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:


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:

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:

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:

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.

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.

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.