I devoured all of the Dan Browns when they came out, have worked my way through all of Steve Berry's books so I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of D. J. McIntosh's
debut novel The Witch of Babylon
- the first book in The Mesopotamian Trilogy.
McIntosh introduces us to John Madison, a Turkish-American art dealer who has a bit of a checkered past. His older brother Samuel dies unexpectedly and it is only after his death that John learns of Samuel's desperate attempt to save a priceless relic from looting in Iraq. The relic has been stolen by Hal, a rival of John's. Hal is killed by factions determined to have the relic for themselves. But before he died, Hal secreted the relic away, leaving a series of intricate puzzles John must solve to find the treasure. And what is this relic that everyone is so desperate to save and to steal?
"Samuel had recognized Nahum's text as a prophetic Old Testament book called the Burden of Nineveh. He believed that not only was the text genuine but it contained a hidden message. Something to do with alchemical processes to make gold"
The detail and history McIntosh weaves into her story is impeccably researched. I often stopped midway through a chapter to hop on the computer and look up the past and events she writes about. And the Bible as well - Nahum is a small book in the Old Testament. The puzzles are included in the book, allowing the reader to 'play' along. (There's also a great website where you can play one of the puzzles
- Babylon Squares.)
McIntosh successfully combines the fascinating world of historical fact and lore with the all too real problem of antiquities looting. Toss in action, travel, bad guys and a little romance and the result is a page turner that will surely land on the bestseller lists.
D.J. McIntosh talks about her lead character - John Madison:
My Leading Man
I’ve developed a steady relationship with a certain guy over the last couple of years and we just seem to grow closer as time goes on. He’s exceptionally good looking, comes from an exotic background, is smart though no snooty intellectual, has great social skills, oh….and, did I mention he’s thirty-three years younger than me?
He does have his failings. A tendency to skim the edges of legality if the money is good enough, a proclivity that stands him in good stead in his profession as an art and antiquities dealer. He has a strong sense of self-doubt that he covers up with bravado and occasional flashes of quick temper. But, hey, no one’s perfect. And he loves rock/blues guitar just as much as I do. That pretty much restores the balance for me.
I speak, of course, about my leading man – John Madison – the central character in The Witch of Babylon and the next two books in the Babylon Trilogy to come.Authors use many approaches to form a central character. Some draft a long list of attributes, interests and qualities that, like paint strokes on a canvas, eventually make up a coherent picture. Others model their protagonist after someone they know well or find many of their own personality traits reflected in their creation. And some writers create a hero or heroine who is symbolic of an ideal.
When it comes to plot development I need to work off a very detailed palette before putting words on the page. But with my lead character it’s just the reverse. He sprang, as it were, fully formed from my imagination. One day he was just “there” - his physical image, personality, even, John, his first name. I’d wished in fact to name him Edward or James, two of my favourite male names, but he wasn’t having any of that!
At the time the manuscript entered its first major revision, it was suggested that a tough, take no prisoners female protagonist was in vogue and would likely have more appeal in the publishing world. This notion has certainly proven itself true with the very successful work of Mr. Larsson. In fact it would have been the safer way to go if only because I’m female and writing what you know does tend to result in a richer reading experience.
But while my novel has undergone many changes since those early days – alterations that considerably improved the book – the prospect of wiping John off the page produced a gut clenching reaction. I just couldn’t do it."
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Check out what others on the tour think:
Just a Lil Lost June 13
The Literary Word June 14
My Ever Expanding Library June 16
Serendipitous Readings June 17
Let's Book It June 20
Evie Bookish June 22
Lost for Words June 23
Snowdrop Dreams of Books June 24