Scott Thomas negotiates the often dreaded second novel in
style with a slow burning ghost story based around grief
Scott Thomas follows his outstanding debut Kill Creek with a slow-burner, Violet, although it never quite reaches the heights of its predecessor it is a fine ghost story. At first glance Kill Creek had a well-trodden story; famous horror authors spend time in a notoriously haunted house, with that familiar horror trope morphing into something much more complex and original. Violet does not have this highly successful double-tap and is a more traditional ghost story. However, this thoroughly enjoyable novel cements the reputation of Scott Thomas as an author of high calibre and one to watch in the world of dark fiction. It also successfully negotiates the, often tricky, second novel with relative ease.
The action opens with a prologue which felt slightly unnecessary; the revelation that the down-at-heel lakeside resort town of Pacington has a dark history connected to the Verdigris River and the Lost Lake where the story takes place. There is no need for foreshadowing in Violet, the prologue ticks that box and does slightly kill the suspense. One wonders how the book would have played out without it. It does, however, provide context for the slow-burning story which lies ahead.
Before I get into the plot I must mention the many wonderful music references the book has; some of which are chapter titles, the first being “There is a light that never goes out” which is a song by cult English eighties indie band The Smiths. Early in the novel Kris Barlow finds an old home-made cassette which belonged to her mother, which she hasn’t heard in thirty years, and in a small way rediscovers her mother through the music. I still play many old cassette mix tapes from the eighties and nineties and I can identify with rediscovering a cassette from years earlier and instantly remembering the track listening and memories associated to particular songs. This subliminal thread which went through the story was a dream for music lovers and I really appreciated it.
After the prologue we meet main character, Kris, who is having a flashback to the coroner’s office where she identified the body of her husband, Jonah Barlow, after a fatal car crash. The circumstances of the crash remain shrouded until well into the novel but play a large part in Kris’s fragile state of mind and the problems they faced in their marriage. Violet is a story predominately told in the third person from Kris’s point of view, with the only deviation being her eight-year-old daughter Sadie, whose voice is used more as the story moves on.
For large parts of the tale, and considering it was a long book, Kris and Sadie are the only two characters featured, so the author did a fine job keeping the story moving, although I did wonder whether it was slightly too long. The relationship of the mother and daughter was the backbone of the novel, but there was a lot of it. Sadie has struggled to cope with the death of her father and the scenes where Kris is helpful to help her daughter cope with the emotional pain were handled exceptionally well, but at were times gruelling.
Kris and Sadie arrive in Pacington to spent the summer in her late father’s summer house, which she has not visited since she was a child. They find it in a terrible condition, so rundown Sadie does not want to stay there. As they begin to fix the place up the little girl settles and we realise that Kris has problems both with her nerves and prescription drugs, as she is a vet, has been self-medicating. Will this dilapidated holiday home become the fresh start the mother and daughter need? Highly unlikely.
This was a very slow book and undoubtedly will lack pace for some readers and if you’re after gore, murder and mayhem then look elsewhere. However, I was happy to go with the flow as it slowly moved into supernatural territory. This aspect of the novel did not break into any new territory; however, Scott Thomas does integrate numerous other layers into the mix, including; small town secrets, childhood loneliness, trauma, invisible friends and memories. The latter is a big one and poses a good question; how much can we trust our own childhood memories? Can we kid ourselves into believing we had a happy childhood? Can we end up swallowing our own lies to the extent that we are deluded into thinking they are true? Much of this is connected to what happened to Kris when she stayed in the house as a child and is a real strength of the novel.
There is a second, interconnected, main plotline which Kris becomes obsessed into researching; the disappearance and deaths of several little girls over a number of years, with some of the bodies being discovered close to their house. Adding in a policeman, the psychologist and the bookshop owner there are few other characters in the book. The scenes with the psychologist were particularly good and were an excellent device with connecting with the childhood version of Kris.
