The Damascus Countdown – Joel Rosenberg

Damascus Countdown Joel Rosenberg
Damascus Countdown by Joel Rosenberg
Also by this author: The Jerusalem Assassin
Series: David Shirazi #3
Published by Tyndale on October 1, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense, Thriller
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All eyes are on the Middle East. Israel has successfully launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads--and causing The Twelfth Imam to order a full-scale retaliation. U.S. President William Jackson threatens to support a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Jewish State for unprovoked and unwarranted acts of aggression.Meanwhile, CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived the attack and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. In danger not only from the ongoing missile strikes on Iran but also from the increasingly hostile and suspicious governments of multiple countries, David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.

I ended my review of The Tehran Initiative by saying that I hoped Rosenberg redeemed what I felt like was a very weak second installment in the third and final book. And then…I never read the third book. When I pressed the reset button on Life is Story, one of the first things I did was go back to try to fill in the gaps I’d missed with my favorite authors. For Joel, one of those was Damascus Countdown.

The book begins where book two left off. The world teeters on the brink of nuclear war as an apocalyptic figure called the Madhi—the Islamic Savior—consolidates power in the Middle East and begins to enact a strategy to destroy Israel and the United States. Thrown into the middle of it all is undercover secret super-agent David Shirazi, who is casually tasked with stopping a literal Armageddon.

In the past, I’ve found Rosenberg’s action scenes to be the typical heroics of fiction—implausible, improbable, yet fun and still sensible within the story. Damascus Countdown throws that out the window, giving us Fast and Furious Presents Hobbs and Shaw levels of superherodom that stretch the limits of suspension of disbelief.

Moreover, the Madhi isn’t actually the Madhi? After two books of buildup and some obvious supernatural hints that this character is otherworldly, Rosenberg pulls back and has a main character begin to suggest that the Madhi is an imposter, that he doesn’t actually fulfill the requirements as set forth in Islamic eschatology. There’s a literal bullet point list to demonstrate this.

And that’s fine, I guess. But having played it straight for two books, the sudden swerve throws up a number of unanswered questions. Who is he actually? How does one explain his supernatural survival? Who does he think he is? But none of this is actually explored. Rosenberg continues as if the character is really the Islamic end times figure even as his other characters begin to say he isn’t. It’s Rosenberg’s way of hedging his bets—have to create a compelling villain but can’t suggest that Islamic theology is accurate.

Also, this book is too preachy. I say this as a pastor. The Gospel of American Evangelical Conservatism is on full display. One character’s entire arc is to think about the events happening as it relates to pre-tribulational eschatology and thought-explain it to the readers. Rosenberg has a good grasp on the theology and the Gospel, but it doesn’t integrate with the story. It doesn’t seem natural. It jars readers out of the action and distracts from the storyline.

There’s an entire section where Shirazi, with his newfound faith, wonders if he can kill his enemies any longer. It takes a couple paragraphs before he decides that it’s okay, because they would probably kill him if he didn’t kill them. You know, like Jesus did.

I finished this series out of respect for Joel Rosenberg and the high quality of his previous novels, but I came away with a little less respect for him as a storyteller. Steer clear of this one.