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.