Blood Standard by Laird Barron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.
Apparently the American mob is just like Starbucks in that they’ve got franchises everywhere, including Alaska.
Isaiah Coleridge is an enforcer who has been working this frozen turf for a while, but he gets in big trouble after crossing a deadly local boss. That earns him a vicious beating as well as a dangerous enemy. He’s also exiled from Alaska and sent to live on a farm in upstate New York as part of his punishment. Isaiah is content to follow orders about staying away from family business, and he spends his days shoveling shit for the couple who run the place, and he makes several new friends while living a quiet life. However, when the couple’s wild young granddaughter disappears after hanging around several lowlifes Isaiah can’t help but to reenter the murky underworld of mobsters, dangerous gangs, murderous hillbillies, crooked cops, and Feds to try and find her.
Bottom line here is that this a really solid and entertaining piece of crime fiction. I was a shade disappointed that we didn’t get more in Alaska because I thought the entire novel was set there and was looking forward to an offbeat locale, but the rural New York area also makes for an interesting place to have a mob enforcer doing his thing.
The most interesting aspect is Isaiah himself. He’s the son of a Maori woman and a former American military officer so he had an army brat upbringing. As a mob enforcer he’s an expert at both dishing out and being on the receiving end of extreme violence. He’s also a smart guy with a taste for the old school epics like The Odyssey as well as the occasional sip of whiskey. Throw in a soft spot for animals which can bring on John Wick levels of violence when triggered, and you’ve got a complex character who smoothly narrates the twists and turns of the story.
My main complaint is that it’s all just a bit much. The personal story of Isaiah being in the mob’s doghouse and dealing with own issues is deep enough, but when you add in the hunt for the missing woman which entails layers of navigating mob protocol and then add mercenaries to the mix, that’s maybe one or two scoops of stories too much. Plus, it mainly all is to give plot reasons for Isaiah to go to more locations and meet more colorful characters. That’s the classic detective template, but I could have done with slightly less of all of it. Still, I’d be happy to read more of Isaiah’s adventures.
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