Shadow Target (Jake Keller #4), by David Ricciardi

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, David Ricciardi, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a binge of the previous three novels in this series, I was able to get to this, the gem of the collection to date. David Ricciardi has done a wonderful job building up to this piece, planting story arcs and developing his Jake Keller character, only to put him in the crosshairs of a convoluted plot that spans years and many parts of the globe. Keller awakens in rural France, having been in a plane crash, but is unaware of what just happened. Barely able to escape, he makes his way back stateside and tries to discover what has happened. After a few more attempts on his life, Keller realises that his safety is not guaranteed. Meeting an old friend, Keller discovers that someone is trying to hunt down CIA paramilitary officials for reasons that are not yet clear. He will need to dig deep and rely on many resources to get to the bottom of it all, trying to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer with connections all their own. Perhaps the best Ricciardi novel to date, it is sure to impress series fans.

It was all a blur to Jake Keller as he lay in the snow. There was a plane crash and he was involved, but the specifics have eluded him and the cold is beginning to envelop his body. Able to hide as two men scour the wreckage, Keller is able to evade capture and is rescued by the authorities before he makes his way back to America.

Once there, Keller begins to piece things together, though he is not sure why he has been targeted, having been on leave from the CIA. When someone tries to kill him again, Keller knows that something’s up and his name is on a hit-list of sorts. He connects with an old friend and discovers that there have been a few unexplained deaths of fellow CIA paramilitary officials around the world, as well as some whispers that Jake’s own troubles can be tied to some Russian officials having tipped off the locals. Armed with this intelligence, Keller does the one thing he was sworn not to do, connect with a person in his past who thinks him dead.

Travelling to France, Keller has an awkward reunion with the first woman he ever loved, someone with credentials within the French security agency. Keller receives a cold shoulder to begin, but is soon able to connect and prove that he’s being targeted for reasons as yet unknown. A Russian oligarch appears to be pulling some strings and using his connection to the Russian president to bring Keller down, as well as trying to extinguish the lives of many CIA officials. There must be a mole within the Agency, offering some help, but Keller is not yet entirely sure.

Working angles and trying to stay one step ahead of those seeking to kill him, Keller gathers more intel and works with some British officials as well to craft a plan not only to trap the Russians, but to lure a rogue American official out of hiding, in hopes of revealing the CIA mole once and for all. Additionally, there is a major plot to assassinate a head of state, one that will leave more than blood running in the streets. It’s up to Keller to utilise his skills and mindset to foil the plot, all while trying to stay alive long enough to reveal truths many had hoped to bury.

In the short time I have been aware of David Ricciardi’s work, I have truly come to enjoy it. His fast-pace action and attention to detail keep me feeling as though I am right in the middle of the action. While each book develops themes of their own, there is a loose connection that spans more than the protagonist, all of which comes together in this fourth novel in the series. With wonderful characters and a plot that never stops evolving, it is not hard to believe that David Ricciardi is rising within the ranks of the genre to make a name for himself.

Jake Keller has evolved greatly since he was summoned onto a plane, heading for Singapore in the debut novel. His personality has deepened faster than the needed plastic surgery he received when he was a man wanted in all corners of the world. Keller shows his grit and determination to get to the truth, but also has a personal side that yearns for that romantic connection he’s lost a few times along the way. Relatable and down to earth, Keller shows readers that not all those who star in the genre need to be indestructible, but it helps to have an unbreakable sense of determination.

Ricciardi crafts wonderful supporting characters throughout his novels, some of which serve as recurring characters, while others find their purpose in a single book. There was a great mix here, allowing series fans to revisit some of those they have enjoyed in the past while also finding new and exciting storylines emerging from fresh faces. This is a story of loose thread, allowing the reader to see unfinished plots resumed and pieces of the puzzle fitting together at opportune times. A great cast complements Keller at times, while also contrasting with the grit the protagonist offers throughout the novel.

The test of a true novel is the ability to grip the reader from the opening pages. This is done effectively throughout, beginning with the opening chapter. Ricciardi crafts his story around the mystery of what’s happened to Jake Keller and what’s to come, slowly revealing plot twists as needed. The narrative gains needed momentum throughout and keeps the reader guessing, while also showing both sides of the tale—the hunter and the hunted—for added excitement. Great characters and decent dialogue banter inject some humour where needed to lighten the mood, but nothing takes away from the urgency that emerges throughout the piece. I can only wonder what’s next for the group and how their coming together may have forged a new and exciting alliance that could work effectively in future series novels. The wait is on, though one can hope it will not be too long!

