The concept of the Twelfth Imam is not one that gets a lot of space on mainstream media outlets, although it should. It is the prime motivating factor behind the actions of the Iranian government these days, the idea that a conflagration will bring the return of the Twelfth Imam of Mohammed to our world, and that he will in turn lead the Islamic faithful to conversion of the world to the true faith. Joel C. Rosenberg has taken this concept and used it as a vehicle for his latest thriller, which will scare the stuffing out of you.
Rosenberg’s novels deal with religious prophetic matters but are set very much in this world, with the names of some of the major players changed, though they are readily identifiable. Thus we have in THE TWELFTH IMAM an Iranian government that is ready to test a nuclear weapon and then use it; an American administration helmed by a president who believes, quite erroneously, that he can talk them out of it; and an Israeli leadership ready to let loose if that’s what it takes to wake up the world. The CIA sends David Shirazi to Iran to determine how far along its nuclear program actually is and to acquire details regarding the locations of its nuclear power plants. Using the cover identity of Reza Tabrizi, Shirazi poses as a representative of a German telecommunications company that is trying to get the contract to, in effect, wire Iran.
Shirazi obtains the information he needs, but incidentally acquires some hard intelligence that he feels is even more important: the Twelfth Imam has in fact returned and is readying Iran to lead the conversion of the world to Islam, voluntarily or otherwise. Shirazi’s CIA superiors dismiss his concerns, discounting the reported return as superstitious rabble-rousing. They would be wrong. As we learn from the beginning of the novel, the long-awaited return of the Imam has occurred, and his followers are gathering for conquest. But there is an individual arrayed against the Imam, someone totally unexpected, who will more than even the odds.
Joel C. Rosenberg is at the top of his game here. You don’t have to be a believer in the concept of End Times to appreciate his craft work on THE TWELFTH IMAM. The pages literally fly by, one after another, and even though the book is separated into chapters and parts, there is simply no good place to stop. If there is a complaint to be had, it’s that this appears to be the first book in a series, the result being that it ends rather abruptly with a number of issues unanswered, such as “is there a tomorrow, and what is it like?” If Rosenberg’s intent is to leave readers hungry for a second volume, he certainly succeeds. I will have my cold, wet nose pressed up against the bookstore window glass waiting for it to land on the shelves.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 19, 2010