“Blood Standard: a Novel” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), by Laird Barron
Isaiah Coleridge, muscle for the Chicago mob’s Alaska subsidiary, isn’t your typical Mafia hit man.
He’s college educated, frequently alludes to Greek and Roman classics and relishes his underworld moniker — Hercules.
Coleridge kills without remorse until two of his bosses invite him on a boat ride and blaze away at a herd of walruses, planning to butcher them for ivory. There, he discovers that his capacity for violence has limits.
He chops one wiseguy in the throat, points a gun at the other and flees, turning up at a remote New York farm whose New Age owners take in all manner of lost souls.
That’s where the heart of Laird Barron’s tale begins. “Blood Standard” is his first noir crime novel, but he’s no novice, having won the Shirley Jackson Award three times for horror and gothic fantasy.
Coleridge is settling in at the farm when one of its denizens — a teenage girl fresh out of lockup — goes missing. Coleridge doesn’t like her, but nevertheless sets out to track her down.
His pursuit soon pits him against white supremacists, a Native American criminal gang, the New York mafia, a team of former mercenaries, corrupt local cops, a bent FBI agent and nearly every modern villain short of Voldemort.
Along the way, he is shot, stabbed and bludgeoned beyond the endurance of mere mortals. But Hercules gives worse than he gets, and he cannot be deterred.
The action is fast-paced, the characters well drawn, the settings vivid and the hardboiled prose quirky in the manner of a writer who cut his teeth on horror and poetry.
Coleridge, son of a special ops officer who got away with killing his wife, muses about his fate: “Only a fool believes he can prevail against what has been bred into blood and bone.”
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”
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