from there. Mariani jam-packs a great deal of history and information into his piece, but the reader is never left scrambling, as it almost seems natural in how it is delivered. With a mix of chapter lengths, the reader is lulled into a sense of comfort, then dropped a cliffhanger and they push onwards in hopes of learning more, only to find themselves lost in the strong narrative and superior storytelling. That this is the 21st novel in the series does not faze me, as I have come to enjoy them all!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. I am eager to see where you will take the series next, as it seems you are never out of ideas.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

House of War (Ben Hope #20), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Scott Mariani, and Avon Books UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

A long-time fan of Scott Mariani and his work, I eagerly read this latest Ben Hope thriller when I could get my hands on it. Full of poignant themes and a quick narrative, Mariani does not disappoint his readers. After returning to France from his most recent mission, Ben Hope only wants to enjoy the sights and sounds of home. However, he has a chance encounter when he literally bumps into a young woman. In the scuffle, she forgets her phone and Hope is able to track down her home address. Trying to be helpful in this age of digital technology, Hope arrives to deliver it, only to find that she has been slain in her apartment. He thinks back to the man he crossed in the stairwell and it clicks. It was a man he thought long dead from his days in the SAS. However, it would seem that Nazim al-Kassar is anything but dead. A ruthless fighter for ISIS/ISIL, al-Kassar brings back many a bloody memory for Hope. Trying to find out how to handle locating and instilling his own form of justice, Hope reaches out to some of his former SAS compatriots. In doing so, Hope also discovers that this woman has ties to one Julien Segal, who may be working with al-Kassar. The hunt is on for both men, which reveals an even more complex situation. As the narrative heightens, there is reference to a passage in the Koran, which can be interpreted as seeking a ‘House of War’, whereby the world should be converted to Islam or subjugated by those who follow Allah. Might Nazim al-Kassan have this in mind? When Hope discovers his plan, it’s a no-holds barred attempt to wrestle control away from his madman, which might mean ending his reign of terror once and for all. An energetic new addition to the Hope series, which seems not to wane as the number of books mount. Recommended to those who enjoy something with an action-filled terror theme, as well as the reader who enjoys the Ben Hope series.

While I have long bemoaned that authors have overdone the ‘Muslim terrorist’ theme in thriller books, I found that Mariani took a slightly different approach to breathe a little new life into things. He works along the parameter and keeps the reader enthralled without feeling as though this was yet another copied plot from countless other books. While Ben Hope is well past his character development stage, it is nice to see the slightest backstory related to his SAS days. Hope remains his gritty self, seeking to help those in need, while also pushing his own agenda. Others help complement this throughout, including the hapless victims who seek Hope to release them from the grips of evil. There are some great contrasts in this book between protagonist and antagonist, even if it pushes things into the clichéd Westerner versus Islamic terrorist. The story remained interesting and can keep the reader’s attention as they push through this thriller. There are some intriguing perceptions about Koranic passages, which one can only hope bear some truthfulness, so as not to fan the flames. As the series continues to pile-up, one can only hope that Mariani will keep the novels on-point and ensures they do not go stale. To date, he has completely lived up to expectations.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for a solid addition to the series. I am eager to see where Ben Hope takes us next!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Valley of Death (Ben Hope #19), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani is back with another explosive novel in the Ben Hope series. Having recently returned from America’s Deep South, Ben is forced to come to terms with the fact that his helpful vibe seems to be an inherent aphrodisiac to women all over, causing him much distress in his romantic relationships. However, he soldiers on while working at his training facility in France. When a woman appears with a message, he takes notice. The sister of his former love interest, Brooke Marcel, has come to beg for Ben’s help. Brooke’s husband, Amal Ray, was kidnapped in plain sight while the couple was visiting India. Brooke is distraught, but her past with Ben has kept her from asking directly for his help. Ben is unable to fight off the powerful feelings that come bubbling back to the surface and agrees to help, flying immediately across Asia. When he arrives, Ben sees just how different policing is in India, as well as experiencing a significant culture shock. After connecting with Brooke—a harrowing adventure for mind and body—Ben begins piecing things together, which includes that Amal is aware of an ancient civilization and some of the riches it is said to have buried around India. Aware that a gang has focussed its attention on the Ray family, Ben does all he can to save Amal and learn about the treasure that may be waiting in the ground. No adventure would be complete without some blood shed and bones snapped, which is precisely what Ben Hope has in mind, should the need arise. Time is running out and Ben Hope must show that he can still be a hero, even if he is not Brooke’s active love interest. Mariani does well this deep into the series to keep the action fresh and the ideas current. Recommended to those who have long enjoyed the Ben Hope series, as well as readers who like a good thriller in parts of the world not utilised as much by Western writing.

