‘Someone wants him dead:’ Cos Cob’s author releases latest installment in Jake Keller series

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Spies and espionage have been a pop culture staple for decades. Many folks can quickly identify famous fictional spies and secret agents like James Bond, Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne. However, the mind behind Jake Keller books like “Warning Light,” “Rogue Strike” and “Black Flag” is Cos Cob’s own David Ricciardi.

Ricciardi’s latest Jake Keller book, “Shadow Target” will be published on June 15. He chatted with Hearst Connecticut Media about his latest title and his leading man Jake.

How would you describe your latest book “Shadow Target?”

It’s a fight for survival. Jake Keller has made plenty of enemies in his years at the CIA—people and governments have tried to kill him before—but he’s always been deep in hostile territory when it went down. In “Shadow Target,” someone brings the fight to him... even trying to kill him in his home. The hero doesn’t know who is after him, or why, but there’s no question that someone wants him dead—and it may be someone inside the CIA.

The book starts off in the Alps. How do you go about selecting the locations in your book?

I like settings that are stimulating to the senses but also present danger to the hero: deserts, the sea, mountain ranges. It doesn’t matter how tough you might be, mother nature is infinitely tougher. Whenever possible, I visit possible locations to absorb the feel of a place and spend time talking to the locals. Then when I’m writing, I strive to create settings that are not only realistic, but also immersive. I want readers to feel as if they’re right there next to the hero—especially when that might not be so desirable.

How do you come up with your plotlines?

I tend to analyze everything, thinking through a lot of “what if” scenarios. Yes, I was that annoying kid who asked “why” a hundred times, but even as an adult, when I look at a situation, I instinctively assess the risks—what could go wrong, what could go right, and the likelihood of various outcomes. The great part about writing novels is that I can take a real-life scenario, make everything go wrong that possibly could, and no one gets hurt (at least in real life). I love starting the hero off wrapped in trouble, having events take a turn for the worse from there, and making his very survival dependent upon his ability to adapt and overcome.

What kind of research goes into your writing?

I lean heavily on subject matter experts. I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I haven’t had to go outside friends, or friends of friends, to reach people in the intelligence community, military special mission units, diplomatic corps, and law enforcement for the bulk of my research. Whether its building (or disarming) a bomb, flying various types of aircraft, assaulting an enemy position, or learning how to discreetly infiltrate a locked and alarmed building, I’ve had a lot of help and direction from people who’ve actually done it—and I’m grateful to them for unselfishly sharing their insights.

What draws you to the espionage genre?

Government secrets and high stakes action—what could be better? National leaders generally have three options to advance or defend their interests: diplomacy, military action, or covert action. Diplomacy doesn’t generally make for good story-telling; but black side military ops and intelligence-driven covert action sure do. It’s people doing dangerous things, in far away and hostile environments, to people who would do them harm. Even through the pages of a book, it makes for a heart-pounding adventure.

How has Jake evolved from the first book?

Is “completely” too vague an answer? Jake started off as an enthusiastic, but very green, desk-jockey. As soon as he ventured into the field, he learned that the other side plays for keeps. It forced him not only to up his game in terms of training and skills, but it fundamentally changed his outlook on human nature and the world. He’s seen the evil in the world first hand, but he’s gone from trying to solve all its problems by himself to realizing that he can be exponentially more effective when he enlists the support of others. Shadow Target is the culmination of this evolution.

Can readers expect to see any familiar faces from your previous Jake Keller books?

Absolutely. As I mentioned above, Jake has finally realized that he can’t go it alone—personally or professionally. In “Shadow Target,” he recognizes the voids in his life and seeks to fill them. He needs the support of others, whose trust he’s earned—and occasionally betrayed, to uncover who is trying to kill him. From an octogenarian Englishwoman to a Delta Force sergeant, Jake has to persuade an often skeptical mix of characters to help him stay alive.

What similarities do you share with Jake?

All of his flaws and too few of his redeeming qualities. We’re both independent, persistent and decisive—qualities which become flaws when taken to an extreme by either of us, but Jake is far more insightful and a whole lot tougher. He’d kick my butt in a street fight.

What do you want readers to take away from this book?

I want them to be entertained, but also finish with an appreciation that we’re all more effective when we work together. Whether it’s part of a family, team, military unit, or friend group; interdependency makes us not only more effective, but better people as well.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not penning novels?

Family time is definitely number 1, but I’ve got a deep thirst for adventure and the outdoors: skiing, sailing, shooting sports, scuba diving—basically any activity that starts with the letter “s.” I’m happiest by far when I can participate in any of the above with my family. That’s when there will be a huge smile on my face and contentment in my heart.

For more information about Riccardi’s books, visit penguinrandomhouse.com