Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Review: Blood Standard (Isaiah Coleridge #1) by Laird Barron

Blood Standard (Isaiah Coleridge #1) by Laird Barron

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published May 29th 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Laird Barron is not a surprise or a revelation to those of us who read horror and dark fiction, I have read short stories in various collections and reviewed The his collection Imago Sequence in 2012. I was a big fan of the reality bending novella The Hallucigenia. It is a strange family drama that twists through the lens of an horrific injury and hallucinogenic episodes. Barron is known for weird, sometimes surreal stories that highlight the darkest notions of horror with a cosmic sense of dread. It is not light or breezy reads. His weird fiction simply is not for the mainstream.

The one brush with the mainstream the works of Laird Barron enjoyed was being one of the many works of new weird that influenced the wildly popular first season of True Detective. As a dark fiction fan I really enjoyed Barron's work but just didn't see how something so weird could get wider appeal. It was close with lots of attention and being name dropped in several True Detective articles didn't hurt, but as good of a writer as Barron is it just is not mainstream accessible. That is praise as far as I am concerned but that doesn't help Laird Barron pay the bills.

On the surface the idea of LB turning to a work of mainstream Hammett,Leonard, Chandler, or Ellroy-like crime might seem commercially motivated. My response to that is Yeah, so what? No one can read the 336 pages of this novel and not feel the authors passion for the genre of crime. Honestly I am five times into Laird Barron the crime writer as I am the horror writer.

This is a masterpiece of tough guy crime, and that has everything to do with an author who clearly is intelligent with the ability to write highly literate prose,a stylist, but also with the experience and bravado to write effective macho-ma-cheese-mo. It is the balance that makes Tarantino great in film and Elmore Leonard great in any format. It is weird at times but there is nothing supernatural. If you didn't think Barron could write a book with a different bag of tricks think again.

I'll admit if his name was not on the cover Laird Barron is not the first name that would have come to mind reading this. It is a change of pace. It is the story of Isiah Coldridge a massive man who worked as a mafia enforcer up in Alaska. After attacking a gang leader up north he is beaten badly, his life is saved because of the respect that the gang leaders have for his father. His Dad is ex-military and a hunting buddy. I suspect later in the series we will more about his father's ties to crime.

Isiah is a big ugly and oddly smart tough guy. He is a great lead character. To heal from his almost fatal experience he is sent back to New York near his estranged father to heal. Living on a farm life seems back to normal until the granddaughter of his hosts goes missing and he is positive it is tied to several crime families, nazi skinheads and a truckload of trouble.

It also has a fight scene that rivals the Oldboy hallway fight. I loved this:

"I charged. Everything happened fast after that.

Behold the essence of violence. It's not martial arts or slick John Woo gunplay. Those things don't function under the pressure that violence exerts upon its participants. Hand-to-hand combat is decided by velocity and initiative. Ferocity,tenacity, mass and a reckless negligence toward one's own continued existence - that's what wins the battle. Except on this occasion I had no interest in winning.

I wanted to annihilate the world."

I laughed and cringed a bunch. and there were lines through-out that I dog eared because they were funny. Favorites include:

"I've done many dark deeds in my misbegotten life, but until today I've never beaten to death the president of a white supremacist gang. As you might guess from my swarthy complexion and unsightly scarring, it has been near the top of my to-do list."

Or...

"Disobey me and I won't report you to the cops, I'll come to your house and put a hurt on you. Four out of five doctors agree, it's tough to wipe your ass with a hook."

For fans of Barron, this might be too dramatic a change, but I hope not. I don't think it fair to characterize this novel as retrained, because it is badass and crazy at times. Barron is in the zone and I personally prefer it and am more excited for the crime stuff from him in the future.

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