Black Mountain (An Isaiah Coleridge Novel Book 2) by Laird Barron
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons | Release Date: May 7, 2019 | Pages: 320 pages
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Blood Standard, the book that introduced the half-Māori mob enforcer Isaiah Coleridge, was one of my favorite books of 2018. Halfway through that one, I found myself lamenting over the wait for book two. I wanted it immediately! This, of course, means that I had ridiculously high hopes for Black Mountain — hopes that Laird Barron not only met entirely, but brilliantly exceeded.
Exiled from Alaska to upstate New York, Coleridge is making ends meet as a private investigator. As Black Mountain opens, we find him working a cheating spouse case, the aggrieved party of which is an Aryan gang member out to put the hurt on Coleridge’s client. Right off the bat, Barron delivers a big fight scene that showcases Coleridge’s talents for violence, which also has the added bonus of reading about an Aryan scumbag getting beat down in glorious detail. Few things are as satisfying as reading about a white supremacist getting his ass handed to him, but there are, of course, complications to follow. The Aryan is in league with the mob, and in order to square things and ensure he doesn’t get one in the neck, Coleridge is forced to take on a job for a local crime boss. One of said boss’s goons has recently turned up dead, decapitated, and missing his hands…and he’s not the first one. The killer’s signature is one that goes back decades and matches the work of a highly prolific serial murderer known as the Croatoan.
At its heart, Black Mountain sounds like the start of yet another dime-a-dozen serial killer thriller, but Barron adds a lot of depth to this scenario, as well a hell of a lot of cosmic creepiness. Laird Barron is a name well-known in horror circles, thanks to books like The Croning and his collection, The Imago Sequence & Other Stories. While Blood Standard was straight-up PI noir, Black Mountain takes on greater, and subtler, weight with its infusion of some small cosmic horror elements. That’s not to suggest that Black Mountain is a work of supernatural terror or a Lovecraftian creature feature — it’s not, although it does have plenty of grim moments that help blur genre lines. It is, however, most certainly a grim work of PI noir, much like its predecessor, and Coleridge spends plenty of time reflecting on his place in the universe and the cosmic implications of his existence, as well as those of the Croatoan. We get minor nods toward and mentions of H.P. Lovecraft and the unknowable, as well as a grand conspiracy that suggests possible conclusions, but the central threats herein are entirely human.
Coleridge’s cosmic wonderings are a part of what made Black Mountain so rich for me (the secrets of the Croatoan were another, but I certainly won’t go into detail about that). As established in Blood Standard, Colerdige is a smart dude. For as street smart and tough as he is, there’s plenty of brains to match all that brawn. He’s also a hunter, primarily of humans, and he knows that in order to track his prey, he has to play certain roles. One of the things I dug about his official status as a PI was Coleridge’s, and Barron’s, affectations toward the noir genre. His office isn’t a place to hang his hat, but rather, specifically, his homburg. Although it’s set in the present-day, many of the characters converse in old-fashioned nods to the 1930s. Coleridge, at one point, explains that he’s “looking into a murder most foul.” His FBI back-channel contact says of some mobsters that he’s “counting the minutes until they apparate back to their lairs.” We even get a dazzling femme fatale mixed up in the proceedings!
Black Mountain is a stunning sophomore investigation for Coleridge, and with the set-up for this character already established in his debut, both Barron and Isaiah have clearly gotten a comfortable grip on defining their new state of affairs and the territory they now both inhabit. It’s also very intriguing to see Barron slowly expanding the boundaries of those territories, which leaves me wondering what shape and form future Coleridge novels could take. Could this, for instance, grow into a more overtly cosmic horror series akin to John Connolly’s Charlie Parker books? I honestly don’t know, but the thought intrigues the hell out of me! This is a propulsive, energetic read, one that kept me up late a few nights turning the pages until sleep became impossible to fight. I wanted to live in this book for as long as I could, but I also couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Black Mountain is simply phenomenal, and an easy contender for one of 2019’s best.