Two more By Scott Mariani – A Running Man Review

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The Doomsday Project (2009)

The Heretic’s Treasure (2009)

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I previously reviewed  Scott Mariani’s earlier Ben Hope novels “The Alchemist’s Secret” (2007) and “The Mozart Conspiracy” (2008) and in an attempt to catch up (there are now 11 novels in this series together with a couple of novellas here are my thoughts on the next two.  So far Ben has faced near disaster linked to the work the alchemist Fulcanelli and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus in two outlandish but enjoyable plots.

“The Doomsday Project” might be moving towards greater realism but perhaps is not as much fun.  Hope has given up finding and rescuing kidnap victims and has developed ambitions to become a vicar (!) This seems to be as a result of being involved in too many tragedies and at the beginning of this novel we find him re-embarking on the Oxford theology degree he gave up on many years before.  He reconnects with his tutor, a family friend, whose daughter has gone missing in Corfu.  Hope is reluctant to return so soon to the life he thought he had abandoned until circumstances force him to do so.  The daughter has discovered something that challenges prophecies in Revelations regarding the End of The World.  Cue the American End Of Time evangelists who will resort to anything to ensure their Doomsday theories will not be challenged.  The plot feels (slightly) more plausible, the villains less cartoonish but perhaps the actions sequences are more outlandish, and there are plenty of action sequences in this book.  All in all, third book into the series and the standard is being maintained although it does look like Hope will never get that Theology degree!

The follow-up to this is “The Heretic’s Treasure” (2009).  This felt a little less quirky than some of the others in the series.  Ben has (surprise surprise!) abandoned his Theological studies and seemingly more fittingly has set up a business to train those involved in hostage situations based on a large property he has bought in France.  Not that he is there for long, however, as an old Army Colonel who Hope feels beholden to (a life-saving incident) wants help as his Egyptologist son has been killed on the brink of a big discovery.  Unfortunately for all, terrorists with destruction on their mind are also close to the same discovery.  Exactly who can be trusted twists and turns as Ben finds himself getting ever deeper.  It feels, for the most part, a little more serious, with a little less adventure, a little more hardware and with a usual share of big set pieces and people being in the right place at the right time.  Hope finds love again (very quickly, it must be said) but is it all too good to be true?  I do really quite enjoy these very readable books and there is nothing in either of these books which will put me off selecting the next one in the series.

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Scott Mariani’s Ben Hope books are published in the UK by Harper Collins (Avon)

The British Lion – Tony Schumacher (2015)- A Running Man Review

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After recently finishing and reviewing Tony Schumacher’s debut “The Darkest Hour” (2014)  I was eagerly anticipating reading the second in his alternate history series.

The Nazis have successfully invaded Britain and have installed Oswald Moseley as Prime Minister. Set in the immediate aftermath of the war, various factions are attempting to undermine the Nazi regime. Ex-Policeman Rossett, nicknamed “The British Lion” because of his heroic war-time exploits, is a main character with much potential. This follow-up is not as successful as Schumacher has moved away from some of the elements that made its predecessor work so well. The intensity of the action-packed debut set in a wintry London which feels like it is looming in on the main characters all driven on by a chilling moral issue has been diffused. Schumacher has opened this all up and here we have a couple of kidnappings with the factions – the Germans, the British Resistance, the Americans and the Royalists all battling against one another with Rossett stranded in the middle. The setting has lost its power as Rossett spends much of the novel on the road to Cambridge and, although there is another moral issue at the core, this time it does not seem as immediate or as comprehensible to the main protagonists. Schumacher has also used a lot of speech between characters which has the tendency to slow things down, losing the pace of the original.

Having said all this it is still a good read and kept me involved. This is the second time recently a follow-up alternate history novel has fallen short of its strong debut, as Justin Richards’ “Never War” series which throws aliens into the World War II mix also felt a let-down. I’m hoping that the third book from both of these authors sees them regaining their potential.  threestars

The British Lion is published in 2015 by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins.

This review can also be found on the Book Chap section of the Nudge Books site

 

The Darkest Hour – Tony Schumacher (2014) – A Running Man Review

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In his acknowledgements at the back of this debut novel Schumacher gives credit to;

“the men, women and children who fought and died in the darkest hours mankind has ever known.  Your sacrifice inspired and gave us all a free voice.

I hope I used it well.”

 And do you know what– he has.  In this alternate-history thriller Schumacher recreates the time after the Second World War, a world where the Nazis successfully invaded Britain and have installed Oswald Moseley as Prime Minister, with the previous administration in exile in Canada.

John Henry Rossett, whose heroics in the war earned him the nickname “The British Lion” has been transferred to the department of Jewish Affairs.  Not one to question orders his job has been to discover groups of Jews and arrange for their deportation out of the country.  He believes they are being sent to Poland to work.  A routine operation on a dingy property changes his life for good as an elderly Jew from his past recognises in Rossett some sense of charity and humanity which fear of the present regime had not beaten out and pleas for his help.  Not everyone makes it onto the train and that is the start of Rossett’s adventure.

I found this really quite gripping and it was tense until the final words of the novel.  Rossett, by not obeying orders finds himself in danger not only with his immediate employers in the SS, but also the Gestapo, the British Resistance, Royalists and Communists. This is a world where no-one can be trusted and everyone will do what it takes to stay alive.  There’s a good cast of characters and there seems to be a lot of mileage in Rossett, a man damaged by the murder of his wife and son in the days after the Invasion in a bomb planted by the British Resistance. His life has shut down to the point where he follows orders without question and joins the Nazi Party to keep his job and avoid the beginning of the decline which could see him unemployed and sent to work in a labour camp on defences against the Russians.

There’s plenty of action, in fact in a couple of places, the action is so detailed that it slows down the plot but the story being told here is a simple tale of human survival and escape, and it’s a good one.  Set in a London of foggy nights, dingy pubs and people looming in the shadows all serves to crank up the tension.

Schumacher, residing just outside Liverpool is one of those people who have done so many different things that really they just have to become writers.  He has worked as a Policeman for ten years, an actor and stand-up comedian, taxi driver, bouncer the list goes on.  You can tell he’s someone who’s spent a lot of time around people as he is able to flesh out his characters in a way in which a lot of writers in the adventure book genre find difficult to do.  On his website at tonyshoey.com he expresses his willingness to arrange Skype calls with book clubs and writing groups and I think any reading group with a predilection for a novel with thrills and spills will do well to seek this one out.

I have already lined up his soon to be published follow-up “The British Lion” to be read and I hope it maintains the standard set by this first book.

fourstars

 

“The Darkest Hour” was published in the UK by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins in 2014.

Kingdom – Tom Martin (2009) – A Running Man Review

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This is the second of Martin’s books I have read.  The first “Pyramid” was an enjoyable debut and this second novel confirms him to be up there amongst the leading lights of the adventure fiction genre.  “Pyramid” seemed to get a considerable number of Amazon reviewers frothing at the mouth, pointing out inaccuracies and implausiblities, but even a number of them admitted a fondness for it.  In “Kingdom” (which fares somewhat better on Amazon) we meet Nancy Kelly, a journalist who joins a newspaper team in India and is instantly embroiled in the disappearance of her predecessor in Tibet.  Kelly begins her own search with daredevil and antiquities dealer (what a combination!) Jack Adams.   It’s great to see a well-rounded central female character in this type of book.

Before long we’re off on a search for Shangri-La and secrets which will have serious repercussions throughout the world.  Missing the Nazis in your adventure fiction?  Fear not because they’re not too far away in this .  The plot line is ludicrous but the whole thing is extremely likeable.  It also features a character at death’s door who must take a prize for one of the most coherent death-bed narratives ever!   These jibes aside I think the novel is well-done, it doesn’t over-reach itself by becoming too complex or too fragmented and it is a good example of the genre.

In these two novels British novelist Martin has proved himself to be a story-teller of consistency and worth.  He hasn’t published anything since these two so I hope he hasn’t been put off by those pesky Amazon reviewers.  “Tom Martin” is a pseudonym and my little bit of amateur-detective work has not been able to find out much more than this.  I would happily purchase a third book by this writer.

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Kingdom was published in the UK in 2009 by Pan Books

 

 

The Brotherhood Of The Holy Shroud – Julia Navarro (2007) – A Running Man Review

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Here is the first female author with a review in my Running Man section of action and adventure novels. It is certainly a male-dominated field and breaking the mould here is Spanish author Julia Navarro who in 2007 produced a book which fulfils all the criteria for this category. This is the first of her two books along similar lines (the second is “The Book Of Clay”) which have been translated into English. She has now written five novels. The last two seem more focused on historical saga than action/adventure. I have not yet read any of her other works. Navarro is also a journalist with non-fiction books to her credit and a well-known political analyst in her home country.

