The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg Forge, 304 pp., $24.95

AMID THE HEMMING AND HAWING about how to confront Saddam Hussein, Joel Rosenberg, former aide to Steve Forbes and Benjamin Netanyahu, uses fiction to convey the threat Iraq poses to international security. Though the picture painted by Rosenberg is disconcerting, the possibilities he raises are real.

Several years after Bush completes his second term and his successful war on terror, another popular Republican president is surfing a surging economy and unprecedented domestic security. That is, until an Iraqi agent attempts to kamikaze a private aircraft into the presidential motorcade. Though terror cells have been squashed, the Iraqi threat remains. After the United States aborted military action to dethrone the Iraqi autocrat in 2002, a vengeful Saddam Hussein has plotted his final nuclear revenge against the United States and Israel, his last jihad.

Rosenberg's plot unravels at breakneck speed and is packed with entertainment, intrigue, and plausible situations. Saddam's attempt to nuke Israel is thwarted--and now President MacPherson must not only respond to an assassination attempt but also massage Israel's response to Iraq.

Behind the scenes, an American cabinet-level mole and a Russian nationalist have allied to manipulate the United States' response to Iraq, driving MacPherson further down towards nuking Iraq. But how can MacPherson dissuade Israel from responding to Iraq, a move that will surely inflame the Arab world?

Enter Jon Bennett, a liberal Wall Street millionaire and close friend-turned adviser to the president. He's just discovered massive eastern Mediterranean oil reserves, which promise to bring billions in revenue to the warring region. President MacPherson contends that giving the Palestinians and Israelis initial profit offerings will mean peace for the ancient dispute. Delicate diplomatic brokering elevates Bennett's private deal to the defining feature of MacPherson's vision for the Middle East: peace through prosperity. After a second unsuccessful attempt on the president's life, Iraq and MacPherson converge on a path of mutual nuclear destruction. Can the president derail Iraq's effort before the last jihad is revealed?

Much of Rosenberg's plot is reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth's 1994 bestseller "The Fist of God." And Rosenberg's conclusion echoes Forsyth's: Strike Saddam before he strikes our allies or us.

--Bryan Auchterlonie

Bet Your Life by Richard Dooling HarperCollins, 340 pp., $25.95

RICHARD DOOLING writes formula fiction--but the formula is his own invention. Imagine Scott Turow with a sense of humor. Throw in Tom Wolfe's manic knowingness. Add a tincture of Swiftian satire and a pinch of Gogol, and you begin to approximate the distinctive Dooling mix. "Bet Your Life" is set in Omaha: a bulletin from the heartland that is the best insurance-scam novel since James M. Cain's "Double Indemnity," and one of the most enjoyable of the year.

If it's not Dooling's best--I'd vote for "Brain Storm," but "White Man's Grave" has its partisans--that's a measure of how good Dooling can be. He's reported to be collaborating with Stephen King on the script for a four-part ABC miniseries, "Kingdom Hospital," inspired by a Danish TV production directed by Lars von Trier, the bad-boy of the "Dogma 95" school of filmmaking. King and Dooling could be as potent a team as any of Hollywood's Golden Age duos. Stay tuned.

--John Wilson

Rolling with the Stones by Bill Wyman and Richard Havers DK, 496 pp., $50

IN "Rolling with the Stones" Wyman, now sixty-six, empties his archives, and for rock 'n' roll fans it's a deluge of rare material. "Rolling with the Stones" is a mammoth coffee-table volume that includes more than three thousand photos. See the Stones on the beach at Malibu, Keith Richards and his wife Anita Pallenberg arguing as their home burns, Jimi Hendrix and Stones drummer Charlie Watts backstage in 1969, and Mick Jagger getting throttled by a photographer.

Wyman's method of weaving in and out of the archival material succeeds in telling the Rolling Stones' story. The narrative has some lighthearted moments, like Keith Richards's mom recalling her son was "a bit of a mother's boy." But Wyman acknowledges darker memories. "Recording in Keith's basement [in 1970] had not turned out to be a guarantee of his presence. Keith was getting out of it a lot, and in retaliation, Mick wouldn't turn up some nights." Saddest of all, Wyman details the death of Brian Jones, who drowned in his swimming pool in 1969, just twenty-seven years old.

Despite the tragedies and disappointments, readers will get the sense that Wyman thoroughly enjoyed his ride with the Rolling Stones, their adventures, and the music they made together. Wyman underscores with Keith Richards's words why the Stones are still going after forty years, even as Wyman himself enjoys retirement with the children he once thought he'd have to save all his clippings to prove his rock stardom to.

Still, Wyman remembers, "Keith [said] in 1977, 'Nothing is the end of this band. We'll always be able to play somewhere. We're a determined group of lads. Nothing short of nuclear weapons are gonna put this lot out of action.'"

--H. Andrew Schwartz

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