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.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/rogue-strike/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons