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A while back, I read The Alchemist's Secret, the first Ben Hope book by Scott Mariani. It turned out to be one of those books that was disposable, but fun. It seems a lot of other readers felt the same since The Alchemist's Secret did well enough to spawn a sequel: The Mozart Conspiracy.
When his friend Oliver Llewellyn apparently commits suicide, Ben Hope thinks things don't really add up. Investigating further, he uncovers a very odd tale which includes a new theory behind the sudden death of the compose Mozart, a long hidden secret organisation and some deadly killers. It also brings him back into contact with Leigh Llewellyn, Oliver's sister and Ben's one time girlfriend.
The Mozart Conspiracy is a slightly odd book. It gets many things right, but it also gets several things wrong. The things it gets wrong are not enough to derail it completely, but they are sufficient to prevent it from being quite as enjoyable as the first book.
For a start, there is the character of Hope himself, who is a lot less likeable in this outing. In the original, he was capable of sudden and extreme violence, but this was always done to protect himself or others. When not killing people, he was a rather likeable everyman, someone you could happily spend some time with.
In this sequel, he is much colder and more remote. Although he thaws a little towards the end for the most part, he is not a particularly sympathetic character. Books with unsympathetic main characters are always up against it, particularly ones like this, where some sort of empathy with the main character is essential, since they are generally pretty underdeveloped in all other respects.
In the original book the shallow characters weren't too much of a problem, because the plot was stronger. The plot in this sequel is not as engaging and at some points is actually a problem in itself. Whilst there have long been questions raised about the nature of Mozart's death, it's not exactly a burning issue on everyone's lips and Mariani's own take on it is not particularly convincing or interesting. Moreover, it feels tacked on, as if it is there for no other reason than to justify the existence of (yet another) secret organisation.
The first part of the book really offers nothing new - yet another "hunt the treasure" adventure, where the heroes race around deciphering clues until they uncover a big secret. This part of The Mozart Conspiracy felt curiously flat and at one point, I thought it might be heading for two stars.
Thankfully, things pick up considerably once Hope stops messing around with hidden secrets and lost letters and starts hunting down the bad guys. It's here that his cold, calculating attitude and readiness to kill becomes more relevant. In the early part of the book (when he is investigating) his casual attitude to human life creates an emotional vacuum; in the second part it's more understandable because the situation becomes one of kill or be killed, so the reader can cheer as he dispatches yet another villain without feeling too bad.
The pace also increases massively once he's on the trail of the bad guys. The curious stodginess that characterised the first part disappears and the reader is caught up in the endless fights, daring escapes and rescues. It's still nothing new here; but at least it has some flair and a greater sense of drama.
Like all too many modern books, The Mozart Conspiracy outstays its welcome and tighter editing would not have gone amiss. In particular it suffers from the modern literary blight of multiple endings. It ends... then it ends again... then there is a third ending. Unfortunately, this just meant that I started to get frustrated again and was willing it to finish properly. It also meant that when the real ending finally did occur (with what should have been a big emotional impact), I was past the point of caring.
At least the book dares to introduce a couple of plot developments that many other writers would never have the courage to use and it keeps the reader guessing, unsure exactly what is going to happen next. At one point, I thought Mariani had blown one of the big shocks with a cop out ending, but he did have the courage of his convictions, even riffing on one of the Bond films (I'll not say which one to prevent a spoiler), which provide an obvious source of inspiration for the book as a whole.
The Mozart Conspiracy is definitely a book of two halves. The first section is a stodgy, uninspiring affair, the second the sort of non-stop, rip-roaring thriller you expect from this type of book. I wasn't bowled over by Ben Hope's second adventure but there was enough to persuade me to give the third instalment a go before writing the series off completely.
This is very much a one-read wonder so not worth the £6.99 cover price. I'd even think twice about the Kindle edition at just £1.99. I got it on Kindle when the price dropped to 99p and, to be honest, I think that's about the most I would have liked to have paid for it.
The Mozart Conspiracy
(C) copyright SWSt 2013
It isn't too often when WHSmiths do massive clear out sales which have anything worth looking at, but when a brand new book is going for a pound I'm not going to turn away.
Former SAS operative, Ben Hope, finds himself tangled up in a web of torture, murder, kidnap and a letter. Supposedly the last one which Mozart ever wrote.
After quitting the army his new career track tends to be helping those in need. Generally involved in tracking down hostages and then not holding back on the gun fire of their kidnappers.
Intent of spending some time off back in Ireland after a job, a phonecall changes his life completely.
Leight Llewellyn, an opera star and Bens first love, comes storming back into his life after a gap of 15 years. Certain that people are after her she enlists him to investigate the mysterious death of her brother Oliver, who Ben was also close friends with.
Oliver Llewellyn had been researching the death of Mozart when he stumbled upon a Masonry Meeting. Filming the ritual sacrifice of a man would be enough for anybody to feel that their life may now be in danger.
His death however, is suspicous to those who don't believe it be an accident. What possible reason could he of had for being out in the middle of a frozen lake at 10:30pm. Even more curiously when Detective Kinski spots a pile of bullet shells nearby.
Throughout the story Ben and Leigh try and trace back to all the places where Olivers research may of taken him. Blood shed seems to follow them where ever they go and it doesn't make things any easier when one of you is exceptionally famous.
This novel is actually a lot better that I had expected it to be. It features a lot of murders and in some places can be quite graphic with the details.
It's also got a quick pace about it. As soon as you begin to think that you've worked out who's behind all these crimes, you get transported to the next chapter which completely mucks up your ideas.
This isn't your typical murder mystery story as there are a lot of other things thrown into the mix. Personally I like that the characters are perfectly willing to kill the criminals than send them to prison.
Oddly enough I now know random facts about Mozart which I was unaware of and I think that this is a good read for anybody who relishes in the idea of 'bad guys' getting their heads blown off at point blank. (I didn't realise I liked reading about that until now.)
It's retail price is £6.99 but you can get it from Amazon for £3.77
If you have already read this book and enjoyed it, I suggest that you also read The Alchemists Secret by the same author