Farewell, bloodsuckers! Hail, Azriel the Ghost! So thinks the reader plunging into Rice's latest supernatural epic, in which Azriel, the Wandering Babylonian Ghost who cannot die, replaces Rice's familiar casts of vampires and witches. The first half of the novel shows Rice (Memnoch the Devil, 1995, etc.) at her descriptive best, her purple pen limning Babylon's hanging gardens, golden passageways, and jeweled clothing. Young Azriel, a Jew who works for the Babylonian priests and whose best friend is the god Marduk, is murdered by a magician who coats Azriel's bones with heavy gold: Throughout the ages any magician who owns the bones can call forth Azriel, a rebel ghost and impudent genie. Rice imaginatively describes in depth the swimming spirit world of competing gods and ghosts who, unseen, walk the streets of Babylon, and the reader surrenders happily to their presence amid the ancient splendor. Azriel hops and skips through the centuries and through a number of masters until suddenly, seemingly unsummoned, appearing before a Fifth Avenue clothing store in time to see wealthy young Esther Belkin murdered, Azriel quickly kills the three assassins who've driven ice picks into her. But why is he here in this reelingly strange modern Babylon of skyscrapers and hurtling taxis? It's soon clear that Esther's death is the sacrifice of his own daughter to God by multibillionaire televangelist Gregory Belkin, high priest of the Temple of the Minds. Gregory has a worldwide following and is about to wipe out much of the earth's population so that he can "rise from the dead" and become the globe's Messiah. Can Azriel stop him? The novel is dedicated to GOD, who may find Rice's modern-day scenes plotted waveringly as she paddles about. Lesser readers may wish she'd stayed in Babylon, where their suspension of disbelief and her imaginative energies are at their strongest.