As McIntosh’s debut adventure novel opens, New York City art dealer John Madison is depressed, in a “black hole.”
John believes he caused the car accident that killed his older brother, Samuel, a renowned Mesopotamian expert. John’s drawn out of his funk by an invitation to a party at the mansion of childhood friend Hal Vanderlin. It helps that Hal owes him commission fees. At the party, John meets a startlingly beautiful blonde, Eris, but discovers Hal feeding his heroin habit. John gives up on the girl and on collecting his fees. Later, he’s urgently called back to the mansion. Hal is dead, and Eris is somehow involved. John next meets Tomas Zakar, Iraqi archaeologist and Samuel’s colleague. Zakar tells him Samuel rescued a stone tablet covered with cuneiform writing, an antiquity that may be the Book of Nahum, an original of a seminal Hebrew text written as the fabled ancient city of Nineveh was sacked. In 2003 Baghdad, Samuel saved the tablet from post-invasion looting by sending it out of Iraq. John soon learns Hal stole the tablet from storage while John was hospitalized post-accident. Hal resented John, and post-mortem, Hal has presented John with a puzzle leading to the tablet’s location. More characters enter the mix, including Laurel, Hal’s estranged wife, and Jacob Ward, a biblical scholar. Adding a modern alchemy cult means the story grows more complicated, which in turn, slows the pace in spite of bombs, Tasers and beatings. Witchcraft is also involved, Hal’s late mother being a practicing witch in possession of a grimoire, a book of spells and incantations. McIntosh adds the Whore of Babylon, Hermetic thought, symbolic Phrygian headgear, Dürer art, the Midas legend, treasures of assorted Assyrian kings and a kidnapping, with a side trip to Turkey, before it's all sorted out back in NYC.
More erudite than Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, McIntosh’s complex thriller incorporates notes about Babylonian and Mesopotamian cultures plus a bibliography.