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for another winner. I liked the change of pace, though it does not lessen the impact of the plot or the excitement found herein.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

A Curious History of Sex, by Kate Lister

Nine stars

I am always interested in books that force me to think and teach me something while I enjoy them. I have read many a biography or memoir, alongside books that expound on world history, all in hopes of coming away with more knowledge (or any) on a subject. However, when it came to Kate Lister’s piece, it was a few people who recommended it simply to see what I would write in my review that had me reaching for this piece. Lister tackles the wide world of sex, reproduction, and how humans have handled the enormous topic throughout history. Mixing detailed explanations with wonderful humour to offset any nervousness that might be found when discussing the topic, Lister produces a stunning account that is full of education, elucidation, and even ejaculation (alliteration can be so much fun)! Not for the prude of mind, Lister’s book is wonderfully detailed and easily digested, with just enough humour to keep the reader pushing further.

Before getting too deep into things, Lister makes sure to explore some of the common words that have arisen in the discussion of sex. Many of these words have become woven into the fabric of modern language, though few can trace them back to their origins. Lister makes a point throughout of explaining these words and where they may have first come into print, surprising many readers as to just how many euphemisms exist for vagina, clitoris, or even penis. This laying of the groundwork proves useful, as it is key to understanding how humans have seen the body and what means have been used to ‘decorate’ words to help them pass muster. Lister pulls no punches, which may be a tad too vulgar for some readers, but more on that in a bit.

From the medical to the personal realm, the act of sexual congress and its associated climactic events receive some interesting discussion. Lister explores the orgasm and how it affects both sexes differently. While men appear to turn into ‘sleepy bears’ thereafter, it almost energises a woman into wanting more, so Lister presents in some of her research. Medicine has sought to explore how to help or hinder orgasms over long periods of time, with the help of salves, instruments, and even ways to approach sex. All of this is highly intriguing, especially when seen over a long historical approach. To say that the Victorians were the first to seek the vibrator to assist would be incorrect, though orgasmic liberation may have come to its zenith at that time.

Lister also looks into some interesting social norms as they relate to the human body and how sex has played into it. From personal grooming sentiments to body odour balancing and even prophylactics, sex and the body surely go hand in hand. Social norms and expectations have surely changed over time, but Lister takes the time to tackle how and why these changes have dictated what is ‘accepted’ today and how certain stigma mount because of the super-sexualisation of society. She really gets to the heart of the matter, offering some of her own opinions, as well as key scientific studies to help substantiate arguments on both sides.

Lister cannot complete her journey without looking at sexuality and how it has evolved as a business, exploring brothels, prostitution, and all manner of paid enjoyment. While it can surely be called the oldest profession, prostitution and paid sex has not always been sinister and part of an evil realm. Lister seeks to better understand human need for sex and the lengths to which some will go to procure it, even briefly. Taking the stigma out of it lessens its impact and allows the reader to understand sex as a business, as well as how it as grown over the centuries. This proves enlightening, as laws around the world towards prostitution are becoming looser and the stigma appears to be lifting in some form or another. She parses no words or topics, seeking to expound on both male and female sex workers, including how they ply their trade.

While many prudish readers may shy away from the piece, I would encourage them to come back and give the book a try. Being uncomfortable or ‘scandalised’ is all a part of societal norms. Peeking behind the curtain to see what’s really going on may open one’s eyes in a positive way, rather than shunning something as ‘dirty’ and ‘disgusting’. Education is the great equaliser, or so I have come to believe. While it is not for everyone, Lister seeks to teach and keep things as light as possible. Open mindedness is a must with this piece, as is a desire to learn, though having a great sense of humour cannot hurt either. Lister is thorough in his analysis, using great examples in chapters that make sense as one moves along through the book. There is so much to learn and the photographs added throughout offer a wonderful addition to the experience. Then again, having listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, I have never heard so many “whore” and “cunt” references in the opening few chapters of a book as I did here. Still, it permitted me to better understand without feeling desensitised to the verbiage that has a strong connotation on this side of the Atlantic.

Kudos, Madam Lister, for such a great reading experience. I will have to read more of your work, as you really get to the heart of the matter and use humour to make it all a little easier to digest.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: