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:

Black Flag (Jake Keller #3), by David Ricciardi

Eight stars

With the ARC for the latest novel in this series waiting for me, I am thoroughly enjoying this David Ricciardi collection. Exploring yet another international political theme with which I am not all that familiar, Ricciardi takes the reader on a wonderful adventure that never stops building steam throughout. Jake Keller continues to make a great name for himself within the CIA and has been tasked with working on a case of international kidnapping on the high seas. While pirates have often been a part of lore, it would seem that the region around Somalia is rife with those who will stop at nothing to attack ships and pillage anything they can. Keller will not only have to be quick about it, but will have to prove just how wily he can be, connecting with a warlord to set a trap. His cunning will be tested at every turn, as well as his safety, in a region of the world where questions tend to bog down progress. All that before Keller learns of another horror that awaits the Somali people, unless it can be neutralised. Ricciardi proves masterful again in this third novel of the series, leaving me ready to tackle the ARC and add to the buzz!

While there are many stories about pirates flying the Jolly Roger on the high seas, pillaging and taking whatever they like, the 21st century has seen the rise of a new type of criminal. No longer is it riches and gold, with people walking the plank. Now, the world of high seas piracy is focussed on targeted specific ships weeks before they leave port, confiscating things when no one expects it, then causing both the vessel and crew to disappear. This stealthy activity has created much concern amongst the international shipping community, sending panic and queries in all directions.

While the focal point of the piracy appears to be in and around Somalia, no one has been able to catch the specific pirates at their game. Still, rumours emerge that there are many who are basking in riches and using teams to target ships in such a way that they are done before anyone notices the ships have gone missing. While an international issue, few countries are prepared to act, worried about how to broach the subject or what force they can exert without causing an international incident.

Enter Jake Keller, who is a highly trained CIA operative who appears to fear very little. Keller is prepared to travel to the heart of Africa to investigate, hoping to get the answers his superiors need. However, being as white as the driven snow makes it a little harder for him to work effectively in the region, forcing Keller to work alongside another operative who has an equal dose of passion in his veins.

Keller must not only find the correct warlord who has been orchestrating these attacks, but determine a future plan to ensure they are captured. This will require all the grit he has, as Keller poses as an investor and eventually tries to get onto the team of Somalia’s most feared pirate, a man who cares little for anyone else and has the scars to prove it. Knowing which ship will be targeted will help ensure he’s ready for the attack and can plan accordingly.

All that being said, Keller is not wanting to go into this completely blindsided, which leads him to strike up a connection with a Greek shipping magnate, with a vessel that might be perfect for targeting. Keller will have to keep both sides in the dark about his plans and work effectively to push them closer together, all while trying to synthesise his feelings about the heiress to the shipping fortune, who appears to fancy him.

There is sure to be blood in the water either way, but Keller must do all he can to stop the piracy and ensure international ships are safe as they traverse open bodies of water. The only way that will occur is by striking to neutralise the largest fish in the proverbial sea. This will take grit, gumption, and even a bit of patience. Keller has them all, but time is not a commodity that is plentiful at the moment. Is he willing to risk his connection to a wonderful woman by setting a trap?

All the while, Keller learns of something worse than pillaging on the open waters. One warlord will use the bounty he has collected to turn it on his own people, leaving the country even more devastated than before. Yaxaas is a truly evil man, as Jake Keller has come to notice from afar. However, it will take a calculated attack to neutralise the man and his mission before it’s too late. Working to bring this all to fruition, Keller learns that not everyone around him can be trusted. Will he have time to do all that must be completed before the Somali people are victims of another atrocious event?Only time will truly tell! Ricciardi proves that he is at the top of his game with this piece and I am eager to see what’s next.

I enjoyed so much about this novel, from well-crafted chapters through to the unique international content about which I know nothing. David Ricciardi presents his writing like no other in the genre and the reader is easily kept on their toes throughout. Ricciardi one to watch, able to stand next to some of the greats in the genre. He knows action, thrills, and political fallout, conveying it with ease to the curious reader.
Jake Keller remains strong throughout this piece, returning to being the key actor in the story’s success. Keller emerges with his usual grit and determination, always looking to overcome the obstacles put before him. While he is keen to get into the thick of things, there is another side to the man, one that does not usually surface when he is handling weapons or killing those who would bring harm to the masses. Ricciardi takes the time to show the softer side of Jake Keller in this piece, one in which loss fuels something else inside of him. This other side balances nicely throughout this piece, adding a spark to Keller and making him want to do what he can to help those in need.

The cast of supporting characters proved just as stunning as in the past two novels. There is an obvious focus on the African continent in much of the story, with a push towards Somalia. The country, its people, as well as the customs they possess, all come to the forefront here. However, that is not all, as Ricciardi spends a lot of time educating the reader about the shipping business and where power in that industry can be found. Those who find themselves as parts of the story help to enrich it, some complementing Jake Keller, while others serve as needed roadblocks to advance the plot effectively.

The story was, again, quite strong, and offered a unique perspective. While many in the genre use an apparent recipe for their pieces, Ricciardi tends to offer unique approaches to advance a complex story and keep the reader enthused. I had no issue with being fully attentive to what was going on and can only expect more of the same moving forward. There were more plots that focussed on international politics, at least on the high seas, but the added bonus was exploring Somalia and how it has become a vacuum, leaving power brokers on both sides of the law to fill the void. Ricciardi engages the reader throughout, making them feel as though they are right there, in the middle of the action at key moments. Short chapters help push the momentum along and the writing is strong, offering a narrative that flows with ease. Balancing the personal side of Keller with some of the things he is facing made the story resonate even more for me. With the ARC ready, I will delve in to see what David Ricciardi has in store for Jake Keller and what amusements await me as well.

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for another great addition to the series. I can only hope others will soon find your work and bask in the excitement it brings.

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:

Rogue Strike (Jake Keller #2), by David Ricciardi

Eight stars

 With  the ARC for the latest novel in this series waiting for me, I chose to experience the past books that David Ricciardi penned in this thriller collection. Enjoying a piece that has both action and political undertones, I was drawn to this book from the outset, which offers even more action than the series debut. After becoming more adept at his craft, Zac Miller has taken on a new identity, that of Jake Keller. Learning of a high-ranking meeting of al Qaeda officials in Yemen, Keller and his partner make their way there in hopes of derailing any future terrorist plots. They have a drone prepared to strike and obliterate those at the meetings, but something goes horribly wrong and the drone strikes innocent people in Saudis Arabia instead. This creates panic in the region and leaves the Americans as apparent aggressors towards one of their key allies. It’s a scramble to get to the truth and peel back who might be responsible for all this cloak and dagger activity. Meanwhile, terror plots are taking place across America soon after the drone strike, leaving some to wonder if this is all in retaliation. However, when a nuclear threat is revealed, American officials realise that there is more to this than simply punishment for an errant drone attack. Who can be trusted and who is the real enemy of America’s successes… and why? Ricciardi does a masterful job in this second novel of the series, which has me wanting to know more as soon as possible.

Zac Miller’s time as a CIA operative began well, but his future successes were definitely grittier than even he could have imagined. Now, sitting in Yemen, Miller has taken on a new persona, that of Jake Keller. News has come that the senior leadership of al Qaeda has arrived in country to plan future strikes and ensure Death to America. Keller and his partner are ready for this and have a plan to obliterate the leadership all at once, with a missile-toting drone targeting the meeting location. However, something goes terribly wrong and the strike hits a pilgrimage inside Saudi Arabia, close to one of its holiest sites.

While the American government denies any involvement in the attack, there is definite egg on their faces and a political panic ensues. Keller is not getting any support as he tries to determine what’s happened and who hijacked the drone. Fires burn towards the Americans, as it is assumed they have used their military technology to target a long-standing ally for no apparent reason. Keller must act quickly and stealthily to get answers before it’s too late.

All the while, small terror cells begin emerging across America and undertake attacks in random locations. People are dying and the authorities have no notice of what’s going on, making it all the more troubling. Are these in retaliation for the Saudi attacks or something coincidental? American political authorities cannot be sure and mass panic ensues before long.

While the Saudis try to determine what’s going on and who to trust, the Chinese see an opportunity to fill a void. With the Americans digging their own graves, it would make sense for the Chinese to ally themselves with the Saudis as soon as possible, capitalizing on the oil output and developing strength in a volatile region. Chinese government officials prepare to extend their hands to help, all this while fuelling the fires of discontent in the subtlest of ways. This could be a master political stroke, if timed properly.

While Keller is running out of time to get to the truth, the attacks on US soil reach a new level of panic, as nuclear attacks seem imminent. It’s all part of a massive plan, but who is the puppet-master and what’s meant to happen before too long? A race to the finish line can only have one winner, and nothing is guaranteed in international politics, particularly when nuclear weapons are in the mix!

I enjoyed so much about this novel, from its well-paced chapters through to the international political content that never lets up for a second. David Ricciardi crafts a piece like no other and keeps the reader on their toes as they see the development of keen action to get to the root of the issue, while juggling diplomacy at essential moments. Ricciardi is surely one to watch in the genre, as he appears to know what’s happening and how to transmit it effectively for the reader to feel as though they are in the centre of the action. 

Jake Keller is again a strong character throughout this piece, though I felt that he wasn’t the sole quintessential factor in moving the story along. Ricciardi uses him well and the reader learns a little more about him, but there is a great deal of maneuvering around to keep all the political actors playing their roles in this well-oiled machine. Each is essential and their importance emerges as the story progresses naturally, making for a fundamental piece of the plot in this political thriller.

The cast of secondary characters also served a key purpose. While the mix of major and minor characters can sometimes get lost in a pile of names, Ricciardi developed them all so well and kept things on pace without losing any of the momentum of the plot throughout. I hope to see some of these characters recur, in some form or another, while others are essential one-offs to push the plot through to its culmination. I enjoyed the contrast of characters throughout, all of whom kept me wondering as I got to the heart of the matter.

The story was quite strong and kept my attention throughout with ease. While this was less a Jason Bourne piece (as the debut turned into), there was a definitely race to get to the political heart of the matter, which makes strong political thrillers even better. Using strong international political plots and some gritty actions to get answers, Ricciardi does a masterful job of keeping the reader engaged at key moments. Short chapters and a building plot made for a thrilling ride on both sides of the world, as each part of the narrative gripped the reader at just the right moment. I cannot wait to see what’s to come with the series, as there is so much left to come and so many loose ends that require attention. I will reach for the third book now, in hopes of being blown away (figuratively and literally) with the premise.

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for a stunning series continuation. I love your style and am eager to see what’s next in a series that never loses momentum.

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:

Warning Light (Jake Keller #1), by David Ricciardi

Eight stars

Having been handed the ARC for the latest novel in this series, I thought it a great idea to read all that David Ricciardi has to offer. I do love a good spy thriller, particularly when there is a unique twist. Ricciardi presents an exciting story that is sure to pull the reader in and keep them excited throughout the reading experience. When a CIA operative finds himself aboard a passenger airline that has to make an emergency landing in Iran, it’s no major issue. Zac Miller is prepared to play the tourist, while he tries to get a better look at what the Iranians are hiding within the country. However, his innocent ‘photographing’ of the countryside raises red flags for some local officials and he is taken into custody. Vowing not to be found out, Miller is able to escape and finds a way out of the country, only to be met with new troubles when he cannot substantiate who he might be. Trying to make it back to Paris, he soon discovers that his issues are not put to rest, as he is a wanted man, with no one to vouch for him. A stunning series debut that has surely caught my attention and has me wanting to delve deeper.

