Graveyard of Empires (Ben Hope #26), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani returns with another high-octane thriller with his gritty protagonist, Ben Hope. In this twenty-sixth installment, Hope returns to work with some SAS members in the ruthless Afghan countryside. Searching for an old acquaintance, Hope will soon find himself grasping to find stability in a country where it’s never been a high priority. Mariani proves his superiority once more in this addictive series.

Ben Hope has made a name for himself over the last number of years, proving to be a dedicated hero to those who need him, while also a keen teacher so that others can defend themselves. When Hope receives a call that a long-ago acquaintance, Madison Cahill, has gone missing in Afghanistan, he wants to help. He is too keen on living to voluntarily return to that part of the world, citing his apologies for not being able to assist.

When Hope is visited by a former SAS superior soon thereafter, he discovers that he is being put back into action, though without the commanding rank. Hope is being sent to Afghanistan to instil some stability with the Taliban back in power. It’s not a mission he relishes, but when called to duty, Hope won’t look the other way.

While trying to acclimate in-country, Hope and his comrades begin their mission, soon locating Madison and learning of her own mission in the country, which includes trying to save a number of items from Alexander the Great. Sure the Taliban will destroy anything they find themselves, Hope and his comrades begin helping Madison retrieve anything they can To get it out of Afghanistan. All while trying to protect a many with royal connections, another enemy of the Taliban. With no rules and few friends, Hope will have to tap into all his skills while staying as quiet as possible if he hopes to leave the country alive,. Mariani impresses once more and keeps the reader flipping pages well into the night.

Since discovering the work of Scott Mariani, I have been highly impressed with the series as a whole, as well and many of the individual books. Mariani uses his strong writing ability to entertain the reader while providing a significant amount of history to prop up the fictional side of the story. There is so much for the reader to enjoy and pique an interest so that they might explore more information on their own. These are stunning thrillers that never lose their impact.

Strong narrative foundations keep the reader on track for a successful experience. Mariani weaves truth and fiction together, forcing the reader to guess which is which. Great characters, mostly new and likely one-off, keep the story intriguing and add a humorous and gritty aspect that is needed to offset some of the more painful realities the subject matter begs exploring. Plot twists and historical moments keep the reader entertained and have them wondering what is to come, without feeling as though things are too predictable throughout the experience. I have loved these novels for many years and Mariani keeps them sharp, even this deep into this stellar series, which shows no signs of fading!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another sensational thriller that left me gasping for breath.

The Cage (DI Tom McAllister #1), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani‘s writing tends to be highly addictive, at least many of the novels I have taken the time to read. While he has dazzled readers for years with his collection of Ben Hope novels, he’s taken a break to pen this novel with a new protagonist. Tom McAllister is a cop with a lot to prove, but also a large case filling up all his time. Using the tools he has at his disposal, DI McAllister will have to crack the case wide open or worry about keeping his job in this captivating series debut. Mariani fans ought to take note and see what they think.

Detective Inspector Tom McAllister has a great deal to prove working in Oxfordshire. He is a cop who does not do well colouring between the lines and has a pile of reprimands to show for it. When he’s assigned a new case, he puts himself in to the middle of it, if only to show that he is an asset to the team and not simply one who likes to rough up those he encounters. Someone has been killing recently released sexual offenders, as if sending a message to those who prey on young children.

While DI McAllister tries to work through all the facts, the community is highly divided. Some want this killer caught and brought to justice, while others think the vigilante deserves a hero’s welcome. DI McAllister must sift through all the evidence and speak to those who knew the victims to get a better understanding of who they were and what commonalities, besides the obvious, exist. All the while, the killings continue and the media are serving the local police up on a silver platter as incompetent louts.

While DI McAllister works to piece it all together, the killer lurks off to the side, with a plan all their own. Worse than the targeted killings that continue to occur is the significance of The Cage, which adds a new layer of depravity and concern for these pedophile and likely also DI McAllister. A chilling story that shows how versatile Scott Mariani can be. Perfect for his fans and those who want a stunning new series to follow.

Admittedly, I was not sure what to think when I saw this book hit the market. I had been so devoted and focussed on the work of Scott Mariani as he crafted countless Ben Hope thrillers. However, this book, listed as the first in a series, caught my attention, as I wondered if Ben Hope could stand to the side and DI Tom McAllister could rise to the occasion, giving readers a bang for their buck. Mariani weaves a story that is both highly transitional and well-grounded. Mariani uses his skills effectively and provides a stunning piece that forces the reader to take a side, both of which have their weaknesses. While I am reluctant to stray from what I know, particularly when an author has pulled me in over so many novels, I am eager to see where this series is headed.

Scott Mariani has long held my attention with his thrillers and yet there is something about this new book that has me wanting more. It could be the strong narrative abilities Mariani has woven into the story or even the great characters who emerge throughout, but I am hooked and need to know how DI Tom McAllister will work his way through things. Plot turns through the story emerge and keep the reader guessing, without getting too over the top. I admit, it is difficult not to try comparing Hope to McAllister, but they are so different and yet appear as though they might complement one another well. I will keep my eyes open for more DI McAllister, but trust Ben Hope is not on his way out.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for making a believer out of me. What do you have in store for your fans next, other than more Hope adventures?

The Silver Serpent (Ben Hope #25), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani is back with another in his Ben Hope series. The story remains strong and takes readers to the opposite side of the world., where things are just as gritty for Hope and those around him. Mariani does well to balance humour and action, with just enough romantic spark to keep readers appeased across the board. A great addition to the series that is sure to keep fans of Mariani’s work quite happy.

While Ben Hope has been enjoying life in France, he knows that his services are so sought after the world over. When his business partner and close friend, Jeff Decker, approaches him with an issue, there is no doubt that Ben will help. Decker’s step-father has gone missing in the Australian Outback and there’s no guarantee that he’s still alive.

After gathering some provisions, Ben gets finds himself soaring above the clouds for the great Down Under alongside Jeff. As they arrive, the kidnapping case gets even more serious, as answers are not plentiful. While Jeff wants to support his mother, he knows that it will take close to a miracle for anything positive to come out of this. However, there is a new angle, one that could really open up some new and exciting opportunities.

It would seem that it’s not only crocodiles and barren wasteland in the Northern Territory, but also an old legend about a major silver mine, one that has many salivating for a piece of the pie, including a ruthless businessman who will stop at nothing to amass riches in the region. Ben and Jeff will have to work their magic, sometimes independently, to find answers before it’s too late. A great addition to the series that will have Mariani fans quite pleased with the latest instalment.

There is something about Scott Mariani’s writing that always gets me excited. I love the thrill of the hunt in these books, where Ben Hope has been forced to evolve and grow for the reader throughout. There is something for everyone in this series, which has not gone stale after so many novels. Well-paced and powerfully penned, Mariani has a winner here for all to see.

Ben Hope has proven himself over the last number of novels, but this is a time for new development and perhaps some added personal insight as well. Ben has been through a great deal and yet never seems to toss in the towel. This piece allows the reader not only to see him on a new terrain, but to come to terms with some of his buried emotions, all while trying to help fight for those who are in need of his brawn. Mariani has done well to ensure his protagonist is anything but one dimensional, adding a little spark of romance to keep things light.

The Ben Hope series mixes some wonderful writing with great plots and an attractive set of characters. Mariani works through a strong narrative to propel the story forward, keeping the reader hooked with short chapters and numerous characters that are well worth the reader’s time. A plot that evolves throughout, taking the reader through many twists and turns. Using some well-developed ideas in Australia, Mariani takes the reader there and leaves them to feel as though they are in the middle of the action, slang and all. I was so pleased to see things develop with ease and am excited to see what is to come with this series that never seems to lose momentum at any point.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. How you do it, I have no idea!

The Crusader’s Cross (Ben Hope #24), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

It’s a great day when I can get my hands on a novel by Scott Mariani, particularly when it advances the Ben Hope series. While the novels continue to pile up, there is no lessening to the action or Ben Hope’s determination to protect that which he holds dear. After an accident, Ben is home for Christmas to protect La Val, his training facility. A group of thugs chooses to target him and take one of the prized possessions he recently discovered. What a mistake, as Hope has more gumption than patience. When the dust settles, a single thug has escaped and there are bodies all over. Hope takes matters into his own hands and hunts him down, crossing France and into Corsica. Armed with determination and a desire to get back what belongs to him, Ben Hope will stop at nothing to right a wrong. Mariani does a masterful job once again and kept me hooked until the final page turn.

After an accident left former SAS- soldier Ben Hope in a cast, he’s taking it easy this holiday season. He’s recently discovered a passageway under his rural training facility, La Val, which includes a valuable item from the time of the Crusaders. This cross, while also being quite old, has value in its decorative nature and secret weapon. It would seem that news of the cross made its way to town, and beyond, as a carload of Corsicans choose to target La Val when they know Ben will be at his weakest.

Doing his best to fend off the attackers, Ben is able to defend himself and neutralise the gang, save one, Petru Navarro. Using violence and a ‘shoot first’ mentality, Navarro steals the cross and is able to flee before Hope can catch him. Now, all that’s left around the compound are dead gang members and number of dogs that Hope held dear. This lights a fire inside Hope like nothing else, as he is determined to seek revenge, alone!