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     Julia Navarro

This book starts off very well indeed with the Arts Crime Department investigating a series of fires at Turin Cathedral where the Holy Shroud is held. Added to this are tongueless mutes who seem to be linked to these incidents .

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 Detail from the Turin Shroud

This provides an exciting first half of the novel as the author seems to be giving the best of the male authors in this genre a run for their money. Unfortunately, however, about mid-way through things start to go awry. It’s the Knight Templars that do it. They are introduced into the plot because of their involvement with the Holy Shroud and Navarro gets carried away with giving us too much historical detail without managing to incorporate this into the unfolding story. This drags the book down for me. It is a pitfall of the genre and Navarro is yet another victim. She does, however, manage to avoid one of the other pitfalls which is the anti-climatic resolution. All too often in this genre, the threat of the end of the world fizzles out with a discovery of some artefact which is then discovered not to have the power it is believed to have, leaving the reader with a sense of deflation and a feeling that loose ends have been left for no real purpose.   In “The Brotherhood of The Holy Shroud” there is a satisfactory resolution, even though to get there she does kill or maim a surprising number of her main characters, making sequels unlikely!

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The Brotherhood Of The Holy Shroud was published by John Murray in 2007

 

The Demonologist- Andrew Pyper (Orion 2013)- A Running Man Review

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Okay, I’ve let this one go a couple of years now I can get it out of my system.  When this book was released I was lucky to be sent a post a review copy.  Whoever was responsible for sending the books out was a genius because it really was the most sumptuous parcel I have ever received.  The book arrived in a tied brown paper parcel, purporting to come from Venice, with an authentic looking seal and a letter from the Demonologist, the main character.  The whole thing looked delicious, was exciting and just a little bit creepy, which was exactly what I hoped the publishers were trying to achieve.    Top marks for the creative department who thought this up.  I couldn’t wait to read it.  Yes, you’ve guessed it, the book was a let-down……….

My copy was sent on the understanding that if I enjoyed it I would review it favourably on Amazon (I didn’t have the blog site then).  I never posted that review.  I have recently been thinking about books that didn’t live up to the hype so I thought it was about time I put into print what it was that didn’t work for me.  It was a book I should have loved – a blend of horror and action/adventure, a Venetian setting and a very attractive front cover.

Because I am such a sensitive soul I didn’t post on Amazon because I didn’t want the author and publishers to find out I couldn’t rave over the book after all the trouble they had gone to.  The last nine months of reviewing has toughened me up.  I have had a sneaky look at Amazon to see if I’m wide off the mark, opinion-wise and there is the usual mixed views, but with a fascinating spread.  34 reviews are currently listed – ten 5 stars (did they receive the free copy I wonder?) seven 4 stars,  ten 3 stars and seven 2 stars.  Such perfect symmetry needs commenting on……

The whole thing reminded me of another book I should have liked but didn’t, “The Historian” by  Elizabeth Kostova which aimed to take the Dracula story to a new level (only for me it didn’t – nor for the 201/427 Amazon reviewers who rated it 3* or below.  What am I doing looking at these Amazon statistics?  I hardly ever do this!).  The “Demonologist” attempts to give a new sheen to the work of John Milton and his “Paradise Lost”.

Demons make contact with David Ullman, an American Milton specialist and steal his daughter.  This is his quest to get her back in what is truly a race against the Devil.  The main reason it doesn’t work is because it is written in present tense, which is not in itself a bad thing, but leads to a sense of disappointment if you are trying to build suspense.  It means that some of the scary things that happen when the main character is not around have to be reported rather than allowing us as readers to experience them.  I feel instantly cheated and I’m surprised that this wasn’t pointed out before publication as it seems to me to be a considerable flaw.

This, however, might mean that the plot would work better as a film and I noted that Pyper’s previous novels are in development as films.  Visually, with its Venice setting, it could be stunning and the chills could be more effective.

The Professor’s battles with the Devil are largely cerebral and involve Milton’s words from which the Professor can inexplicably gather clue as to his daughter’s whereabouts (some of my mature UK readers might remember the TV show “3-2-1” and this certainly comes to mind here!).

