T.L. Higley,
Marduk's Tablet
(Barbour, 2003)

Marduk's Tablet is an engaging novel of suspense built upon a foundation of archaeological discovery, but author T.L. Higley has a much grander purpose than mere entertainment behind her writing. The book is billed as fiction for the mind and soul, and Higley seeks to challenge readers with the spiritual truths of God. This spiritual depth actually adds to the story, in my opinion, but some readers may blanch at the sometimes overtly Christian message that lies at the heart of the novel.

In one sense, I think readers should be aware of this facet of the story going in, but in a larger sense those who are turned off by Christianity or who are rarely exposed to the tenets of Christian faith are those who might benefit the most from this novel and should not be turned away at the gates. In any case, the religious aspect of the writing certainly takes nothing away from an exciting, action-packed story of historical mystery and modern-day suspense.

Marduk was one of the primary gods of ancient Babylon, and a recently discovered Marduk-related tablet is suspected of containing secrets of great healing power. Emilie Nazarro, a 31-year-old graduate student, has a close association with the tablet; indeed, her father discovered it and became obsessed with deciphering its ancient writings -- until he disappeared with the tablet when Emilie was 13. His body was found the following week, but the tablet has not been seen again -- until now. To Emilie's great surprise, an associate of her father, Thomas Fitzwater, not only has the tablet, he wishes to hire Emilie to translate it for him. While she views the tablet as the reason for her father's ignominious death and worries about finishing her graduate studies, Fitzwater will not take no for an answer, telling Emilie that he is dying and needs to see if Marduk's tablet can somehow heal him -- Emilie, he says, is the only person he feels he can trust.

In short order, Emilie arrives at a dig site in Ashkelon, Israel, to begin working on the translation of Marduk's tablet. Little does she know that others plan on using her to steal the tablet out from under the nose of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Nervous and unsure of herself by nature, Emilie eventually makes a few friends but has a hard time figuring out whom to trust. One of the workers at the dig, Jack Cameron, makes a royal pest of himself, continually watching and approaching Emilie and thus causing her to suspect him as a potential thief. Her boss Dr. Herrigan is also very strange and has his own secret agenda. Another stranger, Sheldon Gold, makes a very bad first impression on Emilie but quickly repairs the damage by taking her out and showing a lot of interest in her and her work. Other characters weave in and out of the story, as Higley deftly juggles a number of little subplots without ever losing her focus.

Margaret, an older woman working at the dig site, takes Emilie under her wing, and she is most responsible for awakening a sense of spiritual curiosity in the book's non-religious protagonist. At the same time, Emilie is pumped with new-age philosophy by her roommate Jenn and experiences vivid dreams about Marduk and ancient Babylonia that suggest the idea of reincarnation -- but she eventually begins to follow Margaret's seven signposts of religious faith as she seriously ponders spirituality and Christianity for the first time. Rather than look for truth only in the past, Emilie begins searching for truth in the present and future. It is this nascent faith of Emilie's that helps to sustain her as she is played like a drum by those after the tablet and betrayed by the very individuals she thought to be her friends.

There is more than one conspiracy at work in these pages, and Higley does a wonderful job of developing each of them in turn. Her main characters are strong and well-constructed, and one never knows just how to judge any one of them until the story plays itself out all the way. The Christian subtext is very noticeable and, on a few occasions, seems to slow the story down, but the message is presented in a very effective, nonjudgmental fashion and does have a direct bearing on the story of Marduk's tablet itself. Inspirational as well as exciting, Marduk's Tablet makes for a great read for those inclined to seek the higher truths of this life.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 2 October 2004

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