Tracing Navarro across the rest of France, Hope tries to make headway and stay under the radar. He removes any impediment he has and follows Navarro to Corsica, knowing that this will make things much more difficult. However, Hope is not afraid and has nothing to lose. He will not allow someone to come onto his property and get away with killing. Slowly and methodically, Hope will find Petru Navarro and delivery justice. An electric novel in the series that goes to show that some characters can stand the test of time and many adventures.

I discovered Scott Mariani and the Ben Hope series a few years ago and have not been able to get enough of them since. I usually mark my calendar when a new book is set to be released, knowing that I will be in for a treat. The action is always high and the impact on point, leaving me to lose myself in the well-paced narrative. Scott Mariani seems never to run out of ideas or scenarios for Ben Hope, in an ever-changing world.

Ben Hope remains a strong protagonist and has certainly grown on me over the years. Much of his backstory has been developed and he is free from too much change nowadays. Still, his grit and determination remains high, choosing to help those who matter to him. Ben is eager to discover relics or things of value, but his true investment is defending what belongs to him. I am eager to see how the series will continue, as this was almost a Ben Hope solo affair, while there are many others who impact the series in their own way.

Less a holiday novel than one that happens to occur over Christmas, this is yet another powerful instalment of a series that never seems to lose its momentum. Mariani develops a strong narrative that pushes the story along and keeps the plot twists coming, this time using a continental chase between Hope and a crazed Corsican. The character development enriches the story, though this one was more about Hope versus Navarro than many of the others who have graced the pages of past books. A strong story that clipped along had me enthused to keep reading and learning more about Hope, his situation, and how he would remedy it. I cannot wait for what is to come and how things will work themselves out.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. You never seem to tire of putting Ben in situations that seem almost ‘hope’less, if you pardon the pun.

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

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

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.

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.

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 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.

The Lost Relic (Ben Hope #6), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Mariani presents his sixth novel in the Ben Hope series, filling it with action and excitement while also stoking the fires of mystery and intrigue. While his training facility has continued to function effectively, Ben Hope is looking to get out of the business once and for all (have we not heard that before?!). Preferring to hand the reins over to a feasible candidate rather than sell, Hope visits a former military colleague in Italy to propose a business opportunity. Unable to garner the expected excitement, Hope meanders through the Italian countryside and stumbles upon a small art gallery. When a gang of Russian thugs attack, Hope goes into combat mode, helping to keep the casualty count low. Heralded as a hero, Hope tries to dodge the limelight, but remains curious as to why only a single piece of art was sought, surrounded by countless other items whose values are exponentially higher. Meanwhile, as the thieves lick their wounds back in Russia, Hope’s name is bandied about as the one who cost them much and orders to have him killed are sent down the line. Additionally, there seems to her an issue with the stolen artwork, an apparent forgery. It is soon understood that there is a connection with the actual sketch and a priceless item from Imperial Russia, the Dark Medusa. While still adjusting to his hero status, Hope is fingered in the murder of a popular Italian and begins life on the lam. Were that not enough, an organization by the name of SOCA is targeting Hope as well, in hopes of luring the Russians out once and for all. As pandemonium erupts and the Dark Medusa remains hidden, Hope must dodge all those who seek his head while preventing this lost relic from falling into the wrong hands. Set in various locales around the globe, Mariani keeps the thrills coming and thrusts the reader into yet another Ben Hope adventure where nothing can be completely predicted. Series fans and thrill seekers alike will enjoy this piece, which exemplifies Mariani’s writing abilities.

Mariani continues to impress those who have taken the time to follow the Ben Hope series with a number of well-paced novels. The continued evolution of the Hope character, both in his present life and through many pieced of backstory, proves effective in entertaining the reader while allowing the plots to educate on matters of history. Ben Hope remains that man that the reader seems to know well, while always producing new and exciting aspects to add to his already complex nature. In this piece, Hope is not summoned into a dangerous mission by a patron, but seems to stumble upon it, which only goes to support my sentiment that he has some Jack Reacher luck. Both men seem to be full of backstory that is slowly revealed and prove to be a draw to various women who cross their paths as their respective series progress. Mariani extends the story a little by creating a subplot involving Brooke Marcel, the psychologist who sometimes works with Hope in his training courses and holds out a flickering flame for the man, even if he is too dense to pick up on the signals. Marcel’s own personal struggles weave their way into the story and leave me to wonder if there might be more to come with this woman in the next book or two, as she has already remained on the periphery. Looking to the larger story, I have often commented that Mariani uses a ‘hinged narrative’ approach, building two stories in the background and taking the readers on an adventure before a literary right angle turn at some point to focus on a secondary thread. This is readily apparent here and it works out so well. There is talk of the Dark Medusa, but it is buried behind all the Italian manhunt storyline that it takes much of the novel to develop and switch while building significant momentum. The reader will revel in this dual plot development and find much excitement as the chapters build effectively. I know the series has much yet to come, but I have seen so much great writing to date that I can only guess where things will go in the coming novels.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another wonderfully developed and executed novel in the Ben Hope series. I can see you have a firm grasp on where things are going without tipping your hand as to how we’ll get there.