Scott Thomas should be complemented for writing a ghost story which is completely different from Kill Creek with which he set the bar very high for his second novel. Although I enjoyed Violet and am happy to recommend it, coming in at 446 pages some readers will struggle with its length and pace. It will depend on which type of horror individual readers are attracted to. Although it was very good, it fell short of knocking me out, I read a lot of supernatural stories and thus far in 2019 Andrew Cull’s Remains has that particular top honour. That story was a brutal nerve-shredding 200 pages and also dealt with loss and ‘remains’ my supernatural novel of the year, thus far. Ultimately, the two novels are completely different and highlight the breadth of excellent horror novels released in 2019, and I’m sure Violet will be a favourite of many.
There are always important lessons to be learned in this world and one that I try to hold on to as best I can is that you should never discount anything because of what you think has come before. You come across a book and you think to yourself something along the lines of, "Well this post-apocalyptic thing has pretty much out-distanced its own legs, hasn't it? Haven't we had enough of these stories?"
The reality is one that I think is demonstrated by Grant Price's book, By the Feet of Men. In other words, it's entirely possible to take a well-traveled and maybe overused genre and make it into something special. Just like it's possible to take the most original premise you can think of and make it bland and uninteresting.
Because some things, when done with a certain degree of skill, are always going to be enjoyable. Isn't that the reason why I can continue to eat steak, over and over again?
What I like about the core drive of this book is that it has the courage to plunge the reader into the heart of the story without an easy road map to guide people along. There isn't an intricately drawn out backstory or prologue to set the mood. You are simply placed into this universe and the story begins to run.
Better keep up.
And as you read, it quickly becomes clear (or it should anyway) that most of the details you might be wishing had been present aren't really germane to the story. We are reading about these characters and the weight of their journey. That's what you should be focusing on as the reader. Not the ins and outs or the specifics about how this particular world came into being. I know there are readers out there who want the book to be a full ten-course meal with as much laid out as possible. And I'm not disparaging that point of view. But for me, I appreciate the notion that while something might spark my intellectual curiosity, it isn't necessarily something I "need" to know. I think it shows a certain amount of respect for me, and gives me a more participatory role by handing over some details and with that the freedom to fill other gaps on my own.
I'm not always a fan of stories that are largely plot-driven. It's not like the notion is an automatic death sentence for me as a reader, but I do tend to be more on guard or maybe more skeptical when I approach such narratives.
The relevance here is that I think the strength of the plot hangs on the world and the story. For me, while the characters are interesting, they do tend to blend together a little bit. And that's a challenging hurdle to cross, as Price introduces a large number of characters in a short period of time. You get some nice insights here and there and Price weaves some interesting debates between the characters as it pertains to their mission and what drives them on this barren landscape.
And it's the landscape of the story that I think draws me in the most. The descriptions are vivid and the reality of these lives feel honest and authentic. You have to be willing to do some of the work yourself but the narrative room this creates really allows the story a chance to blossom into something special and entertaining to read.
There are books that are entertaining but you don't really feel the drive or desire to go back and read them again. This book is one of those rare examples where you enjoy it and at the same time feel excited about the notion of reading it again, to see how the story flows when you know where everything is going.
This is a fun story and while you can feel the darkness lurking underneath everything, there also isn't an overabundance of gore, if that's something that concerns you. It's a story that manages to be disturbing without being graphic, a balance I appreciate. I don't have a problem with graphic content, but I also like stories that disturb with ideas, rather than just the brutality of their words. This is a book that makes emphasis on story telling and it's a great story that it manages to tell. This is a book that would be worth your time.
Night of the Rider tells the story of a supernatural monster-like being and the unfortunate man being pursued by it. This man, Barnabas, left his countryside home for the city and squandered his money on booze, women and gambling. Desperate to get out of debt, he visits a mysterious hunchback who will pay off Barnabas’ deaths but only for a painful sacrifice. Barnabas hits the hunchback and leaves for home to beg for forgiveness and to be let back into his childhood home. On his way home, he becomes the target for the Rider. Barnabas narrrowly escapes the Rider and makes it into his father’s home alive, but now Barnabas and his father and sister are targets for this frightening rider.
I really liked this short story. It starts out like a fable you tell your kids if you want to keep them out of trouble (“Don’t go past curfew, or the Rider will get you!”). But it has a surprising ending, that is actually quite empowering for one of the characters. Overall, it has a good deal of darkness and evil mixed in with sacrifice and hope.