Characterwise, it was one of the supporting characters who attracted my attention rather than the Professor.  Elaine O’Brien, his colleague who is suffering from terminal cancer seems a more rounded character and I wanted to read more about her.  Also, and perhaps, importantly, given the nature of the book, I couldn’t believe in the father/daughter relationship which is so central to the plot.  It didn’t scare me and I didn’t think it was particularly thrilling but it did pass the time well so wasn’t a complete disaster.  I haven’t written Canadian author Pyper off.  His novel “The Damned” was published in the UK in March 2015 and the Daily Mail reviewer certainly liked it – but this for me is one clear case where the promise didn’t deliver.

twostars

The Demonologist was published by Orion (who certainly did a good job in the marketing) in 2013.

(I feel better for that- I’ve been suffering from reviewer’s guilt because I never posted that original review!)

The Venice Conspiracy – Jon Trace (Sphere 2010) – A Running Man Review

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At the end of every year I select my 10 best books I’ve read during that year irrespective of publication date and these are the books that are allowed to stay on my shelves whilst the rest end up being donated to the library, to charity shops or given away to friends. I read quite a lot of adventure genre books but very few end up ever making it into my Top 10 list. In fact, since the arrival of Dan Brown who reactivated this genre for me there has just been his “Da Vinci Code” and “Lost Symbol” and Steve Berry’s “Romanov Prophecy” which have made the cut.

It could be all change this year as Jon Trace has written a book good enough to make the list. He’s achieved this with a convincing blend of out and out adventure and a police procedural with a touch of horror and plenty of thrills. This makes the book feel original in a genre which can become a tad predictable. There’s no cartoon baddies, the Nazis are not involved and neither the Templars nor the Masons have an effect on the outcomes. In style it reminded me of Adam Blake’s “Dead Sea Deception”  from 2011 as he also seemed to be trying something very different with a blend of genres, but this is better.

One of the joys of “The Venice Conspiracy” is that we are not overladen with parallel narratives. The main plot features ex Priest Tom Shaman who gives up the Church when his intervention to help a rape victim on the streets of Compton, LA, leads to two men being killed. He goes to Venice on the strength of a Canaletto painting and for reasons that are unclear to me becomes a consultant in a murder case after he discovers a body in the canal.

Alongside this we have a tale of the Etruscans from 666BC where events gently mirror the present day narrative. When that thread reaches its natural end we are introduced to a monk, Tommasso, in Eighteenth Century Venice who has experiences similar to Shaman. This is all building up to an execution in San Quentin Prison and all three narratives are linked by an ancient artefact produced by an Etruscan woman which is said to depict the Gates Of Hell. Chapters are short and Trace is very good with pace (I’m not sure if that rhyme is intentional!). We also get to experience Tom adapting to life outside the Church as situations occur which threaten his trust in humans and risks undermining the Italian Police investigation. I was with this all the way (with the slight reservation of how the ex-Priest got himself into the Consultant role). It builds up well and there’s enough twists and turns to appeal to the crime writing fan.

fourstars

The Venice Conspiracy was published by Sphere in 2010.

Two By Scott Mariani – A Running Man Review

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The Alchemist’s Secret – Scott Mariani (2007)

The Mozart Conspiracy- Scott Mariani (2008)

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These two novels are the first in Mariani’s series featuring Ben Hope – a specialist in finding the lost and the kidnapped. There are now 11 Ben Hope novels together with 2 novellas so I have a fair bit of catching up to do. Scott has also begun a very different series featuring the Vampire Federation, these he writes as Scott G. Mariani. I have a couple of these on my shelves but have not got round to them yet.

Scott Mariani is a British author (born in Scotland, now living in Wales) and a quick look at his website sees comparisons being made to James Bond, the Bourne books and even “Dan Brown on Steroids”. He is one of the leading lights of the adventure genre novel.

In our introduction to Ben Hope, “The Alchemist’s Secret” it is the elixir of life that is being searched for. This is to help a rich man’s dying grand-daughter. The secret of this, it is believed, is contained in the lost documents of the alchemist Fulcanelli, a real-life genius shrouded in much mystery who disappeared in the 1920’s and whose whole life seems tailor-made for this kind of novel. Ben Hope gets entangled with the myths surrounding alchemy and the Cathars (a European Christian movement active particularly between the 12th and 14th Centuries.) He encounters corrupt archbishops and Christian Fundamentalism in an enjoyable (and yes, far-fetched) novel. Mariani is effective in keeping his plot-lines simple, helping readability and keeping it all entertaining without feeling the need to bombard us with multiple plot strands which can make a significant number of books in this genre a frustrating read.

The standard is maintained in “The Mozart Conspiracy” (2008). Here a musician friend of Hope’s is murdered whilst researching the circumstances around the death of Mozart. Hope joins forces with the man’s sister (and an old flame of his) to find out what happened. Here we have to face ritual killings, child kidnapping and The Masons. It moves well and once again reads easily. Hope’s character feels more rounded in this second novel and he is ably assisted by some new involving characters, especially Leigh Llewellyn -opera star and sister of the murdered Oliver; Kinksi, the police officer who wants the case reopened and his daughter, Clara. The “baddies” are somewhat stereotypical, but it all romps along well. I might put it slightly ahead of “The Alchemist’s Secret”, mainly because of the characterisation. This bodes well for the series.

Both of these novels I would rate – threestars

Scott Mariani’s Ben Hope books are published in the UK by Harper Collins (Avon)

The Third Secret- Steve Berry (2005) – A Running Man Review

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This is the fourth Steve Berry book I have read, one of which, “The Amber Room (2003) I have reviewed here. I haven’t yet really got into his series books, but his stand-alones are very good examples of this genre.  After the Russians of “The Romanov Prophecy”, the Nazis in “The Amber Room” the focus here is on Italy, more specifically the Vatican.  What Berry does so well is set up a fascinating premise, this he has done with all three of his stand-alone novels, this one being no exception.  The Vatican is aiming to control visions of Mary and especially, her words when she appeared to a group of children in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal.  There’s a pretty seamless combination of fact and fiction, as the 1917 visions are well documented.  But along the way Berry cranks up the thrills.  There’s papal elections, murder and excommunication.

The main character, Michener, is an American Papal Secretary and close friend of the Pope.  He is questioning his role in the Church, especially with regards to celibacy, so there’s a good bit of inner conflict alongside the public turmoil.  All the characters have secrets but it is the revelation of the Third Secret that will change the world for good.  Those in the know want the secret kept at any costs.  Pace is a little hit and miss and unfortunately I did not warm to either of the main characters, Michener and ex-girlfriend Katerina Law.

Out of the four Steve Berry books this comes in at number 3 behind “The Romanov Prophecy” and “Amber Room”, but this writer I think has the skills to come up with a real out and out winner.  It might be already out there but I just haven’t read it yet.

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The Third Secret was published in 2005 by Hodder in the UK

Two Books By Chris Kuzneski– A Running Man Review

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The Lost Throne  (2008)   &  The Prophecy (2009)

Here is an author who proves that self-publishing can work.  His debut novel”The Plantation” faced rejection until Chris Kuzneski self-published.  The result?  A book which attracted much attention and praise from his fellow adventure genre authors, a literary agent came on board and there was a publishing deal.  Nine books on and this American author is one of the consistent sellers in this genre.  So far there have been two series – his first eight feature Payne and Jones, the next two and his forthcoming “Prisoner’s Gold” (published this October) form his “Hunter Series” for which film rights have been sold.  I have read two of the Payne and Jones (books numbers 4 and 5).  I’m not a huge fan of reading books mid-series, nine times out of ten I have to start from the beginning but I have made an exception for Mr Kuzneski and I don’t think my reading experience has been too compromised by this!

What these two books do tell me that this author is not too far off the best in the adventure genre.  In “The Lost Throne” there is the odd reference to previous cases, but this did not get in the way too much.  We get two main narrative strands which converge in the last third of the book on the Greek monastic isle, Mount Athos.  Nick Dial, an Interpol officer is investigating the grisly beheadings of a set of Greek monks in one narrative strand  and in the other two ex-members of an elite Special Forces Unit (Payne & Jones) get a series of distressed phone-calls from a man who ends up the victim of a hitman in Russia.  There’s lost treasure, a startling group of Spartans viciously defending their culture and the pace cranks up nicely with some good moments of tension and some nicely rounded characters. Once the two narrative strands meet at Mount Athos I felt a slight let-down as the novel lost some of its energy but this remains a good example of this genre.

This was pretty much how I felt about the next in the Payne and Jones series, “The Prophecy” where the standard is maintained.  There is a switch around in the emphasis- I felt that Payne and Jones had the slightly weaker narrative strand last time round but here they get star billing with Dial moving to the ranks of minor character.  People are being killed over a piece of parchment, which turns out to be the work of Nostradamus and greater riches are implied in his words.  It reads well, is easy to follow and maintains its enjoyment level throughout.  I would be very hard pushed to say which of the two books I preferred, which suggests a level of consistency which bodes well for the rest of the series.

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The Lost Throne (2008)  and The Prophecy (2009) are both published by Penguin.