A Book Spy Review: ‘Black Mountain’ by Laird Barron

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Black MountainIsaiah Coleridge, once a mob enforcer now working as a Private Investigator in New York’s Hudson Valley, returns for his second go around in the latest crime thriller from Laird Barron. 

It’s never good when a corpse is found. But it’s especially not good when that corpse has no head, hands, or identifiable markings. So, when a body in precisely that condition turns up in the Ashokan Reservoir, the Albany Syndicate asks newly minted PI Isaiah Coleridge to help figure out what happened. 

Coleridge, a former mobster tough guy, is now applying his street-smarts and brawling ability in a new way that finds him on the right side of the law. Well, at least most of the time. After identifying the body as that of Henry Lee, a low-life thug with mob ties, Isaiah connects the murder to Morris Oestryke, a legendary killer whose reputation precedes itself among those in the mafia. Worse yet, Isaiah discovers that Lee isn’t the first man to meet such a death at the hands of Oestryke in jus the last few weeks. Two bodies mean a pattern, and Isaiah sets out trying to establish the link that connects things. There’s just one problem. 

Morris Oestryke is supposedly dead. 

As his investigation gets underway, Isaiah comes to realize that those around Lee, namely his girlfriend, could be in trouble . . . and when he unearths an improbable, but fascinating, link between Lee’s former sweetheart and a businessman who deals in corporate espionage, things take off in a way he never could have predicted. 

Laird Barron, who made headlines for switching genre’s last year, is a fine writer. While there’s no question that some parts are over-written, heavy on literary buzz words and over-the-top descriptions, readers will likely accept his style and prose for what it is. Likewise, the story is meticulously plotted, with plenty of intrigue and suspense. However, now two books in, it can be hard to take Isaiah seriously as a protagionist in this genre. Like Jack Reacher, the character is almost too perfect. While Coleridge is frequently engaging in bar-like brawls and back alley street fights, rarely does the reader ever really, truly believe the hero is in any danger.

Instead of coming off like a superhero tough guy in the mold of, say, Nick Petrie’s Peter Ash, Coleridge rivals that of every main character in any Steven Seagal movie ever made. He never takes damage but dishes it out in spades, and beats up of bunches of baddies without ever breaking a sweat. Instead of the hard-boiled, gruff character reader are used to seeing lead crime stories, Isaiah comes off like a caricature of Reacher, without the true badassery that defines Child’s beloved nomad. That is perhaps Baron’s biggest flaw, in what is otherwise a solid, albeit very dark, crime thriller. 

Laird Barron is still finding his footing in his new genre, but his latest is an enjoyable read for those who crave a gritty crime story with a few twists along the way. 

Book Details

Author: Laird Barron
Series: Isaiah Coleridge #2
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0735212899
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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