In an interview with Alyson published at the story's launch, Alyson mentioned she wanted to combine Victorian Gothic with some dark magic. In this story, she ties them together very seamlessly. It also has a nice element of folklore to it - as I was reading, I wondered if this story was based on an old tale (I don’t believe it is). There is a good balance of back stories so that you get a feel for why the characters act as they do, although I would have liked to have spent a little more time in Leonie’s world.
For whatever reason, this story didn’t give me the usual feels that I usually get when I read Alyson’s work. I almost always love her short stories, but this one didn’t resonate with me as much as her other works. It also had more of a YA vibe to it - not that I dislike YA books - but it had a different tone in my mind compared to her other stories. But to be fair, it could be that the particular storyline didn’t really move me, because there is nothing I can point out as faulty in the writing itself.
In a nutshell, I would recommend this story to anyone who likes folklore, Victorian Gothic and/or dark magic reads. I’m looking forward to what Alyson comes up with next!
Click here to read an interview with Alyson
Review by Kimberley
Life throws poor Stanley Maddox a curveball to remember…
and another one… in hilarious genre-bending head-scratcher
Over the last couple of years, I have been greatly impressed by the high quality of truly crazy novellas and short novels being released by the small American presses. Hats off to Eraserhead Press (Portland, Oregon) for unleashing Jon Bassoff’s truly bizarre Drive-Thru Crematorium onto an unsuspecting world, which had me shaking my head and laughing in equal measures. Actually, I read the 160 pages deliberately slowly as I did not want to miss out on any of the escalating weirdness or comic set-pieces which were often presented in a droll dead-pan style which totally nailed it.
It is genuinely difficult to know what to compare this bizarre book with. However, the blurbs are quite accurate, Jake Hinkson says: “Bassoff is the Kafka of Colorado, a writer who spins feverish nightmares out of the insane realities of modern life”. Dave Zeltersman comments: “Toss Kafka, David Lynch, and a pinch of Flannery O’Connor in a blender, and you might end up with The Drive-Thru Crematorium”. Before I started the book I would have said comparing an obscure writer to Kafka or Lynch was a pointless exercise and in the long run would do them little favours as the reader will ultimately be disappointed. However, on this occasion I would agree, Bassoff is definitely influenced by Kafka and arguably Lynch. He is also very funny, especially if you like the darker side of things. Imagine you’re walking down the road and there is a guy checking his phone, distracted he steps in a huge streaming dog-turd. Do you laugh or sympathise? Maybe I’m not making much sense, but this book is a bit like that. You’ll be glad is not you in the book.
Jake Hinkson is bang on the money with his quote “spins feverish nightmares out of the insane realities of modern life” and much of the book is a series of hilarious and grotesque set-pieces where the life of Stanley Maddox (or is it Mallory?) goes from bad to worse. The story begins with Stanley going to work for Evergreen Lending, where he has been employed for the last six years, however, when he arrives nobody remembers who he is and his old boss seems to think he is the new underwriter. Eventually his old boss says he can continue working for free (which Stanley agrees to), however, when he returns to work the next day his desk has been removed and he has to work on the floor. Before long he is kicked out of the office, after he makes a fuss when someone eats his lunch (incidentally, this scene was a real hoot), but on the way out the door his old boss asks him to take some files home to work on. Which Stanley agrees to, and so we go on…..
Some of these sequences are excruciatingly funny; one day Stanley was just a normal guy working a nine to five and the next his life has turned to crap. This, however, was just the beginning…. A couple of days later he returns home from work to find another man sitting on his sofa beside his wife. She fails to introduce him to the interloper. His hand slowly edges towards her crotch…. When his wife makes dinner, she sets only two places for herself and her new boyfriend…. Stanley stands and watches them eat. When bedtime comes around the other guy takes his spot in the family bed and Stanley crawls into the bottom part of the bed and tries to find a place close to their feet. He also notices he is disappearing from some of the family photographs, and so it goes on….. Confused? If not, you soon will be.
