Popular genre author on horror, crime, and his new novel, Worse Angels
Author Laird Barron has been scaring people for more than a decade since he published his first collection of stories to critical acclaim.
Ten years on, Barron pushed past the boundaries of horror to sign a multi-book deal with Putnam for a crime fiction series. The first two books, Blood Standard and Black Mountain, introduced a former mob assassin turned upstate New York private investigator, Isaiah Coleridge.
In the third book of the series, Worse Angels (Putnam, May 26), Barron adds a layer of texture to his wise-cracking detective’s adventures. This time around, a little bit of the old “horror Laird Barron” seeps through into his crime work, creating a surreal and devastating journey with plot twists you have to read to believe.
Following is my interview with Laird Barron:
Q: Worse Angels is the third book in your Isaiah Coleridge crime series, and has a strong horror flavor. Thomas Harris, Michael Koryta and John Connolly come to mind. How would you describe the Coleridge books in this context? Are there authors or books you feel are comparable?
Coleridge is in an unusual place in that the majority of my stories inhabit a duo of contiguous realties. There’s a meta-element at play: longtime readers recognize the telltale signs of supernatural intrusion; Coleridge and readers who haven’t picked up my horror work experience events as occasionally mysterious, but ultimately rational. I’ve carried the series nearer the abyss because the reception for Black Mountain’s baroque qualities warranted that decision.
Comparable Authors? Donald Ray Pollack and Brian Evenson are a couple who spring to mind. Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary work is edgy…Also Gillian Flynn. Peter Straub’s thrillers dive into quasi-supernatural horror. Straub is someone I’ve admired and drawn inspiration from since adolescence when I came across Ghost Story and then the quintessential serial killer thriller, Koko.
Q: You’re a firmly established voice in the field of horror. What led to the shift into crime? Would it be fair to say these books are a hybrid of the two genres?
Blood Standard was an earnest attempt to break into the crime/mystery genres, although it wound up encompassing noir and thriller aspects as well. I had something to prove to myself—that I could successfully write a category novel outside of what I’d specialized in for fifteen years. I felt I’d accomplished the goal. Consequently, the follow-up, Black Mountain, slid into Thomas Harris territory.
Worse Angels goes farther into the darkness, right to the threshold of full-on horror. So, yes, it’s fair to say the series is, on the whole, a hybrid.
Q: You have an avid horror fan base. What has that base’s response been to the crime novels?
A fairly large group were interested to see what a crime/thriller novel looked like and responded positively. Others were disappointed because they weren’t interested in non-supernatural horror fiction. It’s difficult to crack a new genre and it’s not always easy to get fans to ride along.
The balance has trended toward the positive, but I’ve concluded that people really, really want me to keep writing the darker, eerier stories. For my part, I think there’s numerous ways to approach the supernatural horror within the context of a mainstream narrative.
Q: Without giving too much away, I want to ask about some of the plot constructs in Worse Angels. It’s not every day one comes across abandoned particle colliders, vampiric elders clothed in bizarre high school gear, killer robots and (theoretical) cosmic gateways in a traditional crime novel.
Coleridge operates in the same universe as the characters from my collections and earlier horror novels, The Light Is the Darkness and The Croning. This time around, he intersects with some of that universe’s more baroque elements. There’s an obvious parallel between Senator Redlick, his ex-bodyguard Adeyemi, and certain political figures who reside atop the power structure in our own world.
Yes, the events of Worse Angels tread within the territory of supernatural horror. That said, the naturalist presentation will allow readers who haven’t delved into my other work to blissfully proceed from the premise there’s a rational explanation for everything.
Q: How is the current state of our virus-ruled society affecting promotion?
Not good. There will be a digital tour, but at the time of this conversation the Magic 8 Ball says details are fuzzy. People are doing what they can from home, but it’s a tough situation.
Q: Lastly, what’s on your slate and what should readers be looking for next from you?
I’m working on several projects. More Coleridge, more horror fiction at various lengths. My short piece, “The One We Tell Bad Children” will appear in Ellen Datlow’s Hollywood horror anthology, Final Cuts, this fall. Lot of heavy hitters in that lineup. I’ve also got a fantasy/horror story called “Ode to Joad the Toad” in Miscreations, edited by Doug Murano and Michael Bailey. Heck of an anthology.
(author photo by Henry Stampfel)