John Madison is an art dealer who's recently lost his brother in an accident everyone is quick to blame on him. When he finally ventures out to attend a party given by his friend Hal, John ends up being dragged into a conspiracy and a puzzle of large proportions. Hal is murdered and John is witness to the crime. What's more, it seems Hal stole a priceless artifact John's brother recently brought over from Iraq. Though John's never laid eyes on the piece, Hal's murderers are intent on finding it and convinced that John knows its whereabouts. Fortunately, Hal left John clues about the piece. Unfortunately, time is running out for John to solve the puzzle.
It seemed there were a ton of these sorts of historical thriller/puzzle titles in the wake of The Da Vinci Code and while I'm a fan of them, D. J. McIntosh's Witch of Babylon doesn't stand out for me as being particularly inventive or original.
By no means does that imply that The Witch of Babylon is not entertaining. The story moves at a fairly quick pace and there's a good bit of action throughout. The puzzles, though, are a bit confusing and I found I had to rely solely on the characters and their explanations and just take their word for it in some cases. There were also some odd transitions between scenes -- weird downtime with the characters that seemed unnecessary given the accepted urgency of solving the puzzles and finding the engraving. And the history of the piece itself was fascinating but greatly slowed the novel. Anytime there was a good bit of narrative about the engraving and its supposed background, the story stalled much more than I'd expected.
Overall I found McIntosh's debut to be a fun read but one that started to lose appeal if I really thought too hard about what was going on. As long as I just went along with the story and did't try to figure anything out on my own (tough for someone with a long history of mystery reading) it was all good.
This is the first book in McIntosh's Mesopotamian trilogy. It hits shelves in the US tomorrow, October 16.