For much of the time it was hard to tell exactly where the story might be heading, obviously downhill for Stanley, and there are more direct Kafka references as the story develops. Much of what happens may well be open to interpretation, and I’m not claiming to have all the answers, but it almost morphed into a thriller in the final forty pages and when it did I felt it lost some of its weirdness and a small part of its charm. I’m not sure it really needed to make any sense, but most of the story-threads were pulled together, including the serial killer which lurked in the background.
Along the way Stanley picks up a facial scratch which festers and worsens when he pokes at it. Ultimately, just when you think nothing can get worse for Stanley, that’s exactly what happens. A rabbit with a damaged foot wanders around his house, which morphs into a baby (which he never knew he had) and he meets oddball characters one after another. I also laughed heartily at the restaurant scene where he is stuck in the furthest away corner and then ignored by the bored waitresses.
Why is it called The Drive-Thru Crematorium you may ask? You’ll have to read it to find out. If you like strange books you’ll love this, if you prefer something which makes sense with a standard plot, character development and a proper ending then this book might not be for you. I found it to be a very entertaining journey in discovering the monster which lurks within. If you went to work one fine Monday morning and everyone had forgotten who you were and you later found another bloke smooching with your wife you’d probably crack up also! Highly recommended (especially for the small man who feels downtrodden by life). All of us probably….
The Candle Man, “Christmas Special” is the second published comic in the Candle Man series. The Candle Man is a legendary figure thought to be just folklore, a story about a trapper in the 1700s who was caught up in a blizzard. The legend is that to keep himself alive, he takes pieces from the living to replace that which is dying inside himself. So when he needs a heart, he takes the heart and puts it inside him. All the while carrying a candle to light his way.
In this issue, the Candle Man approaches a beautiful home owned by Mr. Peter St. Clair, the wealthy CEO of DynaSparx, Inc. It is Christmas Day, and Mr. St. Clair is on the phone with an employee. He is yelling at his employee to forego spending time on Christmas with his family in the name of business. An arrogant man, Mr. St. Clair talks down to this employee and complains about the waitstaff in his home and he is the type of guy you might love to hate. The Candle Man enjoys making people like this his victim, and greatly delights in sneaking into Mr. St. Clair’s home. The Candle Man makes himself a little Christmas Present of his own, then gets on the phone with the employee on the other line to wish him a Merry Christmas and to warn him not to become like Mr. St. Clair.
This issue does a great job of pairing horror with Christmas. Many people picture Christmas as a pure and happy holiday, but as a fan of horror, there is nothing wrong with pairing a little violence with it! I’m beginning to think of the Candle Man as a hero, a vigilante of sorts. I’d love to see several more issue of the Candle Man, I think that the number of scenarios we could find him in are endless.
The graphics of this issue were so much more enjoyable to me than those in the introductory issue. The frames are much cleaner and easier to follow. The graphics have the perfect amount of detail so that they are entertaining but not so much that I had difficulty getting into the story. And while I appreciate black and white graphics, the addition of color really added to the pleasant aesthetics of this issue.
I have read all issues of The Candle Man, and I think this one is my favorite. I like it because I do enjoy a good Christmas read every once in awhile. But more than this, I really like the artist’s style in this one. It’s my favorite overall page layout in this comic book series.
This issue is a must-have Christmas horror read!
Story & Script - Don Everett Smith Jr.
Art - Ming Wang
Colors - Jesse Samper
Letters - Tomas Marijanovic and James Burton
Art Consultation - Rusty Gilligan
Owned by Pinion Comics and Don Everett Smith Jr.
This comic can be purchased here
Dave, his elder sister Regina and their parents head to Cancun, Mexico, for a much-anticipated week-long holiday during the Christmas vacation of 1986. Having never travelled anywhere of any significance, except for Disneyland, eighteen-year-old Dave is looking forward to practicing his Spanish, hanging out with his outgoing sister, exploring Mayan ruins and perhaps even striking lucky with a holiday romance. Over 105 strange, but oddly captivating pages, Dave does indeed manage to tick all four boxes in a story which is heavy in ambiguity, symbolism with plenty of nods to Mexican and Mayan mythology and culture.
