If timing is key to selling books, it's no wonder that "The Last Jihad," Joel Rosenberg's debut thriller, is an immediate bestseller.
This novel - which was written before Sept. 11, 2001 - opens with a hijacked American jet attacking a target inside a major U.S. city and develops into nuclear brinkmanship between an American president and Saddam Hussein.
But the center of "The Last Jihad" is based on an even more intriguing premise that geologists discover an untapped reserve of natural gas off Israel's Mediterranean coast that's large enough to make both the Israelis and Palestinians wealthy - but only if the region becomes stable enough to develop it.
Rosenberg convincingly argues that the dictators who claim to champion the Palestinians' cause would rather have them as a downtrodden hammer to be wielded against Israel then see them prosperous and at peace.
In the year 2010, Jon Bennett is a politically connected Wall Street whiz who has brokered a deal to tap the Mediterranean gas field. A peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians is an expected result because each side will have a huge stake in ending hostilities.
But Saddam realizes this would remove his last claim to usefulness in his part of the world. Emboldened by his recent acquisition of nuclear weapons, he makes reckless moves - including trying to assassinate the U.S. president and Britain's prime minister, his most vocal opponents - and calls for war against Israel.
Bennett, a former business partner with the president, has his negotiations interrupted by a summons to the wounded leader's secret command center. He finds he has been at the center of something that is far more than a mere business deal, with principals on each side secretly acting at the behest of several governments.
When Israeli commandos seize a nuclear-armed Scud just before launching - along with evidence that Iraq plans to launch more - the Israeli prime minister gives the president an ultimatum: Nuke Baghdad, or he will do it.
Bennett and his beautiful business partner, Erin McCoy, who is revealed to be a CIA agent, accompany a delegation to Israel. But there will be more shooting than talking once they arrive.
Readers may have to suspend disbelief at the rate at which Jon Bennett goes from trading stock to trading shots with terrorists (at least Tom Clancy 's Jack Ryan was a Marine before he became a CIA analyst and historian). But the breakneck pace, authentic detail and a plot that is both audacious and just barely ahead of the headlines will buy that goodwill with most readers.
Rosenberg, a political consultant whose clients have ranged from publisher Steve Forbes to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, certainly knows his way around the world and government bureaucracies. He is far better at crafting a tale about political gamesmanship than most in the genre.
Rosenberg accomplishes in 350 pages what usually takes Clancy about 1,000, which is both good and bad. On one hand, "The Last Jihad" moves with the speed of an F-22. On the other, though, Rosenberg should take a little more time to develop his characters. Too often, he resorts to stand-ins for current public figures or political archetypes, leaving it to the reader to fill in the blanks.
The ending is chilling, to say the least. And while it's satisfying, it begs for a sequel - which will also be the reaction of most people who pick up "The Last Jihad."