The Echelon Vendetta by David Stone

2009 seems to be the year of the thriller for me.  Once I got started with the genre I just kept finding more to read.  My latest in this vein is a series by David Stone featuring Micah Dalton.  The first in the series is The Echelon Vendetta.

There is a lot going on in this often violent, and at times gruesome, espionage thriller and it isn’t easy to capture it all.  I found the most succinct and accurate summation at Entertainment Weekly of all places:

When a mission goes awry in David Stone’s The Echelon Vendetta, the CIA calls in Micah Dalton, a ”cleaner” who dispassionately mops up the mess. But then a friend and fellow agent dies in an apparent suicide and the pal’s family is found hacked to death. As he follows the trail from Tuscany to London to CIA headquarters to the Rocky Mountains, Dalton encounters government spooks, Native American mysticism, hallucinogens, and gruesome violence with which he seems creepily comfortable. But Stone’s unsettling tale keeps losing momentum, due to his nasty habit of interrupting the action with poetic travelogues at each new stop around the globe.

There are really three threads involved in this story.  The main thread is a rather straightforward, and well done, espionage story.  Dalton has to find out what is behind his friend and colleague’s death.  He eventually finds out that his mystery Native American killer is brutally murdering anyone connected to a mission gone bad on a project called Echelon.  Dalton tracks down the killer, and his true identity, as the bodies pile up.  The tension builds until the two confront each other.  Then Stone throws in a twist at the very end.

A second thread that gives the story a unique feel is the supernatural angle Stone introduces when the murdered man, Porter Naumann, returns to haunt – well, maybe visit is a better term – Dalton along the way.  Stone never quite makes it clear whether this is a result of the hallucinatory drugs Dalton came in contact with or if it is a true supernatural presence.  This also ties into the back story of Dalton’s tragic history and relationship with his wife; which Naumann speaks to Dalton about on a couple of occasions.

And the third aspect is the “poetic travelogues” EW mentioned above.  These descriptions of the places Dalton visits on his many travels are a blessing and curse.  Many of them are quite well done.  And they – along with Dalton’s educated and sophisticated style – give the writing a more literary feel in places.  But they also slow down the pace and make the book rather bulky.

The question is mostly one of taste and preference.  If you like your thrillers tight and fast paced the digressions and travelogues will be annoying.  If on the other hand you don’t mind a different take, and a few diversions, then you might enjoy them.

As I am wont to do, I found myself somewhere in the middle.  I enjoyed the ghost aspect of the story and appreciated many of the descriptions Stone offered of the wildly different locales.  On the other hand, I did feel the story started to get bogged down at times and it seemed longer than it needed to be.  I tend to like tight and lean thrillers that keep you turning the page. I don’t mind a more literary style , but it should advance the story and/or add a intellectual layer that makes you think.  Sometimes Stone’s prose just seems florid and flashy; like he just enjoys describing the land.

Even with this The Echelon Vendetta is a promising debut and I enjoyed it enough to ensure I will keep reading the series.  The writing is strong and the style just different enough to make it stand out from a genre filled with cookie cutter plots.  And Stone balances the violence and brutality well.  There are some gruesome aspects to it, but I never felt it was overdone.  All in all it has a nice balance of action, description, and surprises.  Plus, the book ends with a cliffhanger aspect so I am eager to find out the fate of Micah Dalton.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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