cover image To Die in Babylon

To Die in Babylon

Harold Livingston. St. Martin's Press, $21.95 (419pp) ISBN 978-0-312-09923-7

Livingston's ( Ride a Tiger ) gritty, dark, antiheroic view of Desert Shield/Desert Storm features a cast of warriors and related characters. USAF pilot Nick Harmon still suffers flashbacks to Vietnam; Iraqi Major Adnan Dulaimi is torn between love of his country and rage at its leader, while his fiancee Hana, who works with children and the wounded, is opposed to war. TV correspondent Christine Campbell hopes to get an interview with Saddam Hussein; Major Elaine Mason, Army Reserve helicopter pilot, struggles with the military establishment as well as the enemy. Expanding on episodes and locales familiar to anyone who watched the war on CNN, Livingston skillfully captures the rocket bursts, the rooftop interviews and the horrific sights of POWs. He is less adept, however, at creating a coherent plot from these ingredients, and offers instead a sequence of vignettes tracing the isolated, doomed trajectories of individual men and women. Numerous subplots (women in combat, sex in war, spy v. spy) further dilute the narrative. At the end of the novel, which works as a powerful reminder of a brutal series of events, the reader is left with little more than ashes and the echo of a cynic's voice. 50,000 first printing . (Oct.)