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!