Many years ago, I had my honeymoon in Cancun and was curious whether I would recognise much of Daniel Braum’s vision of the holiday resort which was quite literally hacked out of the Mexican jungle in the early 1970s and has continued to expand ever since. Of course, Mexicans have always lived there and one of the undercurrents of the novella which worked particularly well was the underlying threat that once you wander away from the tourist routes everything becomes just a little bit edgier. Americans were tolerated by the locals, and Dave is probably a fairly typical and naïve tourist, but there remains a level of hostility which permeates through the pages.
The story is narrated by Dave, in the first person, who sneaks out with his sister to hit the nightclubs after a good time and some excitement. Even though they both speak some Spanish the locals are not particularly friendly, but things soon look up when they meet the gorgeous Anne Marie. Dave is completely besotted by this beautiful young woman whom goes to university close to where he lives in New York but has a mother who comes from Guatemala. They chat, hang out, party and get on great. Over the next couple of days, they smoke dope, have moments together on the beach and, although Anne Marie is a real free spirit, they get closer. Despite his infatuation, his sister does not take to Regina and warns him to keep his guard up.
The novella had a weirdly oppressive atmosphere which was very effective, vaguely giving the vibe that the Americans were not welcome or were intruding on something which was not their business. It reminded me slightly of Ramsey Campbell’s recent Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach in which a British family end up on a Greek island where the locals are particularly unfriendly or harbouring secrets. Other scenes were very jarring and showed the darkness which lurked slightly behind the scenes, for example, Dave and Anne Marie are about to go horse riding and discover a dead man in amongst the horses. The owner downplays this, but it ruins Dave’s day, as he cannot understand why the police have not been called and it makes him very uncomfortable.
For the most part the underlying atmosphere works very well and you can never be entirely sure whether this is Dave’s imagination or not. The ambiguity successfully extends to whether Dave is an unreliable narrator or not, as the story is only seen told from his point of view, readers may ask questions. His parents do not feature much in the story and as it develops the plot is built around the charismatic character of Anne Marie and Dave’s chase for her. He has also been taking a Meso American class at college and is open to her psychobabble which brings both Mexican/Meyan folklore and culture into the story. What is real and what is imaginary when Dave and Anne Marie wander upon a Mayan ceremony off the beaten track? It’s hard to tell and this was one of the strengths of the story as the gullible young American is putty in Anne Marie’s hands.
The Serpent’s Shadow came in at a good length, balancing a plot which set the scene well with the second stanza in which Dave is truly under the thrall of Anne Marie. The part of the story concerned with the mythology/folk history was cleverly integrated into the story and had me searching Wikipedia to see whether it was based on a true cultural Mexican movement.
On another level the novella implies that the growth of tourism is potentially killing the ancient Mayan culture which lurks out of sight of most American visitors, on the other hand, there are few other jobs and so this is a two-edged sword. Even though Dave speaks Spanish and has a genuine interest in the culture, when he interacts with the locals often they switch to the Mayan language and it is clear the Americans are disliked or tolerated by the guides and taxi-drivers.
I recall the famous Mayan pyramids to be several hours drive from Cancun, at Chichen itza, I hope there was not a closer example lurking in the forests which the locals had kept hidden. However, more likely, Daniel Braum made this location up for the sake of the story. One thing which was missing from the story was thee famous ‘Montezuma's Revenge’ or ‘The Montezuma Two Step’ the dreaded food poisoning everybody gets when they visit Mexico! The honeymoon bout I was afflicted with was so bad I was hallucinating with visions so vivid easily have found myself amongst the pages of this novella!
Overall The Serpent’s Shadow was a very creative and imaginative story which incapsulated what it meant to be young, in lust, and to be led down a path where the flow may hold unseen dangers or consequences. You’re open to experimentation, free to try new things, but darkness lurks in the shadows for those who are careless and treat local traditions and cultures lightly. Or maybe you just need to be wary of very good attractive girls who want to show you their pyramids!
Some authors make such a powerful first impression with you that you can still remember where and when you first encountered there work. Laura Mauro is one of those authors when I first read her story When Charlie Sleeps in Black Static 37 way back in 2013 I knew even at that early stage that we were looking at the emergence of a potent and commanding voice in horror fiction.
