Thursday, August 31, 2023

Book Review: The Babylon Plot by David Leadbeater

 Aided by the cold-blooded murderers Cassadaga and Ivana, Marduk, the self-proclaimed leader of Amori, a group that wants the demise of the church, escapes prison. Next on the agenda is revenge—on the Vatican and Joe Mason, the man responsible for his imprisonment. Joe Mason has to suspend all his other commitments when the Vatican hires his team to stop Marduk. What follows is a chase against time to prevent a maniac from bringing chaos and destruction to the world by a team that was almost killed once while attempting it.

The Babylon Plot is the upcoming fourth installment of the Joe Mason series, written by David Leadbeater. I haven't read the previous books in the series, and an advance copy of this one was provided by Avon Books through Netgalley in exchange for my feedback. The book continues the plot from its predecessors and pits an evil cult leader against a weathered ex-MI5 agent. Two sadistic assassins, whose only agenda is unleashing needless and aimless violence, further thicken and complicate the plot.

The best thing about The Babylon Plot is its relentless pacing. The story evolves at breakneck speed and never keeps the reader waiting for the next big action setpiece. The plot starts with Marduk's prison break in Italy and then shifts to England, where Mason and his team have set up their base. Soon the action shifts to Iraq, Paris, Monaco, and Switzerland, and the final showdown in the Vatican ensures that we have a truly globe-trotting thriller on our hands. The writer is successful in weaving a suspenseful thrill ride with this book.

It was only after finishing the novel that I realised a few issues it had. None of the characters in the novel show any kind of progressive arc. In a good story, some, if not all, of the major characters undergo certain events that transform them for good or bad. Sadly, nothing like that has happened here. I felt that our protagonists and antagonists were like runners in a race who only bothered to reach the end of the race once it started.Also, the motives and actions of the characters are predictable and repetitive. They behave the same way and have the same thoughts, as if on a loop, and these thoughts or actions end up without any substantial contribution to the main plot. The character of Daga,especially, had a lot of potential with his sadistic and non-committed behavior. His relationship with Ivana is also very interesting, and I would have liked the writer to explore it on a deeper level and not treat it like cheap erotica.

When the story has a team of characters with complex pasts, the dynamics between them leave a lot to explore. Each member could have a separate agenda, a different skillset, or an interesting redemptive arc where they contribute something new to the mission. The writer never went that way. The team members simply follow Mason for the entire plot and keep repeating the same activity throughout the novel. The fighters fight, the helpers help, and Sally, the trainee of the team, perpetually holds a firearm and stands waiting for an opening to enter the fight, which she never gets even in the climatic showdown. When they want to visit a convict inside a prison, all five go in. When they want to visit the handler of an assassin, all five go in. While attending an auction where the antagonists may be found, all five go in, like ducklings following their mother duck.

After finishing the book, when I went through the events again to review it, I realised that the contribution of Mason and his team to the resolution of the conflict was almost null. They fail miserably in all their attempts to track the conspirators, prevent them, or trap them. The final break through in the Vatican is also possible only because of the intervention of two nameless, military-trained men, and without them, the protagonist and his team would still be bumbling in the dark while dead bodies fall all around them.

The biggest skill of the writer is never letting you realise all these flaws while you are reading the book. He places enough cherries on top and on every side so that the reader picks the cherries and ignores everything else. The Babylon Plot can please the reader who is interested in spending a few hours basking in nail-biting thrills, action, violence, and some minor conspiracy theories and who doesn't mind half-baked characters or convenient plot devices.

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