The Shadow Project (Ben Hope #5), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

With Scott Mariani at the helm, Ben Hope is sure to be back on another thrilling adventure, set to reveal what might have been a significant change in history. Enjoying his life in Le Val, his training facility in Northern France, Hope continues to provide top-notch service for those seeking to protect the more vulnerable people of the world. When a training seminar goes too far and Hope loses his temper, a fight ensues; one that could be more costly than the broken bones that Hope’s opponent suffers. Hope is forced to take the team back to Switzerland and offer the kidnap protection service to billionaire Maximilian Steiner, who possesses an interesting document, having procured piece of the Nazi’s larger plan that never saw the light of day. While guarding Steiner, a group attacks his compound and Hope sends in the troops, only to come across a woman from his past, which derails his efforts and leaves Steiner completely enraged. Hope is fired and returns to France, only to discover that his entire business is about to be financially decimated by a lawsuit related to the aforementioned fight. With everything to lose, Hope travels to Austria to track down these neo-Nazi soldiers in hopes of learning a little more about the woman as he tries to piece things together. Meanwhile, a collective of top scientists have been found murdered. Dr. Adam O’Connor learns that his friends have died, but thinks nothing of it until his son, Rory, is kidnapped. Willing to do whatever it takes to save Rory, O’Connor falls into the clutches of these neo-Nazis, who are resurrecting a new type of weapon, nicknamed The Bell, which might have turned the tables on the Allies back in 1944 and closely relates to the document Maximilian Steiner owns. During his search, Hope crosses paths with this technology and learns that Maximilian Steiner is anything but an honest man. With limited time and a new ally in this mystery woman, Hope must dismantle this weapon and learn all of Steiner’s nefarious plans. A needed jolt in this novel has put the Ben Hope series back on track and scored Mariani some well-deserved points. Fan of the series will surely agree that Hope is back in true form and those looking to learn more about Ben Hope have much on which they can base their first impressions.

After a lull in the writing, Mariani seems to have found his groove again, aided with some breathtaking backstory development of the protagonist. The Le Val complex helps develop some of Hope’s character, as his leadership skills are tested, along with his ability to manage his temper. Mariani tests this and the ability for Hope to hold down the business end of the character through various issues that evolve in the story. There is also some development within Hope’s personal life when the aforementioned ‘mystery woman’ emerges back in his life (I choose to let the reader discover her identity by reading the novel). There is surely an emotional investment in the story and Hope pulls on old memories to help shape his present-day interactions. Significant advancement within Hope’s personal life emerges, which could likely return as a minor thread in future novels. The story itself proves entertaining, as is most anything wrapped in a veil of mystery from the past century. The Nazi angle pulls away from the traditional concentration camp discussion, but does allow the reader to wonder ‘what if’ with some degree of fear. The narrative keeps the story moving forward on two tracks and the ‘hinged’ aspect is surely something for which Mariani remains known. I enjoy piecing together where things will cross or how a seemingly minor side story will eventually inflate and take over the central role in the latter chapters. Mariani is back with some exciting ideas and places Hope in precarious situation that force him to rein-in some of his emotional expressions. The reader benefits most from this, through significant enjoyment and story arc advancement.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for keeping your Ben Hope series fresh and exciting. You know just when to crank up the excitement to keep the reader curious.

The Heretic’s Treasure (Ben Hope #4), by Scott Mariani

Seven stars

Mariani brings Ben Hope back for his fourth full-length adventure, constantly reinventing this highly energetic protagonist. Having been through a number of professions in his short life, Ben Hope still wants to hang up his adventure goggles in some form. However, in the world of Kidnap & Ransom, there is never a shortage of work. Seeing an opportunity, Hope purchases some land in France and opens up his own training facility. With things running smoothly, Hope receives a call from Colonel Harry Paxton, a former colleague, who has a mission for him; find his son’s murderers. Eminent Egyptologist, Morgan Paxton, has been working to uncover the ‘Akhenaten Project' in Cairo, the most mysterious project of his life. While torn, Hope cannot help but remember the elder Paxton’s sacrifice when he was a young soldier and agrees to investigate. However, Hope is also drawn to Colonel Paxton’s much-younger wife, Zara. The attraction seems mutual and Hope forges into Egypt to find the killers and bring some balance to the Paxton family. What begins as a simple mission of redemption soon turns much darker than expected. A double-cross fuelled with Hope’s thinking with his heart pushes him deeper into the Egypt mystery than he pledged. Hope finds himself bouncing around various geographic locations to follow the trail of the Akhenaten Project, culminating in a showdown with a cutthroat terrorist in war-torn Africa. What follows could significantly change the political climate around the world. Who was Pharaoh Akhenaten and how did his secret leave him branded a heretic by those of his era? Mariani keeps the story fresh and the thrills continuous in this Ben Hope story that will have readers curious until the very end. Recommended to series fans and those who need a summer jolt for their reading lists.

