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.

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