Book Review: Blood Standard by Laird Barron

Blood Standard is crime fiction, with a capital C, and hits all the notes one would expect from the genre, with a compelling main character we can’t stop reading about.”

Blood standardHitman Isaiah Coleridge retired early. He screwed up bad, made a huge mess of things, and angered a whole of bunch of people that can get a slug in the back of your head just by snapping their fingers. He could have paid the ultimate price for his transgressions. Instead his boss relocates Coleridge from icy Alaska to a different kind of chill in upstate New York. Hudson Valley to be precise. Virgil and Jade Walker have a farm, and though Isaiah is not much more than a glorified stable hand, he figures it’s a good place to lay low while things cool off. When Reba, the Walker’s grand-daughter, turns up missing, Coleridge puts his particular skill set to use to find the girl. And even though he’s about as far away as he can get from Alaska, he finds out the hard way that there’s just no escaping your past.

Laird Barron’s name is legendary in the field of weird fiction. From his early collections The Imago Sequence and Occultation, to his more recent work like X’s For Eyes, Man with No Name, and his most recent collection Swift to Chase, Barron’s prose is some of the best in the field, garnering enough respect for his own homage anthology, The Children of Old Leech. First and foremost, Barron is a reader, a literal walking bibliography of dark fiction through the decades. Having cut his teeth on the pulp thrillers of the past, writers like Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Jim Thompson, and Martin Cruz Smith, Barron applied what he learned from those writers to tales more akin to concepts of H.P. Lovecraft, updating the setting and shedding the purple prose. Blood Standard, the latest novel from Barron, introduces us to the aforementioned Isaiah Coleridge, and is not supernatural by any stretch of the imagination. Blood Standard is crime fiction, with a capital C, and hits all the notes one would expect from the genre, with a compelling main character we can’t stop reading about. Readers confused by this sudden about-face from horror to crime should rest easy, as this kind of work from Barron is a long time coming, especially knowing his own influences to storytelling.

The first in a proposed series, with the second installment arriving sometime next year, Blood Standard sets the stage for a long and fruitful relationship with lead character Isaiah Coleridge. Ideas are a dime a dozen, tropes fill barrels, and there’s nothing new under the sun, except for the unique characters we find that tear down the familiar and break new ground. This is exactly what Barron has accomplished here. The ultimate fish-out-of-water tale, except this fish is a badass who just won’t quit. It helps that he’s spent years honing his craft with the mob. Isaiah is big, scary, extremely confident, and knows his way around situations us regular folks pay good money to see portrayed in the safety of our imaginations. He is not afraid to use extreme violence to get what he wants, especially since he knows that some people just respond better to the language of pain.

Barron sets the stage with Coleridge, inhabiting his point-of-view, filtering the other characters he meets along the way through his eyes, giving us an insight that allows for fully rounded secondaries all the way around. The true test of a first-person narrative is how well the author characterizes the other characters, and Barron makes no missteps here. The result is a well-developed lead who is just as compelling as he is relatable. And while this is crime fiction, Barron’s unmistakable style is intact, with muscular prose that bites as much as it tugs on your heartstrings. Using personal bits and pieces, as well as his own influences, Barron infuses Coleridge with a life that lingers long after the last page is turned.

On record saying he is not yet done with weird or horror fiction, it makes sense for Barron to go back to his roots and write crime fiction. It’s not a departure, more of an addition, another category on his stellar resume as a writer. Given that there’s a deep relationship with horror, weird, and dark crime fiction, Blood Standard is another chapter in the career of Laird Barron, and one we’re quite excited about. As mentioned above, this is the first in a series, with several installments planned along the way, some possibly with a hint of the occult in the storyline. One can only hope that he stays true to his nature and delivers more hard-hitting crime fiction only he can write. In the meantime, Blood Standard is a great introduction to the world of Isaiah Coleridge, a world we can’t wait to get back to in the near future.

BOB PASTORELLA

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Paperback: 336 (pps)

Release Date: 29 May 2018

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