Mariani continues to create his Ben Hope character, offering something unique in each of the novels to date. Here, with Hope trying to balance between ‘former warrior’ and ‘fully retired’, Mariani places his protagonist in a spot to explore the teaching role, as if he wanted to pass along his knowledge for the next generation. Of course, that is foiled and keeps him in the game. Interestingly enough, Hope also suffers only briefly with the loss of his wife and turns his eyes (and heart) towards a new interest, though she is surely off limits in the early stages of this book. Mariani continues to portray Hope as a man able to sow many proverbial oats and who has to keep an oak door as the women seek to beat it down. However, this banter between Hope and the lady friends he keeps shows a more tender side to the man who is happy to cut a throat in the line of duty. Turning to the story itself, I found myself, again, less than drawn to the overall idea, though Mariani keeps the reader guessing with all the travel and some of the head butting scenes. One can only hope this lull in the plot does not become a new normal, though with many books yet to go in the series, one can surmise that this is but a brief dial-down. While Egypt has much to offer historically, with scores of mysteries intertwined within its centuries of undiscovered stories, I found this to be less electrifying as I might have liked. Ben Hope has much to offer and the early chapters showed a great deal of intriguing storytelling, but the full-impact story lost me at some points. Again, as mentioned above, there may be a lull here or I might just be a little off my game.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for advancing the Ben Hope character in new directions. There is surely much to be found in this man and his life in the numerous novels to come.

The Doomsday Prophecy (Ben Hope #3), by Scott Mariani

Seven stars

Scott Mariani continues to impress with his third novel in the Ben Hope series. With continued enthusiasm, Mariani pushes Hope to the brink to entertain readers until the final pages. Having made a promise to his wife that he would retire from this dangerous life once and for all, Ben Hope formally retirement. With distant thoughts of life in the SAS and then as a kidnap and ransom operative, Hope attends a local wedding, ready to return to his theological studies. While there, an old colleague approaches him for work, though Hope has little to offer, proudly announcing that he is ‘out of the game’. Soon after returning to Oxford, Hope is summoned by a former professor and asked to undertake a special mission. Erratic biblical archeologist Zoe Bradbury has gone off the radar and her family is trying to determine if she is alive and well. Citing his dedication to his studies, Hope passes the easy case off to his friend, who sets out for the Greek Islands. When Hope receives a panicked call, he agrees to come and help sift through the mess. A bomb blast in a crowded area leaves many dead and Hope on the case to find Bradbury, if only to determine what has been going on. Meanwhile, Bradbury has been held by a group who are trying to extract a secret from her, one that could change Christianity forever. Hope follows the trail from Greece to the American Deep South, where he discovers the pull of evangelical Christianity and the sway it holds over many. Might Bradbury have discovered something to do with the Book of Revelations, the cornerstone to the End of Days prophecies by which many evangelicals live and breathe? Hope will stop at nothing to find out, even if it means battling a fiery preacher and a rogue collective of CIA operatives. Armed with a single CIA agent he can trust in Alex Fiorante, Hope pulls out every stop to bring this mission to a successful completion. Whether or not he finds Bradbury, he is in the crosshairs of a few ruthless killers and a fundamentalist sect who will stop at nothing to bring about their own End of Days. Another piece that ramps up the energy while delivering a punch to the gut. Highly recommended for those who like a fast-paced mystery that delves into areas some might call taboo!

