Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
While The Godfather Part III is not the most revered entry in that series, that Al Pacino line is one of the franchise’s most memorable quotes. The idea behind it—the notion that people play certain inescapable roles in their life, no matter how hard they may try to change—is the basis for quite a bit of crime fiction, and it forms the backbone of Laird Barron’s new novel, Blood Standard.
Isaiah Coleridge is a mob enforcer in Alaska, a cold, imposing man with very strong opinions on what is right and what is wrong. That opinion is at odds with a made man Coleridge works with; a man who insists on running a moneymaking scheme he’s been warned will bring unwanted attention to the organization. Coleridge eventually takes matters into his own hands, and his actions result in a violent backlash that ends with Coleridge convalescing on a farm in upstate New York. As he begins to rethink his place in the world, the teenage daughter of the farm owners disappears, and Coleridge finds himself pulled into a vortex of underworld violence, crooked cops and double-crossings.
As a character, Coleridge is a tough nut to crack. Barron has taken the typical stone-faced henchman that lurks in the background of most crime fiction and brought him front and center. It takes a while, but we do start to get a sense of the inner workings of Coleridge, especially as he starts to pull some of the supporting characters into his orbit.
Of those supporting characters, two of the most intriguing are Lionel and Reba. Lionel is a farm worker with a complicated past and, er, a specific set of talents, and he’s more than ready to jump into the fray as Coleridge digs into Reba’s disappearance. Although she’s gone for most of the novel, Reba is at the front of Coleridge’s thoughts; something in her tough exterior speaks to him, bringing that aforementioned sense of right and wrong into play. Coleridge knows that getting involved with her disappearance may not be the smartest thing to do, and it’s certainly not the easiest, but for him, it’s the only thing to do.
Blood Standard is a busy novel, with a lot of characters and allegiances to juggle. Things get a little muddy along the way, plot-wise, but Barron keeps it all moving at a satisfying pace. The conclusion manages to do what all series-starting novels need to do: tie up the story so that the book is a satisfying stand-alone read, while leaving enough dangling threads to weave the story for a second book if need be. In my opinion, Barron does enough with Coleridge and his supporting cast to make me want to spend more time with them, so here’s hoping Blood Standard is just the first of more to come.