Zac Miller is a CIA operative who’s been called into duty at the last moment. He leaves Paris en route to Singapore, sitting on a commercial airliner as it travels across Asia. When the plane is forced to make an emergency landing in Iran, things definitely take a turn for the local authorities, who do not want any visuals made of their military capabilities. However, once the plane lands, Miller and the other passengers deplane and spend time waiting to be collected for the next leg of their journey. The airliner’s emergency landing may not have been all that innocent after all, and Miller has been tasked with using his time wisely to help his superiors. Using his time to capture some of the local scenery, Miller does his duty before making his way back to to the airport to await news of what is to come.

When the Iranians take time to question Miller about who he is and what he’s been doing, he pleads innocence and refuses to admit to being anything other than a passenger. Howeever, someone is on to him and the local authorities try to be as persuasive as possible to extract some admissions. Torture and various threats are issues, but nothing comes of it, as Miller holds firm, vowing to get out of there in one piece. When the chance arises, he flees and travels across the countryside, in hopes of making it out of the country and back to safety, armed with details the Americans will need to know soon.

While Miller sets his sights on the UAE, the Iranians have tried to cover their antics and place a ‘plant’ on the outgoing airliner, in hopes of smoothing everything over and ensuring that no one is the wiser. It seems to work for the time being, but they will have to find Miller before he is able to reveal what he’s discovered. As Miller arrives inside the UAE, he is able to steal a boat and hopes to check in with the American authorities. However, he’s captured again, due to his lack of Agency finesse, and brought it for more questioning, which only leaves him even more troubled than before.

Making another harrowed escape, Millier will have to get back to Paris to ensure his protection. Little does he know, someone’s framed him for murder there and the authorities are looking for him. The one person he was sure he could trust is no longer sure of his innocence. He will have to clear his name, if he can make it there alive. Zac Miller is holding onto an explosive piece of information, but it will mean nothing if he cannot make it somewhere safe. David Ricciardi offers a stunning piece with a character that could be called the new Jason Bourne. Perfect for those who love the genre and need a little pep to keep them going.

There’s nothing like a debut novel to really provide the reader with something to judge and David Ricciardi does that repeatedly here. This aptly titled novel does offer a warning light to readers that there is a new author ready to stun fans of the style and perhaps rise to the top before too long. Ricciardi has all the elements I sought and kept me hooked throughout, even as things did get a little far-fetched on some occasions.

I enjoyed the development of the Zac Miller character and am eager to see how he progresses, should he return in Ricciardi’s second novel. While he knows what he is tasked with doing, Miller is surely out of his element in this piece and is trying to stay one step ahead of those who would destroy him. There may be little personal backstory injected into the narrative, but it leaves much room for subsequent novels, where the other side of Zac Miller could come to light. I am intrigued and curious to see what the series will bring, including returning characters and larger story arcs.

The cast of secondary characters did well to keep the story moving. From the keen-eyed passenger sitting next to Miller on their flight into Iran, through to the military and police officials across other countries who had the CIA officer on their radars. The attention to detail was present and kept me wanting a little more, never letting me down throughout the process. I am intrigued to see if there will be some returning faces as I get deeper into this series, hoping to find some links that will build as the novels progress.

The story was strong and help my attention throughout. I did enjoy the early Jason Bourne novels and this has that same feel, though one can hope that Ricciardi will not allow things to stray too much and turn things into a repeated game of cat and mouse. I love action, but I also need some progression in my writing, something that Ricciardi has done to date. The mix of chapter lengths kept me wanting to read a little more, if only to discover what awaited the protagonist. I am happy to keep reading, so that I can get to the aforementioned ARC that awaits me. Let’s see what’s to come and who might appear.

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for a stunning series debut. I am surprised that this is your first novel and cannot wait to see what else this series will bring.

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