Mariani does an excellent job of setting up a scenario of heroes and villains in a thriller that has Mozart’s untimely death at its core but also includes the long and murky history of the Freemasons. In the course of gathering material for his book on Mozart’s death, the symbolism of Freemasonry in his opera The Magic Flute and whether the composer died of natural causes or was poisoned, Oliver Llewellyn examines the secrets and rituals of the sect from its inception in 1700, a powerful society with deep political, financial and religious roots. Soon after witnessing a ritual retribution, Oliver dies accidentally (and conveniently), the proof of what he witnessed in a padded envelope on the way to his opera star sister, Leigh: “Men who cannot keep their tongues from wagging should have them removed.”
When Leigh decides to finish Oliver’s work as homage to his life, she sets the stage for a mad chase with unidentified but deadly men determined to cleanse the record of malfeasance by any means necessary. Leigh turns to Oliver’s friend, Ben Hope, a freelance special services agent and the man who walked away from her fifteen years ago –now the only person who stands between her and immediate peril. But the author goes one better and adds a fanatical assassin to the mix, a man who locks horns with Hope and makes it his personal mission to destroy Ben, however much time and patience is required.
On the run from her shadowy pursuers, Leigh makes predictable rookie mistakes, her recognizable name setting off alarms and a new wave of killers as Ben tries to limit the damage and bodies pile up in their wake from Oxford to Venice to Vienna. Each leg of the journey produces damning evidence of a secret political society that will kill to keep its secrets and has tentacles far into the government. Buildings are burned to the ground with victims trapped inside, explosions rock the quiet rural countryside where contemplative convent life turns to bloody chaos, and Ben stays barely one step ahead of faceless killers and an assassin favoring a final confrontation.
From the first page, the action is a bone-jarring buildup of near-escapes, Ben using his repertoire of considerable skills to protect Leigh and get to the heart of the gruesome murder Oliver caught in real time on his cell phone, a ritual as old as religious fanaticism and secret societies sprung from ordained beliefs and power. Everything happens clandestinely, behind the walls of gated mansions or with a plausible explanation of freak accident or suicide, but the menace is real.
This is one of those compulsive books that demand to be read late into the night, a relentless drive toward a conclusion that promises to be bloody and deadly. Ben Hope is tested as never before, David facing a Goliath with roots in history and the quest for power through dominance.