Six years later the genre has been given the gift that is her debut collection Sing Your Sadness Deep from the ever-reliable Undertow Press. Bringing together the very best of her short fiction with a couple of new stories, this collection confirms, cements underlines three times in thick black ink, or take your pick of any other overused phrase like these, the fact Mauro is one of the most ingeniously talented writers out there.
Mauro has this special gift for creating stories that on the surface have this unique sense of beauty as the horror unfolds, but dip below the surface, or take a moment to read between the lines or in the spaces created by the punctuation, and what you will find is a burning passion and anger at the inequalities in the world. There is a hypnotic poetic brilliance to her prose, that embraces and engulfs you in its subtle yet vivid imagery.
The opening story to this collection is a perfect example of this, Mauro masterfully combines a sense of wistfulness with a deep sense of foreboding and an anger at those who despise anyone who may be different from them. Mauro's love for Japan is evident here with a tale involving the discovery of something that that can be best described as a Kitsune. The sense of fragility that both of the main characters have is palpable, and the sense of freedom that they both feel towards the end of the story is a joyous escape from the tension and dread that Mauro layers on throughout the story.
The Grey Men is another favourite of mine, packed full of wondrous imagery this tale is one of those stories that has just the right level of ambiguity to it that allows for readers to make their own views upon what it was really about. My take on this story is that it is one of the most heartfelt and honest looks at depression and disillusionment committed to the page. It is one of those stories that, after reading it, leaves you with an unshakable sense of emptiness and sadness. Some might argue that this isn't what you should feel after reading a story, but just as in real-life horror doesn't always have a happy ending.
Talking of ambiguity, Red Rabbit couldn't possibly be more ambiguous, and yet it works perfectly, sometimes you don't need to have everything explained for a story to be exceptional. Strange as Angels is another story that has an ambiguous nature. It is perhaps the most graphic of all the stories present in this collection, both in terms of the horror that ensues, and in terms of the brutal and graphic discourse on the complete and utter breakdown of an already broken and toxic relationship. Where The Grey Men left you feeling empty, this one will leave you feeling shattered on the inside.
Looking for Laika is another superlative story, about obsession, and the need for us to rituals to keep us sane and the badness away. This moving story of a brother who recounts stories of the Russian dog that was sent into space, is, if you can say this, the most heartwarming story in the collection, even if you come to the understanding that you cannot stop the inevitable from happening no matter how hard you believe in your rituals. A brutally honest look at the pressures and heartache associated with OCD
I've never liked mirrors, and The Looking Glass Girl does nothing to abate my fear of them, this wonderfully creepy story of a spirit trapped in a hand mirror will send a shiver down your spine
Laura Mauro's When Charlie Sleeps, this creepy and unsettling tale of three women who must care for a monster in a bathtub that seems to be an integral part of London. When he sleeps and is happy, London is happy, but when he is angry or disturbed, London suffers riots, crashes and social unrest. A wonderfully creepy and intimate tale with whose ending sent a shiver down my spine. Who is Charlie and where does he come from, these things are never really answered, but that doesn't matter. But let's hope and pray that Charlie isn't pushed into doing something really nasty with the rise of Boris.
Just know that when you hold this book in your hands, you are holding the first collected works of a writer, that if there is any justice in the world, will be talked about and discussed for generations to come. Laura Mauro smashes the notion that horror has no literary merit or substance. With writers like her, Georgina Bruce, Priya Sharma, Tracy Fahey, Chris Kelso, Kit Power and many others championing the horror genre, it cannot help but drag itself out of the literary ghetto.
Sing Your Sadness Deep, will have you running through every emotion, from joy to despair, from warmth to revulsion, with its transcendent look at the human condition.
British Fantasy Award-winning author, and Shirley Jackson Award finalist Laura Mauro, a leading voice in contemporary dark fiction, delivers a remarkable debut collection of startling short fiction. Human and humane tales of beauty, strangeness, and transformation told in prose as precise and sparing as a surgeon’s knife. A major new talent!
Featuring "Looking for Laika," winner of the British Fantasy Award, and "Sun Dogs," a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award.
Retired mob enforcer, Isaiah Coleridge, returns in
Laird Barron’s sequel to Blood Standard
Last year I was absolutely thriller to give Laird Barron’s Blood Standard the five-star treatment, which was one of my favourite novels of 2018. However, if you’re after the cosmic horror Barron is better known for you’re in for a shock Blood Standard was a tough-as-old-boots crime novel which was so sharp it deserved to mix shoulders with the big boys of the genre; Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly watch out, there is a new kid on the block. If you want to check out our review follow the link:
Black Mountain is a direct sequel to Blood Standard and although it could be read as a standalone novel, I would strongly recommend reading the predecessor first. Although I enjoyed the next instalment of Isaiah Coleridge’s story it failed to live up to the exceptionally high standards of the original. Blood Standard was so good, producing something of a similar standard was a tough ask and by the end I was slightly underwhelmed by a couple of aspects.
Like its predecessor Black Mountain is told in the first person by Isaiah Coleridge a violent gangster who was exiled from his home in Alaska after assaulting another mobster. Isaiah worked for a branch of the Mafia which is referred to as the ‘Outfit’, mainly as an enforcer, even though he is a man of extreme violence he could not abide cruelty inflicted upon animals, an incident which led to his current problems. Due to powerful connections, after being tortured, his life is spared and he is sent to the Catskills area of upstate New York to recuperate on a horse farm. On the farm he connected with rebellious teenager Reba, the granddaughter of the couple who own the farm, but before long she disappeared. Suspecting foul play, Isaiah investigated, meanwhile the Outfit he turned against lurked in the background seeking revenge or another double-cross. Threats were never far away.
In this new story Isaiah has his private eye licence and is semi-legitimate, however, it is very difficult to get away from the long arm of the mob who are forever looking to cash-in or trade favours. When a high-ranking mob boss calls in a marker Isaiah begins to investigate the possibility that the recent murders of two local gangsters might be connected, be revenge killings or even a serial killer. As Isaiah digs deeper into these grisly murders the story takes him deep into the past. Along the way there are elements of horror, mystery and a lot of darkness.
This was the main plot and ultimately the weakness of Black Mountain as there was not much else going on. As Isaiah investigated I felt I was reading into the nuts and bolts of a cold-case and any serious level of threat was absent from the book until near the end. After a while I realised I was not too bothered about finding out who the serial killer really was and that is not a particularly good sign in a crime novel. The novel lacked any significant secondary plotlines as Isaiah is living a much more balanced, less broken (dare I say boring?) life and has the same steady librarian girlfriend from the previous novel. All the great fictional detectives have issues, but Isaiah seems to be getting his life in good order and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing for the reader. We need our detectives to bleed, bend but not break, and live their lives in turmoil and chaos.
Once again, many of the same support characters feature, but some of the strongest scenes feature Isaiah when he is reflecting upon his younger days in the mob, particularly those featuring an old hitman who was a mentor to Isaiah many years earlier. Isaiah Coleridge was the star of this novel and ultimately he was just not given enough to do, he’s too good a character to be investigating a vaguely interesting cold case. Laird Barron has a real flair for bone-crunching action sequences, there were a few in Black Mountain, but if Coleridge had knocked together a few more heads it might have livened things up a bit. Isaiah was a violent and very dangerous man and he rarely leaves first gear in this book, which was a shame. There was a scene where he kicks the asses of a group of white extremists, but there was not enough of it.
This sequel flows effortlessly from Blood Standard and contains many of the same strengths; Isaiah’s funny view of the world, beautifully flowing crackling prose and his quirky insights into the life of a mobster who was never truly accepted into the fold. This is all the more interesting due to Isaiah’s non-Italian heritage (half Mauri) which adds a clever cultural element. I enjoyed this novel, but ultimately it was not as good as book one. However, I am still game for book three, Isaiah Coleridge’s race is far from run and I want to be in on the action, train-wreck, car-crash, bone-crunching and whatever Laird Barron decides to throw at him.
When a small-time criminal named Harold Lee turns up in the Ashokan reservoir - sans 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 centre 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...