Every time I read a book by Laird Barron I think, “this guy could never get any better than this.” And after his last book, X’S FOR EYES (I reviewed that one here), I was convinced of it. Then I pick up the next one and it kicks my ass even harder than the last one I read. That’s the case with his newest book, MAN WITH NO NAME.
The night I read this I had so, so many things to do. But I thought I’d read the first page or two to get a feel for the book. I recommend you don’t do that if you don’t have a long block of free time. This book owns you in just a few paragraphs, Barron’s beautiful, poetic prose drawing you in like a familiar song you can’t get out of your head. But it isn’t an annoying one, not at all.
MAN WITH NO NAME is the story of Nanashi, a deadly efficient yakuza enforcer tasked with kidnapping Muzaki, an international wrestling star under the protection of a rival syndicate. And it should be “business as bloody usual” for Nanashi and his crew, but it turns out to be far from it. Muzaki possesses a terrifying secret that he chooses to “share” with Nanashi, sending him spiraling head first on a surreal quest through a horrific, inescapable nightmare.
That’s the extent to which I’m going to describe the story itself. The synopsis below does that job well enough and there’s no need to repeat it. What I’m going to do instead is talk about what makes this wonderful and–to my thinking–groundbreaking story work so very well. And usually, as regular readers here know, that would entail singling out the one thing that holds everything together and makes it work. But with any tale that’s flowed from the haunted pen of this master wordsmith–and this one in particular–that would be an impossible task. I could pick out any one element and designate it the THING. Maybe it’s the way that Barron captivates you with his poetic prose:
“The slender trees were slick with dew. Fog dampened the rasp of his breath, his shoes scrabbling among roots and leaves. Illumination from the headlights quickly faded and he felt his way through opaline murk. Ahead, a bluish light infiltrated the forest. Shadows leaped around him as limbs creaked with a puff of wind.”
Or possibly the brutal, tension filled action scenes that push the story forward:
“Shotgun guy was the one Nanashi had clipped and now he wondered if the slug had severed something important because the end came too quickly. Oh, but who was he to argue with the gods of death? A pall of smoke rolled over the room and Nazareth kept saying now somebody was messing with a sonofabitch. The house stank of burning hair, of burning blood, of scorched silk.”
But that can’t be it. Really, once it gets going the whole story is one long action scene that rips you from this world and lands you firmly in the wondrously real universe that Barron creates with such eloquence and such precisely gorgeous exposition.
So really, as is not uncommon with Barron, what makes the story work is a combination of a great number of tools that he has at his disposal and that he has long since established himself as a master of: brilliant character development, perfect pacing, settings so vividly depicted that you feel like you’re there, sharing Nanashi’s adventures and cheering him on toward the surprising and ultimately enticing climax. MAN WITH NO NAME is just damn good storytelling from one of the best authors in the business.
MAN WITH NO NAME is a cosmic horror/noir mystery/adventure story like nothing you’ve read before, not even from Barron, and while you might think you already know just how good Laird Barron is, you don’t have a clue until you’ve read this brilliant, pulse pounding book. I could think of a billion cliches to tell you how great this book is and I’d still be at a loss for words that really get the point across. Barron is an author at the pinnacle of his abilities and MAN WITH NO NAME is one of the most intelligent, literary, and entertaining horror stories I’ve read in years.
I loved Nanashi and, in the end found myself simultaneously satisfied and longing for more. And, as rumor has it, that’s a wish that is going to be granted as MAN WITH NO NAME is the first of a planned series. Follow that link below to pre-order this fantastic book and check out Laird’s Amazon author page to learn more about him and to purchase his other works. Everything he creates is a treat to be savored.
Click here to pre-order MAN WITH NO NAME. Available on Friday, March 18th.
MAN WITH NO NAME Synopsis: Nanashi was born into a life of violence. Delivered from the mean streets by the Heron Clan, he mastered the way of the gun and knife and swiftly ascended through yakuza ranks to become a dreaded enforcer. His latest task? He and an entourage of expert killers are commanded to kidnap Muzaki, a retired world-renowned wrestler under protection of the rival Dragon Syndicate.
It should be business as bloody usual for Nanashi and his ruthless brothers in arms, except for the detail that Muzaki possesses a terrifying secret. A secret that will spawn a no-holds barred gang war and send Nanashi on a personal odyssey into immortal darkness.
About Laird Barron: Laird Barron spent his early years in Alaska, where he raced the Iditarod three times during the early 1990s and worked as fisherman on the Bering Sea. He is the author of several books, including The Croning, The Imago Sequence, Occultation, The Light Is the Darkness, and The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. His work has also appeared in many magazines and anthologies. An expatriate Alaskan, Barron currently resides in upstate New York.