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: