Friday, October 14, 2011

book review: Lion of Babylon by Davis Bunn

Marc Royce returns to Iraq with no hesitation in Lion of Babylon, Davis Bunn’s novel about post-Saddam Iraq. How could he not go to help find his kidnapped friend Alex Baird? Rather, the danger and risk excite him.

In Baghdad he links up with Sameh, a lawyer and member of the Syrian Christian Church. Marc soon endears himself to Sameh, his wife Miriam, his widowed niece Layla, and her daughter Bisan (the latter three female characters soften the edge of this male-dominated tale).

The resistance to Marc's mission from the most surprising quarters, along with sinister warnings and outright threats, signal this is more than a simple kidnapping for money. Any fears that he won’t be at the top of his former intelligence agent game after several years behind a desk soon dissipate as intuition and old reflexes kick in. The story is a cat-and-mouse match that involves abductions, bombings, a clandestine church gathering, and a nighttime trip across the desert, all played out against the hot, dusty, colorful, and lively streets and environs of Baghdad.

Bunn’s writing is wonderful as usual—taut, yet picturesque, as in this description of his old boss Ambassador Walton from early in the book:

“Ambassador Walton had shrunk to where he wore his skin like a partially deflated balloon. The flesh draped about his collar shook slightly as he growled, ‘You got precisely what you deserved’” p. 11.

Character-wise, between the mains I preferred the more human Sameh to the almost too-good-to- be-true (in a superhero kind of way) Marc. I also wished there had been a character glossary, as all the generic-named Arab characters, how they were related to each other, and which faction or society strata they belonged to were confusing, and I had to keep checking back to see who was who.

Talking theme, there was a definite patriotic American undertone, especially in the way Bunn depicts Marc. I appreciated the tolerance of Sameh who purposely employs both Shia and Sunni workers in his office to signal his objectivity. Bunn handles the topic of religious faith (subtly woven throughout the story) most directly when he pictures people of various factions and religions worshiping in unity during a covert service that both Sameh and Marc attend:

“The priest asked everyone to join hands for the Lord’s Prayer. Sameh took Marc’s hand, then grasped the man’s hand on his other side. He glanced around the room, and saw a miracle. Sunni holding hands with Shia, Christian with Muslim. Praying aloud the words. As one.

Sameh wept for himself, for his family, for his nation They had all endured so much …. They hid so much, even from themselves, for to speak of these things only invited despair and futile rage

And yet here and now, in this place, the impossible was happening…” p. 241.
For readers who enjoy fast-paced stories of political intrigue, delivered with generous amounts of Middle Eastern realism and a dollop of faith, Lion of Babylon is a good choice.

Book trailer and first chapter available here.

Title: Lion of Babylon
Author: Davis Bunn
Publisher: Bethany House, July 2011, Paperback, 378 pages (also available in hardcover, Kindle, and audio).
  • ISBN-10: 0764209051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0764209055
 (I received this book as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review. Article first published as Book Review: Lion of Babylon by Davis Bunn on Blogcritics.)

This post is linked at Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books for Oct. 15, where you will find dozens of more book reviews.

Violet Nesdoly / poems
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