The reviews and critics have been right. This is a good read!!! Yes, it needed the set-up of the first several pages in order to establish the character of the protagonist, but after it gets going it really gets going, intense and gritty and a slice of life on the side of the tracks we don’t want to find ourselves. In places it is so gritty that it reminded me of Don Winslow’s Cartel Trilogy although it’s certainly not like any of those books. Cosby has used the usual elements of genre crime fiction adding his own touch with some very nice literary qualities. And it’s haunting in its emotional sensibilities.
******* Blacktop Wasteland By S.A. Cosby 2020 / 305 pages Read by Adam Lazarre-White 11h 8m Rating: 9 / A+++ / literary crime *******
Beauregard Montage is still a relatively young Black man, in his late twenties probably, and the owner of a small auto-repair shop. He’s married and has three children, two with his wife and they live with him, but the oldest is with her mother, a white woman. They live in the fictional Appalachia Valley of Virginia and the book travels throughout southern Virginia and North Carolina.
Beau (or Bug) as he is known, spent 5 years in prison for armed robbery, but that was several years ago. He would have stayed out of trouble if life hadn’t become rather overwhelming in the ways that the lives of poor people do. He has tried so hard, but now his mother needs money to re-pay her long term care facility, his daughter needs money for college, his son needs money for … and the list goes on. None of this is his fault at all – it’s life for a good black man with a prison record or maybe any good man in that situation.
He’s as successful as an uneducated black man coming out of prison with a wife and kids and a mom in a nursing home can be. He can fix cars and he can drive cars very fast.
This is a crime novel, but it’s not your usual cop-shop procedural or who-done-it. This is the story from point of view of the bad guys and it’s how some of the worst of them tangle.
Beau is unusual in only one way and that’s that he’s smarter with an eidetic, or photographic, memory. He’s also a good husband and father – and he’s not a drug addict or an alcoholic or woman chaser. But he’s a seriously bad-ass car racer and he has a troubled past. But these days he’s the owner/operator of an auto-repair shop which does an honest business – until …
This book has a somewhat more literary appeal than most genre crime novels ever achieve. Blacktop Wasteland is sometimes a tender and nuanced examination of the troubles which plague young black men in the US today – or I should say poor young men with prison records today – it’s not about race. Mostly it’s the thriller story of underground criminal activities including gritty shoot-outs and chases.
After it gets going the tension is high and Cosby ratchets it higher and higher. Short sentences with present tense verbs, scene cuts, life and death chase scenes and interesting metaphors all work to provide and enhance the tension.
As I said above there is a certain amount of literariness to the book – This is in the language which is totally appropriate for the story. Another literary point is that if this were a typical genre crime novel it would be understood that the good guys win. But crime novels are rarely told from the point of view of the criminals and in this book their ultimate ending (who lives/dies?) is open as far as the reader knows until the end of the book.
The style is a kind of contemporary Southern noir and the dark themes of some Biblical passages underscore that: “The sins of the father are visited upon the sons.” (Exodus 18) And from Faulkner ,”The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” (Faulkner). Meanwhile, the themes of contemporary literature highlight identity, the love of family and the traps of caste and capitalism. “A man can’t be two types of beast.”
There are poor Blacks and Whites strewn throughout the narrative so any simple theme of race is not really here. The main story concerns a basically good Black man and his family caught up in the trap of capitalism.