A Freewheeling Agent Learns You Can’t Bury the Past Deep Enough
It’s the 1970s, and Dale Conley is an agent for the Justice Department’s Bureau of Esoteric Investigations. The BEI gets the odd cases. They get the odd agents too. Dale’s a rebel in jeans and leather jacket, driving around in a Detomaso Pantera and disregarding orders at the drop of a hat.
BEI agents are given new identities to totally cut them off from their old lives, and though his bosses shot it down, Dale wanted his new name to be Max Iron. That tells you pretty much what you need to know about Dale.
But for all his swagger and the delight he takes in tweaking his strait-laced superiors, Dale is serious about protecting the innocent. And in Stone Groove, he has plenty of innocents to protect. The entire population of a utopian commune in rural Virginia has gone missing. Overnight, 147 people have simply vanished. Clues left behind suggest a link to the disappearance of the Roanoke Island colony. It’s definitely a case for the BEI.
The 147 missing people are disturbing enough, but the real trouble begins when they start to trickle back. The returnees are thoroughly brainwashed, puppets programmed to kill or die based on whatever complex instructions they’ve been given. As Dale races to save as many as he can, it becomes clear that whoever is pulling their strings knows too much about Dale and is using his human weapons to knock him off balance and strike where he’s weakest.
As the pressure builds, Dale works his way closer to the mastermind behind the scheme. And he starts to realize that he isn’t going to like what he finds. To save dozens of innocent lives, Dale will have to risk everything, including his life, and confront the past that he’s been running from for years.
Reveals Gradually Peel the Onion and Draw You into a Hero’s Very Different Past
Erik Carter has published seven books in the Dale Conley series as of this writing, with two more due to come out soon. Clearly, he’s doing something right. Stone Groove is the book that launched the series, and it launches it with a bang.
The series is set in the 1970s, and Carter has a blast playing with the era. Dale is a pitch perfect recreation of the rough and tumble heroes of ‘70s movies and TV – the kind who are endlessly getting yelled at by the Captain because they break all the rules but are grudgingly tolerated because they get the job done.
At the same time, Carter digs beneath Dale’s surface bravado to explore the person who could become Dale Conley. What he finds is a vulnerability that will put Dale on the defense against a villain who knows all there is to know about who Dale is, and who he was before.
For much of Stone Groove, the culprit remains a faceless presence who torments Dale by using his human puppets to force Dale into impossible situations. Dale never knows where the next one will come from or what he’ll have to do to prevent more bloodshed. The result is a terrifying ride that keeps Dale one step behind and racing to catch up.
Once the real villain steps out from behind the curtain, things only get worse. By revealing his hero’s dark past, Carter grounds Dale’s over-the-top persona and makes his struggle matter. It raises the stakes for the desperate battle at Stone Groove’s climax and does a great job of pulling the reader into Dale’s character. The result is a book that leaves you hungry for more.
I wasn’t entirely sure about the 1970s setting when I first started reading Stone Groove, but Carter makes it work. The Dale Conley books are action-packed with a light touch. But each also has a touch of historical conspiracy or mystery about it. The result is sort of like Starsky and Hutch with a dash of The DaVinci Code. It’s a concept I was a little surprised to find myself hooked by, but I definitely was. Give it a shot and you might be hooked too.