Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby, Narrated by Adam Lazarre-White

It begins with an illegal street race in a virtually empty, forgotten corner of Virginia.
With a thundering rumble of engines breaking the silence of the cool night, Beauregard “Bug” Montage pushes his Duster to victory. The winnings from this one race will be enough for Bug to keep his garage open for another month, but the arrival of a couple of fake police officers shatters any hope he had of keeping himself afloat.
With bills piling up, his loan on the garage past due, unplanned expenses arising, and the business he and his cousin, Kelvin, used to count on diverted to a competitor’s garage, Bug finds himself in a desperate situation. He and his wife had both hoped he could put his former life behind him, where his skills as a mechanic and his skills behind the wheel had been instrumental in making him a wheelman as capable as his father before him. But when legitimate avenues fail him, Bug feels compelled to look for alternatives.
The unexpected arrival of a former associate could be fortuitous, or it could lead to disaster, and greater trouble than Bug anticipates, but with the clock ticking, what choice does he have?
S. A. Cosby provides a gripping narrative of high stakes and high speed, propelling the reader through a southern noir tale that never lets off the gas until it reaches the end of the road. Populated with characters who feel as real as anyone, Blacktop Wasteland is–at its heart–a study on identity and the conflict between who we are vs. who we want to be. It’s a story about the struggle of escaping one’s past and inherited behaviors, while the whole world seems dead set on forcing everything into that mold.
Sure, this is a heist story, but there’s more to it than that. Blacktop Wasteland will not disappoint readers who are searching for a thrilling crime novel, or gearheads searching for a book that lovingly captures details of both the world under the hood and behind the wheel, but it should also appeal to those seeking an engrossing character study.
Adam Lazarre-White’s narration couldn’t be more perfect if the book had been written with his voice in mind. He deftly tackles the emotion and depth of the characters while lending a smooth baritone delivery of the magnificent prose laid out by Cosby. I knew what to expect after listening to the equally fantastic audiobook for Razorblade Tears, and yet I was still stunned by just how amazing these two men managed to create something hauntingly beautiful when working together.

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby, Narrated by Adam Lazarre-White

There is no question why S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears made it to many national publications’ best of 2021 lists. This novel rests near the top of my list of best titles published in 2021 as well, especially when I focus on non-horror titles. 2021 was a good year for crime and suspense literature. Stephen King released Billy Summers, Kristopher Triana released And the Devil Cried, and S. A. Cosby released the absolute masterpiece Razorblade Tears.
Neither Ike nor Buddy Lee were great fathers when their sons were alive. Between recurring stints in prison and their prejudices about the fact that the boys were gay, in large part informed by antiquated perspectives on what it meant to be a man, the two men had driven substantial wedges between themselves and the sons they loved with reservations. It was only after the two young men were murdered that either father allowed themselves to embrace the sons they’d shown far too little affection when they were alive. Isiah and Derek, the interracial married sons, are like ghosts at the periphery of the tale Cosby weaves for us. They haunt the two men we come to admire, despite all of their faults, at the core of this novel.
Had Ike and Buddy Lee been able to overcome their ingrained bigotry while the boys had been alive, the two would have met years before the funeral, but that was not who the two men were. It turns out that the meeting of these two vastly different–yet strangely similar–men would be a fateful occasion that would lead to more bloodshed than either of the men could anticipate.
As the police investigation into Isiah and Derek’s deaths stalls out, Buddy Lee approaches Ike with a proposition that the two of them might have better luck taking matters into their own hands. Unraveling the mystery behind the brutal murder of the boys will force the two ex-cons to confront their pasts, their preconceived notions, and their concepts of love as the trail leads them through Hell and back before bringing them closer to home than they could’ve imagined.
The regret and retribution at the core of this book are at turns heartbreaking and viscerally satisfying. Most important, Cosby doesn’t shoehorn in any ersatz redemption for Ike and Buddy Lee because both men are so damaged and broken that redemption, in the sense that many writers would define it, simply wouldn’t make sense. That is not to say there’s no redemption here; there is redemption in these pages, but it’s the hollow sort that arises from the transformations coming far too late for it to make any difference.
Witty dialogue, well-crafted characters, and realistic portrayals of race relations, homophobia, and the difficulty associated with escaping a criminal past fill this novel with so much depth and honesty that it would be impossible to convey in a review. All I can say is that anyone delving into this book will come out the other end with an understanding that they didn’t have when going in.
Adam Lazarre-White’s narration for the audiobook is phenomenal. The additional character he brings to both Ike and Buddy Lee with his delivery of their dialogue is something that weighs heavily in favor of the audiobook edition of this novel because there’s such life and depth added to the characters with that extra texture.