Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Witch of Babylon by D.J. McIntosh, reviewed by Rita Bailey

Penguin Canada, 320 pages, paperback, $12.15 from here, $9.99 ebook from Penguin here.

Any book that features murder, mystery, ancient artifacts and a parade of colourful characters — all within the first 24 pages — is guaranteed to grab my attention.  Add a dazzling plot with more twists and turns than Lady Gaga’s latest hairdo, the high drama of the New York art scene, and an exotic excursion to ancient sites in war-torn Iraq, and KABOOM!  The result is a page turner that grips you tighter than a Sumo wrestler.

In the Witch of Babylon, author D. J. McIntosh has created a refreshingly original historical thriller.  The protagonist, John Madison, is an art dealer — not your typical crime fiction character.  Young, literate, and broke, he finds himself caught in a deadly game to find a missing artifact plundered from Iraq. To do so, he must first solve a series of puzzles. 

He is pursued in this deadly competition by a bizarre and dangerous parade of opponents, including a mysterious blonde, a one-eyed monster, and a cold-blooded art professor.  Each character is multi-dimensional, and the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are intentionally blurred, keeping us guessing until the very end.

Also unique to this novel are the illustrations.  Each puzzle clue is fully reproduced, allowing the reader to match wits with the characters in this high-stakes intrigue.

A book like this requires extensive research into areas as diverse as biblical prophecy, art and archeology, ancient alchemy, and Sumerian history.  McIntosh avoids the dreaded information dump by weaving these details skillfully into dialogue.  The exotic settings cry out for rich description, and McIntosh delivers this Goldilocks-style – not too much and not too little.  For those who want to delve a little deeper, McIntosh includes detailed end notes and a full bibliography.

If you’re the type of reader who usually skips the Prologue, one word of advice: don’t.  This one is not to be missed.  It sets the background for the plot, introduces key characters, and gives us a glimpse into the exotic settings, the betrayal, and the intrigues to follow.   The language is rich and has a rhythm that evokes the ancient Mesopotamian culture that is central to this tale.

The Witch of Babylon is a remarkable debut, the first in a trilogy.  So hold on to your conjurer’s hats, there’s more to come.

Read an interview with Dorothy J McIntosh, author of The Witch of Babylon, here.
The Book of Stolen Tales, the second novel in McIntosh's trilogy has also been published. For details, see here.

Rita Bailey reading one of her
short stories at CJ's Cafe
Rita Bailey is a Hamilton writer currently working on a historical fiction novel, set in Dundas during the Rebellion of 1837. When gardening season arrives, she writes a garden column for the Hamilton Mountain News and tends her heritage tomatoes. A fan of  mystery novels since her Nancy Drew days, she is addicted to reading anything with dead bodies. You can read other reviews by Rita here and here, and a short memoir piece here.

See Brian Henry’ schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Cambridge, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Stouffville, Sudbury, Toronto, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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