You know you’re in good hands with an author when, half a page into the prologue, you are bewitched to the point you forget what century you’re in. The return to the book’s current reality half a page later was a brutal but effective wrench; it assured my intense interest throughout the remaining 320 pages.
But enough about the writing.
‘The Witch of Babylon’ is at once a complex art-history mystery centered on biblical scholarship, a breath-stealing thriller set in the early months of the Iraq invasion, and an intellectual exploration of links between Mesopotamian myths and European alchemical processes. Not to mention the archaeological lore and torch-lit journeys into subterranean realms. Oh, and a personal journey of growth by a spoiled young art broker after the death of the older brother who has always shielded him from consequences.
This is a square-on hard stare at the murky world of antiquities looting and trading as well as a disturbing return to the early, chaotic weeks and months of the Iraq invasion. Add a soupcon of travelogue over the streets of New York City and various parts of the Middle East, and there is much to enjoy about this book. For those who like extras (ie me) there's a map, a short historical note at the beginning and more historical information sections at the back for those who want to go deeper into the arcane subject matter.
My ARC was sent by the author, D.J. McIintosh (after my bugging her for three years to be allowed to read the full manuscript). When it arrived I read the whole book in a sprint, with only meal breaks, and will now read it again more slowly, to savour the unfolding story.
‘The Witch of Babylon’ was short-listed for a Debut Dagger in 2007 and won an Arthur Ellis award for Best Unpublished Crime Novel in 2008. It is being released by Penguin Canada in June 2011 and (at last count) has sold rights in 15 languages around the world.
‘Witch’ is the first book of The Babylon Trilogy. I can't wait for the next.