Mariani has done a wonderful job to continue the development of Ben Hope’s backstory. While much is going on in his present, including the death of a loved one, the reader continues to sift through his past to discover his dedication to theological studies. That said, I have a hard time picturing an Anglican priest fighting crime, but stranger things have happened. Ben Hope will always be SAS, as it is embedded into his psyche. He will also always foster a desire to help those who have been taken, a.k.a his K&R work. However, he does not remain stagnant, shooting and killing while scooping and running. He trips on the mysteries of the world, becoming more academic and pensive in his actions. Mariani offers the reader this multi-faceted approach and it works well for the series so far. True, there is a long way to go, but with constant character development and background foundational support, Ben Hope will never become stale, as some characters in the genre have started to lose their lustre. Turning to the story at hand, it pulls on the drama of a missing person search with the undertones of something scandalous that could change the world. I will admit that this did not hold my attention as much as I would have liked. Perhaps the topic at hand, the truth of the Book of Revelations, was a little too weighty for Mariani to tackle in the pages of this book, but the pace at which he developed the story was decent. The narrative kept the plot clipping along and moving from scene to scene, as well as various locales. The trademark hinged narrative is back again, though the primary plot remains dangling for close to the entire story, allowing readers to feel a sense of completion only when the last chapter presents a final period. A slight dip in the overall delivery, but I was still hooked on seeing where Hope would take things and whether there would be another of those ‘single novel no strings’ romances.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me entertained throughout. I have a large audio stack to go, so best forge onwards and lose myself in another Ben Hope thriller.

The Mozart Conspiracy (Ben Hope #2), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Returning for another full-length novel, Scott Mariani sends Ben Hope into a tailspin of emotions. After learning that his friend and former colleague, Oliver Llewellyn, has drowned in a freak winter accident, Hope attends the funeral. While there, Ben sees Oliver’s sister and his own former love interest, Leigh, who is now a well-known opera singer. Tensions rise and Hope disappears before old wounds can be reopened. However, when Leigh contacts Hope for some assistance, they must put their past behind them and focus on the task at hand. Oliver’s death was originally ruled as a drunken accident, but then also attributed to his book research on the subject of Mozart and his apparent murder. Mozart was a member of the Freemasons and to celebrate that he penned a famous opera, The Magic Flute. The competent historian or active Mason would be able to see some of the strong connections to this secret society. Oliver seemed to be positing that Mozart might have been killed by a splinter group, long since extinct. With only an ancient letter by which to follow leads, something isn’t adding up. Oliver’s death is equally troubling to Austrian Detective Sergeant Markus Kinski, who tries to reopen the case. His daughter is briefly taken and his superior takes a sudden retirement, hinting that there might be some things best left alone. When a video lands in their laps, Hope and Leigh begin to wonder if the Order of Ra is alive and well, committing ritualistic murders. Oliver seems to have captured one of these before he was caught and potentially killed to keep him quiet. In a race to find out the truth behind the deaths of both Oliver and Mozart, the Order is hot on their heels. Kinski begins to work with Hope and Leigh, helping to protect the opera star and his own daughter while the Order remains active. Unfortunately, the Order of Ra is deep and has ties everywhere, which forces Hope’s hand, if he wants a happy ending to this conspiracy. Electrifying and fast-paced, Mariani knows how to pull the reader in with breadcrumbs and lead them around the world on this historical mystery.

I will admit that I am quite intrigued by the Ben Hope series, with all its undertones and subplots that fill the pages of the pieces I have discovered to date. Mariani imbues much that the reader can enjoy while not getting too caught up in the minutiae of the historical record. While the series is only two full novels in (and three novellas/short stories), much of the Ben Hope backstory is coming to the surface. In this novel, they reader learns a little more about Hope’s SAS time and the woman he abandoned, as well as his mindset on settling down. I do hope that these building blocks turn out to be poignant as the series continues. At present, Hope remains the only constant character, but that might change, forcing the reader to pick up much of the description offered to the other characters in the book. Mariani does a stellar job bringing the reader into the lives of these characters and building a sense of connection, which can only help push the narrative forward. Mariani also pushes to keep the story moving and interesting, choosing some of the lesser known historical happenings and crafting a story around them. This allows him to play with fact and fiction, while also keeping the reader wondering. I get a small chuckle, as Mariani appears keen to ‘destroy’ the evidence that could turn the world on its head, at some point in the novel, which is a tactic used by another author in the genre who has a similar plot thread. I have noticed that Mariani enjoys what I would called a ‘hinged narrative’, in that he tells the story that has been progressing nicely, but peppers the narrative with a subplot or alternate storyline that does not seem to play into what is going on. Then, three-quarters of the way through, the primary story resolves itself and the hinge ‘bends’, turning the story onto this new path, creating a secondary adventure, one might say. This seems to work and does tie in nicely, without leaving the reader feeling cheated or too out to sea with the earlier narrative mentions. The story is strong and the characters help fuel a wonderful narrative. What more could a thriller do for someone seeking an escape?

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me hooked. I am steamrolling through these pieces, but loving them very much!

