Review of ‘The Alchemist’s Secret’ by Scott Mariani

51Dsx49AaOLThis is pretty good; in fact I’d put it alongside Andy McDermott and Steve Berry. All three follow the lead character safety net of a stoical, military trained loner with a sense of failure in their emotional past, one that can only be put right by saving others. Cliched, but it works. In this case we have one Ben Hope, probably from the same fictional regiment as Cotton Malone and Eddie Chase. In this case – whereas Eddie is given over to exuberant cursing and cheesy one-liners as he gallivants around after Nina Wilde and Cotton is a bit more intellectual with his Nordic bookshop and CIA help, Ms Stephanie Nelle – Ben is a loner with a drink problem, who is capable of killing with a Browning 9mm in a way not seen since…oh, I don’t know… the last brilliant sniper in a literary context.
The only problem for the author is to find something to write about that is new compared to the rest of the airport novels in this genre. The topics are fading fast. He’s forced to encroach on Dan Brown, forced to draw on “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” by centering his raven on the now infamous “Rennes Le Chateau”. It is a novel about the long dead Cathars, a novel about alchemy and eternal life, a novel about dastardly, corrupted Vatican archbishops, a novel with a psychotic torturer, a novel that, inevitably, needs to reference Nazism in order to explain why things have gone missing…yet for all these common themes in these types of novels at least Mr Mariani has the humility to acknowledge that:
“it was all too easy to project subjective meanings, beliefs or wishful thinking onto a centuries-old stone carving whose creator was no longer around to say otherwise…too many people were desperate for alternative versions of history…whole subcultures grew up around these myths, rewriting the past like a movie script.”
Indeed, Mr Mariani. Which is precisely what you go on to do.
With this tacit admission of conspiratorial collaboration, I actually felt released from the usual formula of these novels and settled down to enjoy it. And…enjoy this, I did. The plot hums along nicely with its car chases, ancient parchments, rich evil maniacs, motley crew of inept henchmen whose sole purpose is to conveniently die in massive explosions and never once shoot the main character (actually, this is not quite true. Ben Hope does get winged at one point which is slightly refreshing); its got the usual intellectual (one Roberta Ryder in this case) and the inevitable “will they, won’t they” love suggestion.
There was one contentious point in the novel which was a trifle blunt:
“to subscribe to the Catholic faith and its legacy was, tacitly or otherwise, to espouse centuries of systematic and unrestrained mass murder, war, oppression, torture and corruption.”
I see. Tell us what you really think…
For a first novel, you can see how the author has stuck rigidly to a formula that is successful and he’s done it tidily which isn’t bad. Given novel 8 is now out I hope (excuse the pun) he’s moved on to better things. So much so I’ve Kindled the next two because it’s all rather entertaining…I am intrigued to see how he gets rid of Roberta in the next novels because each installment always needs a new love interest..does it not?

Categories: Scott Mariani

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