Not since Tom Clancy introduced the world to Jack Ryan has a CIA analyst captivated the genre the way Jake Keller has—a testament to the fine job author David Ricciardi has done developing his character of the course of three books.
Warning Light (2018) and Rogue Strike (2019) were both big hits with Book Spy followers, but for my money, Black Flag (book three in his series) is Ricciardi’s best work so far. Why? Because this time around Keller—now a hardened badass after learning to become a field operator on the fly in his first mission—is taking on a group of dangerous Somali pirates, and he does not hold back.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 throwing off our coverage schedule, I didn’t link up with Ricciardi until after his latest book was already out, but even so, he was nice enough to go back on the record (his third time in as many years) for our Five Questions segment and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this one to what readers can expect in the next book.
See the full Q&A below, then make sure you grab your copy of Black Flag, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: I’m super late to the party, but I just finished Black Flag and was absolutely blown away! How did you come up with the story idea for this one?
Ricciardi: Thanks! Something like 90% of the world’s goods travel by sea. It’s a huge component of the world’s economy and throughout history it has been threatened by piracy—until 2015, when it was mostly wiped out because the pirates’ tactics didn’t evolve. Combat evolves, intelligence operations evolve–pretty much everything evolves or it dies (Darwin, 1859). I decided to create a well funded criminal enterprise, hire a group of special op’s veterans with shady backgrounds, buy them the latest weapons and technology on the black market, and set them loose on the world’s shipping industry like a black-hat SEAL team.
TRBS: What sort of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write?
Ricciardi: I’m fortunate to have a friend in the shipping industry and few others who served in Africa at various points in their careers. They were great at helping me flesh out the danger, the despair, and the constant struggle between good and evil on the continent. Those early conversations laid the foundation for the plot.
TRBS: Now that you’re three books in, are you finding each new book more challenging than the first, and what are some of the struggles of writing a series?
Ricciardi: I love writing a series. The recurring characters’ personalities become like old friends (or old enemies), the hero grows from one adventure to the next, and even though it’s a year between books, you have a partnership with the reader that you can build upon. The downside is that there are things I’d wish I’d done differently in the first book (well before I envisioned a series), but that’s water under the bridge!
TRBS: How are you spending time during COVID-19, and what books are currently on your nightstand?
Ricciardi: Working from home, spending a lot of time with family and friends, and exercising more than I have in a long time. I read and loved Red Metal, a couple of Gregg Hurwitz’s excellent Orphan X books, and am currently reading The Big Breach, about a former MI6 officer.
TRBS: Lastly, what is next for Jake Keller, and when can readers expect to see him again?
Ricciardi: Someone is trying to kill Jake. He doesn’t know who and he doesn’t know why, but he enlists a few allies he’s made over the years to figure it out and swiftly transitions from playing defense to a very aggressive offense. I’ll tell you how it ends in the spring of 2021!
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.