I have to stop picking up books with the names of composers in the titles. At least I have to stop adding them to my reading stack before I scope them out. The Mozart Conspiracy by Scott Mariani was a fast-paced read but it really exhausted me. In true thriller fashion, the book opened with some gruesome and perverted incidents that were creepy enough to alert a sane reader to the havoc to follow. No claims for sanity here—reading a book a day in medias res is a less than rational challenge. So I read on, knowing full well things would get more horrible as the pages turned. They did.
Ben Hope is a former SAS officer, member of a British special services unit of highly trained operatives who carry out the most critical and dangerous missions. These days he’s a hero-for-hire, rescuing children from pedophile rings and solving complex and deadly crimes. Ben’s friend Oliver Llewellyn dies a suspicious death and Ben is contacted by an old flame, Oliver’s younger sister Leigh, a world famous opera star who happens to be the girl Ben left behind.
The twist is the Mozart letter, a document discovered in the hollow leg of an antique piano by the Llewellyns’ father. The letter contains a secret that reveals something important about Mozart’s puzzling death and may prove that he was murdered. Some people will stop at nothing to get the rolled parchment in Mozart’s handwriting. Ben has to piece together what Oliver stumbled across as he researched the letter, and how that may have killed him. Leigh is in the same danger after she reveals on television that she will carry on her beloved brother’s research, using the materials he sent to her.
A conspiracy encompassing an ancient order that may still exist, a mysterious estate with a ritual assassination room in the cellar, a rising young politician with a green agenda and sadistic enemies, the terrified opera diva, a dogged Viennese gumshoe who is working in a compromised police department, a young kid who gets kidnapped a lot but remains resilient, a renegade nun on the lam from the law in a totalitarian regime, a scarred and deformed very very bad guy in a large cast of unsavory characters, all this captures and nearly kills Ben who wants to save his former lover and avenge his friend.
The torture is ugly, the weapons are plentiful and powerful, a shocking thing happens and then an even worse thing happens and then it gets nasty. Ben Hope has an astonishing ability to withstand injury and pain and escape imprisonment, imminent death and sophisticated traps. Many things become weapons and many weapons are lovingly described and demonstrated. Mariani would seem to know his knives and guns. He doesn’t quite know his opera, which undercuts the credibility of the tale at a few points.
Leigh Lllewellyn is about 34, still early in an operatic career. As a big star she would sing the major roles. As a trained singer she would choose roles carefully to mature and preserve her voice. But Mariani has her singing Verdi’s Macbeth, Puccini’s Tosca and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte—the Queen of the Night role. The Verdi and the Puccini call for darker, full-bodied voices with the heavier timbres that a singer develops over time. Singing those roles too soon will imperil a soprano’s top notes and the topmost belongs to the Queen of the Night, a high F above high C. No way does one singer tackle all those parts at the same point in her career. So, being an opera nerd, the discrepancy made me wonder what else might have been lightly researched.
The violence is convincing, though, if sickening. And Ben loves Leigh, the two of them dash all over Europe in every type of conveyance, evil triumphs again and again and many bodies pile up—one has an iron skillet half-buried in his brain, courtesy of our clever hero. It’s a very bloody book and most of the characters die and the conspirators trace their lineage to a sect of the Masons, the organization Mozart belonged to and glorified with The Magic Flute.
Clues do fit together neatly; villains are beyond redemption; Leigh is beautiful and as good an actress as she is a singer; Ben finds it increasingly hard to protect her. Every beat is a fresh disaster. The Mozart Conspiracy earns its thriller stripes in an action movie explosion of nonstop brutality. Mozart isn’t very essential; he serves mainly as an excuse for absolute carnage that continues senselessly after the book’s logical end. It seemed like too much to me. I would have preferred more Mozart and fewer maniacs and several dozen fewer murders in the mix.
The Mozart Conspiracy: A Novel Scott Mariani | Touchstone 2011