Book review: The Lost Relic by Scott Mariani

Some people are drawn to danger like bees to a honey pot - former SAS major Ben Hope is a classic example.

Friday, 11th February 2011, 6:00 am

After visiting an old military comrade in Italy, a distracted Ben nearly runs over a young boy – and unwittingly walks into his deadliest mission yet.

This is Scott Mariani’s sixth book featuring high-octane hero Hope and it has all the same addictive ingredients – suspense, authenticity and heart-thumping action.

‘Page-turner’ is a hackneyed phrase in the world of books but Mariani’s Ben Hope adventures take the thriller genre to its dizziest and most dazzling heights.

Well-researched, superbly plotted, full of mystery, bloodshed, dark humour and a cast of colourful characters, The Lost Relic sees the Scottish author on top form.

Bored with his ‘kidnap and ransom’ training business in France and fretting over his cooling relationship with the beautiful Dr Brooke Marcel, Ben narrowly avoids careering into a child as he drives through Italy.

Happy just to see her son safe, Gianni Strada’s mother invites Ben to attend the nearby celebratory opening of a new exhibition wing at the Academia Giordani fine art school.

The centre is bursting with some of the world’s greatest paintings loaned from galleries across the world and, unknown to Ben, Russian gangster boss Grigori Shikov has his eyes on one of the exhibits.

In charge of the heist will be Shikov’s sadistic and psychopathic son Anatoly, a ponytailed monster whose specialities include drinking, gambling, torture, killing – not necessarily in that order.

Anatoly is mystified that his father desires just one seemingly unimpressive Goya sketch from the multi-million euro masterpieces adorning the walls but is happy just to be in charge of the mission.

At Anatoly’s side is his old buddy Spartak Gourko, a bull-necked thug who once held off an entire squad of Chechen guerrillas using only a sharpened entrenching tool.

Armed with more hardware than the Red Army, the gang goes in all guns blazing and slaughters 37 people, including Gianni Strada and his mother.

Ben escapes but will not rest until he has discovered the truth about the brutal raid and the elusive Goya sketch.

Wrongly accused of murder and forced to go on the run, Ben comes up against the Russian gang, their partners in crime, the Italian police and tough operator Commander Darcey Kane of the British Serious Organised Crime Agency.

He must get to the heart of the conspiracy before his enemies get to him.

Fast-paced, violent and shot through with a delicate thread of romance, The Lost Relic poses the serious danger of being devoured in one session.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)