Shadow Over Babylon
By David Mason

< 1999
By Condor

If you're like me, you've probably noticed there is a serious shortage of sniper books on the market. Oh, sure, there are countless war stories available, with occasional chapters about some sniper doing this or that, but there are very few books around that are developed around the exploits of a sniper or a sniper rifle. Shadow Over Babylon is one of the few exceptions.

I was first attracted to this book because of two reasons: first, the plot, and second, the "star" weapon. Both were of great interest to me - the story is about a plan to assassinate everybody's favorite bad guy, Saddam Hussein, and the rifle selected is the Super Magnum from Accuracy International, chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum, a cartridge intended to fill the gap between .30-caliber and .50-caliber sniper ammunition. The .338 Lapua Magnum is currently the preferred round for snipers in the Finnish military, as a point of information.

A particularly appealing feature of Mason's offering is the focus on small-unit tactics. He is very detailed in this respect, and is very knowledgeable in several areas of military operations. I do enjoy the "mafia hitman" type of stories, but professional, disciplined, precision sniper "ops" as only the military can conduct them are always my favorite reading materials.

Mason develops each of the characters in the book with enough care and attention that the reader cannot help but develop a natural "acquaintance" with them. I suspect that Mason probably modeled his characters, at least in part, on actual people he associated with while in the British military. Regardless, a lot of effort was devoted to "getting into" the minds and hearts of his key players. Just as a personal preference, I could have easily done without the occasional romantic interludes in the first half of the book. (Frankly, if I wanted romance, I wouldn't have bought a book about assassinating Saddam Hussein to find it.)

The book, for the most part, is written quite well. However, I must point out several distractions in the way of poor editing. Mason and/or his publisher must take the blame for a number of errors that really ruined the "flow" of the story for me. In the last third of the book, approximately, there were quite a few ill-chosen words, misspelled words, and "left out" words which completely broke my "state of complete involvement" in the story line of the book. I mean, after all, doesn't a reader want to "escape" into the book? Finding repeated errors in writing style, grammar, and the like, kept slapping me in the face like some kind of shock treatment. It's as if Mason got impatient with wanting to finish his book, and whoever proofread his manuscript (and/or his completed work) didn't care enough to actually "read" the material. No matter who was to blame for such pathetic, petty little errors, it is the reader who suffers as the result. Crude errors in construction aside, the book is completely worth buying and reading. The plot never gets tiring, and I found myself having a hard time putting the book down. I won't reveal whether the assassination was a success or not, but I will say that I think the reader will be both surprised and pleased with the outcome.

There's a lot of technology in this book, and it reminded me a little of the movie "Patriot Games" with the use of satellites, government agencies, international drama, and intense action. I've never read a book like this one, and if suspense and action are what you like, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Shadow Over Babylon. In all honesty, the vast majority of the book is not "just" about the rifle or the assassin, but there are some very good shooting situations, and a brief, "layman's" description of the Magnus Effect. A nice bonus, I thought, was that Mason included the ballistic tables for .338 Lapua Magnum ammunition (using 250-grain bullets) at the end of the book. Maybe such things bore you but, if you're a fan of Sniper Country, I just have to believe that you probably have more than just a passing interest in ballistics. Personally, I enjoy reading ballistic tables, though I realize such material doesn't fascinate other readers in the same way it does me.

Just for your information, Mason is pretty well qualified to write this book. His military career includes service with the Welsh Guards as well as the Sultan of Oman's Army in southern Arabia. While with the latter, he was twice awarded the Sultan's Bravery Medal for his actions in two separate incidents. He was trained to be a sniper and is quite capable with both rifles and handguns. He is also well-versed in Arabic, French, and German.

For those of you who haven't read a good book in quite some time, I would highly recommend you get your hands on this one. Shadow Over Babylon will definitely keep your interest, and would sure be a good selection of reading material for a rainy day (when you probably wouldn't be going to the range to shoot).

Back to Book and Videotape Reviews