The CIA is following me around these days. No, not the REAL CIA, but stories involving the CIA. It’s funny how a topic keeps coming up sometimes! I read a book that talked about the CIA a few weeks ago (Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me). That book was a memoir. I just finished another book that talked about the CIA and special operatives in various military branches – Lion of Babylon.
When Alex Baird goes missing in war-torn Baghdad, State comes calling again. Alex is a CIA agent–and a close friend of Royce. Three others have also dropped out of sight–a nurse, an aid worker, a wealthy young Iraqi. Are these cases linked? Rumors circulate about a kidnapping conspiracy, yet both American and local officials refuse to pursue it.
Blocked at every turn, Royce eventually unearths a trail of secret encounters between sworn enemies. What he discovers could transform the course of rivalry and reconciliation throughout the Mideast. As the human and political drama escalates, can one man summon the courage to make a difference?
Davis Bunn writes a very convincing story. The dialog and the pace of the Lion of Babylon seemed very realistic. Overall, it is a fast-moving story pretty much start to finish. The chapters are short, leading to the feeling that things are happening relatively quickly. It’s a perfect feeling for the intensity of the story.
Bunn weaves a story of intrigue and mystery, with a masterful use of language and a clear understanding of cultures. Time and time again, the phrases he used painted a perfect picture of the scene at hand; more than that, the phrases explained volumes of information, saying things better in a short sentence than could have been shared in a whole chapter. A few examples:
“Walton’s voice turned hoarse with the delicious flavor of conspiracy.”
“Walton actually smiled, an event as rare as snow on the moon.”
“A human bulldog with a shaved head stood grinning at the bottom of the stairs.”
“A patina fine as milled flour already covered him from head to foot.” (said of Marc Royce, within a few seconds of landing in Baghdad)
“Up close the man revealed an odd aura, like bullets not yet fired.” (describing Marc Royce)
“Miriam, his wife, was the most gently ferocious interrogator Sameh had ever known.”
In Lion of Babylon, ancient and modern cultures clash in nearly every imaginable way. Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Christian, Jew, Iraqi, Iranian, American…politics, history, religion, military force, military presence… kidnappings, bombings, assassination attempts, recovery efforts…everything is going on at once it seems. But Davis keeps the reigns on the story and moves it forward at a fantastic pace, barely giving the reader time to figure out what just happened before moving on to the next event.
Lion of Babylon is another example of well-written Christian fiction. Several of the characters in the story are Christians, and true to my own life experience, they seem to gravitate toward each other, to find each other in spite of circumstances that might otherwise keep them apart. Their faith is a natural, unforced presence in everything they do. I appreciated this very much. There is also a scene that takes place in an underground (literally) Iraqi church that can only have been written by someone who has felt the power of the Holy Spirit in a special way among a diverse community of believers. It’s beautifully described, and very powerful, even stunning. The book embraces a Christian worldview and deploys it with ease, very naturally.
The explanation of Iraqi cultures in Lion of Babylon was also very interesting, and very well done. The differences of Westerners vs. Arabs was never blatantly stated, but always alluded to. Marc Royce, as an American and a Christian, gains the respect of the local Iraqis of all classes, and his thinking and actions were described by the locals as Arab-like, as a compliment.
Marc is the main character in the book, but the story isn’t just about him at all. Lion of Babylon is as much an adventure and suspense story as it is about how honorable men are honorable in any culture. There are men in the story of various backgrounds and convictions who end up coming together to do what is right, to do what needed to be done, and in the end are heroes together because of their bond of action.
I enjoy fast-paced action and suspense stories in movies and books. Lion of Babylon was a great read. I was impressed that a retired Deputy Director of the CIA, Keith Hazard, said about this book, “A phenomenal read… far more than simply a great thriller…The book delves into crucial issues with a sensitivity that left me literally stunned…Bunn tells a story that grips the reader and refuses to let go.” That sums it up nicely. Lion of Babylon is an exciting read!
Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.