Ghosts of Babylon
Author: R.A. Mathis
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 202 pages
Set against a backdrop of escalating terror, Ghosts of Babylon is a fast-paced military thriller that features an intense, gritty, and powerful cast of characters. In a desperate attempt to salvage both his career and a wrecked personal life, archaeologist Stuart Knight volunteers to serve in Iraq as a translator, but his real objective is to get his hands on Babylon's ancient treasures. Once on the ground, he meets Captain Allen, a battalion intelligence officer determined to catch Al-Khayal, the insurgent who blew off his leg and annihilated his entire crew with an IED.
Entangled in the grisly web of Allen's private war, Knight's quest for redemption turns into a struggle for survival with deadly enemies on both sides of the wire. Stuart soon finds himself staring into the face of terror, his own mortality, and an evil as old as Babylon itself.
“Ghosts of Babylon” is a fast-paced military thriller set in Iraq that will appeal to anyone with a love for antiquities and adventure.
Mathis draws upon his own experience in Iraq to set various scenes and describe living conditions, which gives the novel an aura of verisimilitude. However, to his credit, Mathis never allows his personal experience to overwhelm the book and make readers feel they are reading a memoir rather than a novel.
In this debut novel readers meet fully fleshed out characters, each one has enough back-story to make their presence felt. Stuart Knight, the main character, is an archaeologist seeking to regain a sense of professional and personal fulfillment. On the verge of divorce, he’s separated from his young daughter. As a professor he is close to being fired. So in a last ditch effort to save his job, and himself, Knight volunteers to serve as an Arabic translator in Iraq. He hopes to discover ancient Babylonian treasures.
In Stuart, Mathis has created a likeable character. Indiana Jones he’s not. Stuart is out of shape, out of his element. However, Mathis never makes him a caricature of the proverbial fish out of water.
Whether intentional or not, echoes of Moby Dick ripple through the novel. There’s Captain Allen obsessed with hunting down Al-Khayal, an insurgent who is responsible for his missing leg. There’s Babauta, a heavily tattooed sergeant from the islands, who just might remind readers of Queequeg.
Throughout the novel readers learn a lot about daily life, from how soldiers washed clothes while showering to the dangers they faced on and off the base. Mathis also skillfully weaves in history, whether the deep divisions between Kurds and Arabs to the various personal views soldiers have of their mission.
Reviewed by: Cathryn J. Prince (2012)