cover image Blood Standard

Blood Standard

Laird Barron. Putnam, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1287-9

Barron’s often formulaic first crime novel falls short of the high standard set by his horror fiction (The Imago Sequence and Other Stories). Isaiah Coleridge aspires to be a Sam Spade–like gumshoe, but instead he works as a strongman for the Mafia’s Alaskan branch. On a mission in Nome, where Isaiah, who was never “a hunter of dumb beasts,” is supposed to help “local mob potentate” Vitale Night massacre walruses for their ivory, he impulsively hits Vitale in the throat as the two men stand in the bow of a boat. Night’s lieutenant takes Isaiah captive, and Isaiah barely escapes execution before fleeing to New York’s Hudson Valley, where he starts a new life as a farmhand. When a teenage girl, the granddaughter of his employers, disappears, Isaiah finally gets to act out his PI fantasies and investigate. Baroque prose only belabors the conceit (“We moved against them as a bloodless dawn glow filtered through the canopy”). Since Barron has done imaginative and memorable work in the past, he could still salvage this series. Author tour. Agent: Janet Reid, New Leaf Literary & Media. (May)