The Alchemist’s Secret (Ben Hope #1), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

In this first full-length novel, Scott Mariani propels Ben Hope into the middle of an ancient mystery, some would rather have left in medieval times. Hope is enjoying his life as a former SAS operative, ensconced in the world of K&R (kidnap and ransom), particularly when the victims are children. When Hope is approached by a wealthy man to help him find a manuscript that purports to hold alchemical secrets, skepticism surfaces and the mission is declined. However, upon learning that this might be the only way to help the man’s granddaughter, a crisis of conscience arises and Ben agrees to take the case and commences the search for the Fulcanelli Manuscript. Steered towards Paris, Hope begins searching for his manuscript that is said to hold keys the Elixir of Life. He encounters a controversial American scientist, Dr. Roberta Ryder, who has her own feelings about this document and seeks to come along, having always wanted to examine Fulcanelli’s notations. However, someone is trying to steer her astray and keep Ryder on the radar of the police. Immortality being what it is, many others are searching for the Manuscript, including a dark organization, Gladius Domini. They will stop at nothing to uncover the secrets and have targeted Hope and Ryder for extinction, if that is what it will take. Headed by a powerful man within the Catholic Church, Gladius Domini purports to be acting in the name of God. As the search continues, a psychiatric patient who has read large portions of the Manuscript might hold some key aspects that Hope will require in his search. However, self-inflicted injuries and incoherent babble led to a deadly outcome. Could these rantings still be useful? Hope and Ryder do all they can to find the truths of the Fulcanelli Manuscript while trying to keep Gladius Domini at bay. As the story progresses, the reader travels with Hope and Ryder on a dangerous trail from Paris to the ancient Cathar strongholds of the Languedoc, where an astonishing secret has lain hidden for centuries. Might Hope lose his life trying to extend that of a sick girl? Mariani storms onto the scene with this new series and keeps readers hooked from the opening paragraphs. An exciting adventure that mixes the devotion of Jack Reacher with the historical obsessions of Robert Langdon. Not to be missed by fans of either protagonist.

Asked by a friend if I would try this series, I decided to stop procrastinating once and for all. I thoroughly enjoy the premise of the Ben Hope series and found that the character, while similar in some regards to the two men mentioned above, also individualises himself nicely. Hope brings much baggage and fast-paced decision making from his time with the SAS, but also a penchant for dedication. He pulls on an ability to decipher codes and hidden messages, while peeling back historical understandings of items not known to many beforehand. It is still early in the series, but I can begin to see an interesting foundation for the Ben Hope character and Mariani offers up some interesting backstory about Ben and his reason for being involved in K&R, pieces that were not clear even with the three short stories that precede this novel. The story is by no means unique, but its development and content does have a degree of individuality, such that the reader will likely want to take a look. Without getting too weighed down with religious symbols, the Fulcanelli Manuscript offers up the one things many have sought for so long, the answer to eternal life. I’d surely use it to read and review all the books that teeter on my ‘to be read’ list. You?!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani for starting the series off with a bang! I am very curious and hope to read more about Ben Hope and his various adventures in the coming weeks.

Bring Him Back (Ben Hope #0.7), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani offers up another wonderful early story about his strong-willed protagonist, Ben Hope, in this short piece. After the traumatic kidnapping of her son by a crazed ex-husband, Jessica Hunter looks to Ben Hope for some answers. While the police are working to find Carl, they have been unable to find any solid leads, forcing Hope to take measures into his own hands. While poking around, Hope is able to find some definite clues that point to the mindset of Drew Hunter, though nothing seems to match the man who appeared at the family home. In a case that takes him to Italy and eventually the Principality of Monaco, Hope chases down leads left by, of all people, Carl. What he finds is a narrative that differs greatly from a crazed father trying to capture his son for his own. Instead, there seems to be a degree of trying to save his son from a clueless mother and a new step-father who is not the doting parental figure he tries to portray. With Carl found, the story takes a new turn and twists in ways that will force Ben Hope to show just how sharp his former-SAS skills can be after retiring. A well-paced piece that will appeal to Ben Hope fans and new series readers (such as myself) alike!
I have read three short stories to commence by Ben Hope binge read and I have a good sense of the man, up to now. Gritty and full of pep, Hope seeks to balance the world after seeing some of the worse aspects in his time with the SAS. However, not only does Hope pack some military might, but also a keen eye for sleuthing, which is exemplified here in spades. What lies ahead for the full-blown novels, I have no idea, but if Hope is as exciting there as he has been here, I know I am in for a wonderful ride. The story seems to be one that has two portions, the early stage that develops as the reader would expect, but then there is another, found when a twist falls into place. That twist takes the narrative and the theme in an entirely new direction and keeps the reader from being able to predict things until the very end. That Hope is a kidnap and ransom specialist proves only to be part of the alluring equation in this piece, as Mariani offers up his protagonist’s full skill set to keep the narrative clipping along. I can only hope that there will be more of this determination as the series develops. I am ready to dive in to the full-length novels to see where they will take me.
Kudos, Mr. Mariani for keeping me curious and ready to explore the world of Ben Hope. I have heard much about this series and can only hope (pun intended) that things progress as nicely as they have up to this point.

