Fresh Meat: The Witch of Babylon by D.J. McIntosh

The Witch of Babylon by D. J. McIntosh
The Witch of Babylon by D. J. McIntosh
The Witch of Babylon by D.J. McIntosh is the first thriller in the Mesopotamian Trilogy and was the winner of the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished novel (available October 16, 2012).

The Witch of Babylon is one of the most educating books I’ve read in a long time. I found myself caught up in the history I was learning and hitting the Internet to verify various things I hadn’t known about this region of the world. This wasn’t just reading a good mystery, it was a true experience. This is book one of the Mesopotamian Trilogy, and I can’t imagine how smart I will be after reading the next two books.

The prologue takes place during the chaotic fall of the city of Baghdad on April 14, 2003. Three men, one the brother of the book’s narrator, rescue an artifact that is of great historical and monetary value, though we don’t find out what it is at that time.

After the prologue, the book is narrated by John Madison, who has a strange and endearing life story that has taken a bad turn with the death of his brother Samuel. Forty years older than John, Samuel took the younger man in when he was a child and raised him with the help of beloved housekeeper Evelyn.

There is so much activity and so many stories going on in this book, it’s difficult for me to summarize even a little of the plot. Let’s just say that the wonderful artifact mentioned in the prologue becomes the much-sought-after treasure of the book, and the mystery surrounds its origin and history. Most of it centers on the little known book of Nahum from the bible and the town of Nineveh, which for all intents and purposes disappeared around 612 B.C. At one time it was the hub of the great Assyrian empire until, destroyed by time and the elements, it became a huge mound in the midst of a great plain.

Like any hero of a good mystery, John suffers much peril and has lots of questions whose answers result in a great many brushes with death. There are many exciting locations in the book, beginning with Baghdad and ending in New York City.

It’s a confusing story at times, and you may find yourself rereading certain passages to be sure you understand what happened, but it’s well worth the circuitous ride to the end.

In this scene from the first chapter, John is drifting through his life in a vague cloud of grief after being in a horrible car accident that took the life of his brother Samuel. This is his first night out with friends in a long while:

In the kitchen, before I went out back to look for Hal, I put David Usher’s “Black, Black Heart” on, turned up the volume, and opened a window so the music would drift outside. Usher wrote the song about a woman, but I’d always thought how easily the title could apply to me.

I walked outside on the stone pathway. Soft light glowed from the windows and floated out onto the tangle of garden. The heat of the August night drew the scent from the aspens and spun it through the air.

I took in a deep breath and felt almost content.

I found Hal in the small stone pavilion, sitting in the same old wicker chair his father used to occupy. An oil lamp hung on the back wall, sending out the perfume of citrus. One of his sleeves was rolled up above the elbow, a cream-colored rubber strap binding his arm so tight it made his flesh pucker.

When Hal saw me, he flicked off his lighter and set a spoon down on the table beside a ziplock [sic] bag containing a grayish powder. “John, your timing is perfect.”

That pretty much sets the tone for John’s adventures throughout the book. He comes upon a scene that on the surface is self-explanatory but by the time he gets to the core of the scene, he discovers layers of deceit and destruction.

Don’t think you’ll cruise through this complicated story with ease. You’ll have to stop and think about what you’ve read and maybe even take a rest before you continue reading. You can bet the solution to this mystery is not Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick.

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Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, blogs at, and recently wrote the short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” for the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. She and her writing partner, Jan Powell, recently sold their paranormal novel, Second Nature, under the pseudonym Neely Powell.

Read ll posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.