The Third Target by Joel C. Rosenberg
When New York Times foreign correspondent J. B. Collins hears rumors that an al-Qaeda splinter cell has captured a cache of chemical weapons inside Syria, he knows this is a story he must pursue at all costs. Does the commander of the jihadist faction really have the weapons? If so, who is the intended target? The U.S.? Israel? Or could it be Jordan?
With tensions already high, the impending visit of the American president to the region could prove to be the spark that sets off an explosion of horrendous proportions. Knowing that terrorist forces have already toppled two regimes in the region, can Collins uncover the truth before it’s too late? Or will the terrorists succeed in setting their sights on the third and final target?
Ever since reading The Auschwitz Escape, which I really liked, I’ve wanted to read more Joel Rosenberg. This is book one in a new series, and I requested it for a birthday present. I must admit upfront that there are a few reasons why I initially had difficulty getting into Joel’s books. I believe Joel is selling so many books because of his extensive knowledge of the Middle East. With the exception of Auschwitz, I believe nearly every book he has written is set in the Middle East and is an exhibit of his extensive knowledge of the people, especially Israel, and the complex political situation there. The Middle East is of interest to so many, including our president, so it stands to reason that the subject matter draws many readers in. I must confess, however, that many of the complexities in the Middle East are rather foreign to me beyond basic knowledge. There are so many foreign names, locations, and references to the political situation there in this book that it can be a daunting read at times. A few times I almost felt like I needed a primer on the Middle East just to keep all the foreign names and political nuances clear in my head. Joel provides a “cast of characters” at the beginning; readers may want to place a Post-It note there for easy reference.
My other hurdle may sound a bit snobbish, but there are literary rules I have to follow as an author. Joel can get away with breaking them, probably because he sells so many books (and do readers care about this stuff anyhow?). I have to overlook these parts and just enjoy the novel as is. Those negatives aside, I really enjoyed this novel. There was lots of action in key points and enough plot twists in this first-person-viewpoint novel to keep me guessing and turning pages. Some readers have complained about how the novel ends, because it practically requires the reader to get the next book in the series; but I found the clever technique to be compelling and well executed.
His main character, J.B., is a likable reporter though he could be deeper and have more distinctive characteristics. Perhaps he is further developed in future books. Because he is a reporter, much of the novel’s plot moves forward due to his desire to interview key political figures and get closer to the truth; these opportunities place him in danger, and he is nearly killed several times. Several of his friends are killed. Some readers might squirm due to the violence level in a few places; remember, this novel is about ISIS. But I thought Joel handled the violence with restraint and good taste; he always pulled the camera away before the worst moment came.
I especially liked how J.B.’s dangerous situations provoked him to ponder his eternal destiny. Though he is not a believer, his brother is, and they have several spiritually probing conversations. Some readers at Amazon complained about the preaching in the novel, but I personally found the gospel presentation to be refreshing. (In fact, I’m saddened that so many Christian novels steer clear of this content nowadays.) Also special is the lack of objectionable content in the novel; however, there is one isolated location where a bad guy tells J.B. to go to a certain fiery place. Beyond that, there is no profanity, vulgarity, or sexual content.
Female readers may delight in knowing there is a romantic thread in the story. J.B. crosses paths with Yael Katzir, a staff member of the Mossad’s deputy director. Due to J.B.’s knowledge that ISIS has chemical weapons, his life is now in danger. What happens next took me by surprise.
But before I could process the questions any further, [Yael] leaned toward me, put her warm, soft hands on my face, and kissed me on the lips. I was so caught off guard that I immediately pulled away, but she leaned closer and whispered in my ear.
“You and I are either brother and sister, or we’re lovers, Mr. Collins,” she explained matter-of-factly. “At this hour, there’s no other reason for the police to think we’d be together . . . unless, of course, you want them to think I’m a prostitute.”
Her voice trailed off, but she didn’t need to finish her point. While prostitution was legal in Turkey, being seen by the police with a fashise could raise all sorts of problems I didn’t want to deal with. So I put my arms around her waist, and she pulled me toward her, kissing me even more convincingly this time.
Of course, this display is merely a cover to keep them both safe due to the sharing of secret information, but it seemed a bit implausible though not offensive. Things cool off between them after that, though J.B. is definitely interested in Yael.
The only part of the story that left me scratching my head was when J.B. met the leader of ISIS and was frustrated because the man wouldn’t confirm whether ISIS had chemical weapons. Naturally, J.B. wants the exclusive on an important news story, but I was baffled as to why he expected the ISIS leader to share this secret. Certainly, if ISIS planned to launch a chemical weapon, was it logical that they would tell the New York Times they were about to do so? Of course, the leader wouldn’t show his cards to J.B.
Sometimes I felt like the various interviews throughout the novel went on a bit too long, and I had to force myself through them, not always understanding the Middle East content. But the ending really picked up speed and kept me glued to the final pages. The novel literally ended with a bang (no spoilers), and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy. It isn’t often that one can pick up a well-done thriller in this genre and not have to wade through so much objectionable content. Joel deserves a lot of praise. In spite of a few drawbacks, this was a refreshingly clean read that entertained and offered some probing spiritual content too. I definitely recommend it, and you can guarantee I will be reading more Joel Rosenberg.
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- Cover Reveal: Kill Order