The Tunnel (Ben Hope #0.6), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Continuing on what is sure to be an interesting journey, I am slowly making my way through the works of Scott Mariani, particularly those involving Benedict ‘Ben’ Hope. In this short piece, Hope has recently left the SAS behind and is a freelancer. Having dabbled a little in the world of Kidnap and Ransom, Hope stumbles upon a former colleague, whose drunken stupor leads him to spill the beans on Operation Solitaire, a highly-covert operation from seven years before. Hope begins to explore Solitaire and those who were involved, learning that many chose to end their lives prematurely, though the circumstances do not entirely add up. All this leads to Liam Falconer, head of the Operation and former superior to Hope himself. After stalking him to his home in Scotland, Hope confronts Falconer with the information he has in his possession, soon learning not only the details of the Operation, but also some of its justification. Now it is up to Hope to make a major decision, with Falconer standing before him. It’s Christmas Eve, 2004. How much cheer does Hope have left? A wonderful piece, short though jammed with wonderful information to keep fans of Ben Hope excited while serving the purpose to lure new fans, such as myself, deeper into this complex series. A great read for beach or rainy day alike.
As I still try to hash out the premise of the Ben Hope character, this piece has done a great deal. Providing the reader with context and backstory, Hope’s past comes alive as Mariani lays out some of the groundwork to present a man that will push through many an adventure in the years to come. Hope’s military background and attention to detail will come in handy as his sleuthing skills are sharpened, but it's the character himself that keeps the reader wondering. The premise of the story was great, set before the backdrop of a snowy Christmas Eve, though the contents of the plot are anything but joyous. I have a much better understanding of Hope and how he portrays himself, but this one-man sleuth will surely have many interesting angles to explore as I find myself deeper into the series and more connected to all those who appear in the stories.
Kudos, Mr. Mariani for another early gem. I can only hope that you have more in store for us and that the Ben Hope character continues to evolve on the written page and in your mind while to place him in numerous adventures.

Passenger 13 (Ben Hope #0.5), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

After much debating and considering, I have decided to tackle Scott Mariani’s best-selling Ben Hope series. Where better to begin than in the beginning, while Hope was still an active member of the SAS? After an intense tour in Iraq, Hope seeks to enjoy some of his downtime in Wales. However, it’s 2003 and the world is still on edge from the attacks in America and one that shook London. Ben discovers that a close friend (and former colleague) crashed a small plane between the Cayman Islands in an apparent act of suicide. Unsure how Nick Chapman could ever have done something so outlandish, Hope heads there to sift through the ashes and the blowback of the scandal. Soon after he arrives, Hope meets up with Chapman’s daughter, who is equally as baffled about the suicide, even though there is apparent evidence of Nick’s depression within the medicine cabinet. Before his eyes, Hilary Chapman is mowed down and her mobile phone is stolen, the only piece of evidence that Hope has showing that Nick was aware that something was going on. As he tries to piece things together, Hope learns that Nick was a popular pilot and had no reason to do anything so rash. After the authorities prepare their final report, all the passengers from that doomed flight are accounted for when cross referencing the company’s sales, save one; Larry Moss. Jumping on this, Hope seeks to track down Moss and who he might have been. Could this thirteenth passenger hold the key to the entire debacle? A highly curious opening piece in the Ben Hope series, this short story surely has my interest piqued and will surely do the same for many others who have been wondering about the origins of the Ben Hope character and how get got out of the SAS.
When a friend of my suggested I try Mariani’s series, I was quick to take up the challenge, as I have heard much about Ben Hope over the years. It is hard to put a finger on how to describe Ben Hope, for this is only a drop the bucket of the overall character development. I see a lot of other characters with whom I am familiar, but Mariani has done a wonderful job of keeping things somewhat unique. Hope has no family, no ties outside his military work, and seems more than willing to help those he calls friends. With a sleuthing ability, Hope is sure to uncover many mysteries as the series progresses, which has me very interested in seeing where things might go. This short story lays the groundwork for what is sure to be a great collection. I enjoyed the quick pace and the story’s constant advancement. One can only hope that the remaining short stories to begin this collection will keep me as interested before diving into a full-fledged piece of writing.
Kudos, Mr. Mariani for hooking me already. I cannot wait to see where you will take Hope and how you will develop his character in the many novels to come.