The Ben Hope series has been one that I have long enjoyed and I am pleased to see that Scott Mariani is still able to develop something with substance and action, rather than riding on the coattails of his past work. Nineteen novels is a lot to expect much development with characters or story arcs, but Ben Hope is always one to surprise, be it with his sentimental side or the grit and determination he shows. Always able to adapt, Hope takes himself into India, where the rules differ and the fighting is a lot less calculated, or so it would seem. Mariani mixes this off the cuff fighting mentality with a definite spark in his heart to show that Ben Hope can use many things to fuel his desire for justice. With few other characters from past novels making an impact, it is Brooke Marcel that keeps series readers interested, as they try their best to decipher what has Hope so dedicated. Marcel does her best not to be the distraught woman, but there are times when it is impossible not to see her as swooning and begging for Hope’s assistance. Mariani also uses some of his one-off characters to depict the Indian mentality, essential for the reader to better understand what’s going on. The plot of the book was well-developed, taking the story out of Europe (or America) and focussing much of the attention in India, a vast expanse of land, culture, and differing mentalities when it comes to handling the criminal underbelly. Mariani offers up something for everyone as the story forges ahead and takes no prisoners, though is keen to keep the series fan wondering if Ben Hope will remain professional until the bitter end. A great addition to all that Mariani has written with his scarred protagonist and one can only hope there are at least a few novels left before Hope decides to give it all up… again!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another wonderfully entertaining piece. I hope you keep you fans on the edge of their seats for a while to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Rebel’s Revenge (Ben Hope #18), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Ben Hope is back for another adventure that will keep series fans enthralled. Scott Mariani has been able to keep the intensity high in this latest piece, pulling Hope out of his comfort zone and into America’s Deep South. It would seem that even on vacation, Ben Hope cannot escape trouble. Upon his arrival in Louisiana to attend a jazz concert, Hope trips upon a crime at a backroad establishment. Unable to stand down, he flexes his muscles while trying to remain anonymous, putting him on the radar of the local sheriff. When the proprietress of the establishment in which Hope is staying is slashed and left for dead, he rushes to her aid, listening to a cryptic message she has before she succumbs to her wounds. With only a brief glimpse of the suspected killers, Hope is unable to catch them. Knowing that he will likely be sought for questioning—and not wanting to make any more of an impression than he has—Hope flees the scene, trying to piece together some of the news he’s recently learned. While Hope becomes an apparent fugitive, he learns of the Garretts, a family well-established in this neck of Louisiana for many nefarious reasons. Staying one step ahead of those who seek him, Hope learns that the mystery of his acquaintance’s murder has ties to local history that dates back to the American Civil War, where another Garrett sought vindication. With the authorities on his tail, Hope refuses to stand down until justice is done, even if that means peppering his trail with a few more bodies, Garretts or not. Mariani does a masterful job in this thriller, pushing his protagonist in new directions while keeping the story strong. Series fans will likely want to get their hands on this, while those new to Ben Hope’s mysteries will want to start with the first novel, to relish in the strong writing style.

I undertook a binge of the Ben Hope work a few years ago and was so impressed that I have tried to stay up to date with Scott Mariani’s writing ever since. The stories span not only various geographic locales, but place Hope in a number of employment positions that flavour his actions throughout the novels. Deep into this series, there is little expectation of backstory and Mariani does not offer much, but does remind the reader of some threads from past pieces that help justify Hope’s place in the United States. Rather, the reader is able to see Hope’s steel resolve as he seeks to right wrongs done to those around him, not worried about personal consequences. His grit is not lost in this piece, though it is balance nicely against a compassionate side that series fans will recognise. Others in the book offer an especially interesting flavour to the narrative, with most of them capturing the local Louisiana culture. Mariani effectively presents them, both through their characteristics and unique dialogue, to pull the reader from wherever they find themselves into the bayou parishes of the state. The story is strong and while it is away from the big city, there is no shortage of action. With a strong narrative that binds a mix of short and longer chapters, the reader is able to lose themselves in this piece that stretches Mariani well outside of where he’s dropped his protagonist in novels past. One can hope that other series readers will be as impressed as I was with this piece, which kept me wanting more with each turn of the page.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for such a wonderful novel. I don’t want to go to the well too many times, but I hope you have more in store for Hope before too long.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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.

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.