Review: WARNING LIGHT by David Ricciardi (Berkley)

RicciardiD-WarningLightUSA fast-paced, gripping debut thriller

No one knows what CIA desk jockey Zac Miller is capable of — including himself — when a routine surveillance job becomes a do-or-die mission in the Middle East.

When a commercial flight violates restricted airspace to make an emergency landing at a closed airport in Iran, the passengers are just happy to be alive and ready to transfer to a functional plane. All of them except one…

The American technology consultant in business class is not who he says he is. Zac Miller is a CIA analyst. And after an agent’s cover gets blown, Zac — though never trained to be a field operative — volunteers to take his place, to keep a surveillance mission from being scrubbed.

Zac thinks it will be easy to photograph the earthquake-ravaged airport that is located near a hidden top secret nuclear facility. But when everything that can go wrong does, he finds himself on the run from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and abandoned by his own teammates, who think he has gone rogue. Embarking on a harrowing journey through the mountains of Iran to the Persian Gulf and across Europe, Zac can only rely on himself. But even if he makes it out alive, the life he once had may be lost to him forever…

Ricciardi’s debut thriller is one hell of a fast-paced story. It’s a high-concept espionage and action tale, one in which an analyst is thrown into the field — a world of which he has no experience — and must overcome staggering odds to make it back home. This is a really entertaining, globe-trotting novel.

The story opens with an airplane experiencing technical problems over Iran. After an emergency landing at a military airbase — one at which no (Western) foreigners have ever visited. Zac Miller, CIA analyst, is one of the passengers. Singled out by the Iranians, his simple surveillance mission becomes a fight for survival, a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in an environment and region with which he is utterly unfamiliar. All he has to do is make it home.

When reading Warning Light, it’s perhaps best to think of it as a prose-version of an action/espionage blockbuster. One needs, at least little bit, to suspend one’s disbelief. The only issue I had with the novel was, oddly, that Zac was able to survive his ordeal. Now, if he hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been a story. I understand that. But, there were definitely times when I read with eyebrow firmly raised: he is incredibly lucky on many occasions, despite also being incredibly unlucky. It wasn’t always clear why certain events occurred, or how the antagonists were able to remain on his tail — there were some incredible coincidences. Luckily, Ricciardi doesn’t give readers much time to ponder these coincidences, as he keeps the story moving.

The novel is entertaining, and Ricciardi has a gift for pacing, keeping the momentum ratcheted up all the way through. (I blitzed through the novel in just a couple of very enjoyable sittings.) There are plenty of details that feel authentic (little bits of tradecraft, local details, etc.), which makes it very easy to visualize the novel’s scenes — whether in Iran, Dubai, France or the UK. I think it’s possible that certain incredible events could have been finessed into something more realistic, but at the same time that could have made the novel less fun. (The novel was first self-published in 2014, but I don’t know how much work was done to alter it for the Berkley edition.) Miller, for a desk-jockey, is prodigiously talented and naturally gifted for survival. If there are more novels featuring the character (the ending of Warning Light suggests there will be), then I’m sure we’ll get more character development and ‘world-building’, getting to know his past and that of the people he’s working with/for.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gripping thriller, then Warning Light will certainly suit your needs. It’s very entertaining, fast-paced and enjoyable. I’m certainly looking forward to Ricciardi’s next novel.


David Ricciardi’s Warning Light is published by Berkley Books on April 17th (and will be available in the UK).

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

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