G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019, 308 pages
Ex-mob enforcer Isaiah Coledrige has hung out a shingle as a private eye in New York's Hudson Valley, and in his newest case, a seemingly simple murder investigation leads him to the most terrifying enemy he has ever faced.
When a small-time criminal named Harold Lee turns up in the Ashokan Reservoir - sans a heartbeat, head, or hands - the local mafia capo hires Isaiah Coleridge to look into the matter. The mob likes crime, but only the crime it controls...and as it turns out, Lee is the second independent contractor to meet a bad end on the business side of a serrated knife. One such death can be overlooked. Two makes a man wonder.
A guy in Harold Lee's business would make his fair share of enemies, and it seems a likely case of pure revenge. But as Coledrige turns over more stones, he finds himself dragged into something deeper and more insidious than he could have imagined, in a labyrinthine case spanning decades. At the center are an heiress moonlighting as a cabaret dancer, a powerful corporation with high-placed connections, and a serial killer who may have been honing his skills since the Vietnam War....
A twisty, action-packed follow-up to the acclaimed Blood Standard, Black Mountain cements Laird Barron as an inventive and remarkable voice in crime fiction.
Laird Barron is one of my favorite authors, though I got started with him because of his horror fiction. I suspect his turn to crime thrillers was an economic decision, but he keeps the horror close to the surface.
Isaiah Coleridge is a former mob hitter. A half-Maori bruiser with berserkergang violence always lurking just beneath his genial demeanor, he presents himself as a pleasant, reasonable fellow because he's seen enough violence to know there's no point in starting shit unnecessarily. Someone else is always willing to start shit for you.
Coleridge is not exactly a nice guy, but he's a decent guy. Maybe even a good guy. If you ignore the fact that he used to be a professional killer, and while he is no longer interested in doing that kind of work, he doesn't exactly feel guilty about it. After all, most of the guys he whacked probably deserved it. But he has scruples. He likes kids and animals. Liking animals is what got him in trouble in the first place — he broke a made man's jaw because the asshole was machine-gunning walruses for the lols. In the previous book, Blood Standard, he was exiled from Alaska and kicked out of the Outfit for that bit of insubordination, but of course you can never be completely free of the mob.
Having now hung up his shingle as a PI in New York, Coleridge gets a call from a local wiseguy with a little job. Just a bit of paid detective work. Coleridge can't exactly refuse. It seems someone has been killing crooks, and while they weren't crooks the mob cared about particularly, the mob didn't sanction these killings and so they are starting to get annoyed (and a teensy bit worried).
Coleridge's investigation starts pointing to a legendary mob hitter known as "the Croatoan," the kind of killer who scares other killers shitless. Good thing he's long dead, right?
Laird Barron's writing remains dark and alternately humorous and scary. Coleridge's banter with his girlfriend, his wingman, mob capos, and violent goons, is funny and edgy and keeps us always aware that blood might be about to spray any moment now. The violence, when it happens, is fast and brutal. Barron writes about violence in a way that could make you believe he's no stranger to it himself. And when the banter ends and Coleridge confronts real horror, Barron shows himself to be an heir to H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King.
Despite that little teaser, there aren't any actual supernatural monsters in this series... yet. It's just the kind of series that makes you think there might be real monsters around. But the humans are monstrous enough.
Also by Laird Barron: My reviews of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, The Croning, Occultation, and Blood Standard.
My complete list of book reviews.