Ben Hope, Scott Mariani’s troubled, hard drinking, rugged hero, is a man you can rely on. Having left the armed forces, he now trains operatives to rescue kidnapped children, trying to put to rights the violent world that pushed him into a secretive life in a French farmhouse (funded by a parent of one of the children he saved), vulnerable to any woman who loves him and close to his friends. Because of knowing him, they too are rarely more than a hair’s breadth from danger. What makes it worse for Ben is that he studied Theology and trained for the priesthood. But too much has happened to Ben in his life and so his mission continues to be to beat the bad guys and protect the innocent.
I’ve read Mariani’s Ben Hope books for years and the publication of a new one is a cause for celebration. The Sacred Sword is the seventh and, while these books could all be read as stand alone thrillers, they do pay their respects to the past and so contain spoilers for previous novels. There will be no spoilers here because if you haven’t read the earlier books I would encourage you to do so.
As this books begins, Ben spends Christmas with his University friends – now married – the reverend Simeon Arundel and his wife, an old brief college flame of Ben’s, Michaela. But dark clouds are gathering. Simeon’s friends are disappearing and he is being dragged into the mystery, at the centre of which appears to be his manuscript for a new book about the Sacred Sword. When Simeon and Michaela are both killed, despite all of Ben’s efforts, the clock begins ticking as Ben sets out to find their son Jude and solve the murders of his friends and those of the others who have also been lost in their efforts to protect this gold sword.
The novel takes Ben and Jude – and us – across France to Masada in Israel, the site of one of the bloodiest events of the Roman period, to Massachusetts and to Capri. Because opposed to Ben and the protectors of the sword is a man who wants to bring down religion itself. Living as a depraved Roman emperor on Capri, there is nothing he won’t do, no-one he won’t kill, to bring down everyone opposed to him and his godlessness.
While I have enjoyed all of the Ben Hope series – as well as the recent eBook prequel Passenger 13 – some are better than others. Such is the high standard of some of them – especially, for me, The Alchemist’s Secret, The Doomsday Prophecy, The Heretic’s Treasure and The Shadow Project – the others have a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, The Sacred Sword is my least favourite of the series.
Ben’s character as ever is drawn perfectly – there are few figures from thrillers as exciting, intriguing and sexy as Ben Hope. He is a hero made for the movies. I also enjoyed his relationship with Simeon and Michaela and the book is as well written as one would expect from Scott Mariani – he does write very well. But the premise of the story, its mystery, didn’t live up to the promise of the opening chapters. The surprises didn’t surprise and the twists are predictable. There is one scene which is so unpleasant it felt out of place in the series – caricature baddies mix with others who have little menace in them.
I’m not sure if The Sacred Sword‘s failings are because it’s the seventh novel in a series or if it’s because there has been a relatively long gap since the sixth but I hope it’s a blip. It still stands head and shoulders above many thrillers and the fact that it still disappointed is a reflection of the high standard of the series as a whole. I’ll certainly read and look forward to the next, The Armada Legacy, when it’s published next year.