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Worse Angels: An Isaiah Coleridge Novel

Review

Worse Angels: An Isaiah Coleridge Novel

Laird Barron is very well known in horror and dark fantasy circles. Over the course of two decades, he has received multiple accolades for his shorter fiction and collections. In the past few years, Barron has turned his hand to what are known as full-length works (though, if a short story tells the full story, isn’t that full-length, too? Just asking). Barron has been slowly constructing an ongoing story arc involving a private investigator named Isaiah Coleridge. The newly published WORSE ANGELS is the third and by far the best of these, a book that straddles the detective and horror genres to great effect.

This latest entry builds on its predecessors, BLOOD STANDARD and BLACK MOUNTAIN. Barron drops enough info-nuggets throughout the novel to ensure that newcomers aren’t lost at sea, though these folks likely will want to duck back to see what they have missed. Coleridge has an interesting background: the short version is that he is a one-time mob enforcer who has evolved, if you will, into a private investigator in upstate New York.

"WORSE ANGELS is the third and by far the best [novel featuring Isaiah Coleridge], a book that straddles the detective and horror genres to great effect."

While handling the humdrum cases that one might expect, Coleridge sometimes finds himself involved in something meatier. In WORSE ANGELS, he is retained by a shady ex-cop who is a few days away from either cuffs or a coffin, depending on his luck. Coleridge is tasked with investigating the death of the man’s nephew four years earlier on the site of a now-defunct supercollider project. The case was officially ruled a suicide to the satisfaction of everyone except Coleridge’s client and his sister, the mother of the deceased.

Coleridge takes his occasional partner, Lionel Robard, in tow to investigate the very cold trail. They receive strong resistance from a number of strange individuals on behalf of some powerful people with a vested interest in keeping things the way they are until they can control the outcome. There are also deadly supernatural forces at work behind the scenes, and the result is something akin to Philip Marlowe encountering the minions of the Cthulhu Mythos.

More often than not, Coleridge gets soundly beaten, but somehow gives better than he gets --- and thanks to doctors, duct tape and antibiotics, he lives to fight another day. The same is also true of his adversaries, who will continue to manifest themselves in future installments of the series even as he stands in their way. The bad guys here are the type of people who are just unsettling enough in the vibe they give off that you would cross the street --- or move to another neighborhood --- if you came across them, even though they appear to be perfectly normal (whatever that might be these days). It’s one of two neat tricks that Barron pulls off quite well.

What is the other neat trick? At times, Coleridge’s interior first-person narration tends to prattle on for just a bit too long. However, just when you think that Barron is veering off the narrative highway into the weeds (sometimes he seems to think he’s on Facebook), he comes up with the most memorable sentences and passages. We’re talking underlining/highlighting/writing in the notebook lines, the ones that other authors will be using for epigraphs in their own stories.

It is this quality alone that makes WORSE ANGELS worth reading and recommending as we await the next entry --- and hopefully the return of some of the nightmares that we experience here.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 5, 2020

Worse Angels: An Isaiah Coleridge Novel
by Laird Barron

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0593084993
  • ISBN-13: 9780593084991