Monday, May 25, 2020

Review: Blacktop Wasteland

Blacktop Wasteland Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

You know how some cars have a handhold mounted above the doors on the interior, and you hear people call them the “Oh-Shit-Handle” because if you’re a passenger and something crazy happens you might find yourself clutching it while screaming expletives?

This book should come with an Oh-Shit-Handle because it’s that kind of ride.

Beauregard “Bug” Montage was a professional criminal whose planning skills were second only to his driving abilities. However, he left that life behind to be a husband and father, and he started his own automotive repair shop in rural Virginia. Unfortunately, business has gotten slow, and the bills are piling up. That’s when an old associate who burned Bug on a previous heist shows up with the promise of an easy score. Feeling that he has no other options, Bug decides to do the job even though he has grave concerns about who he’ll be working with.

What could possibly go wrong?

I wrote about how S.A. Cosby came to my attention at the 2019 Bouchercon in my review of his first book, My Darkest Prayer and with his second book he continues to deliver.

The idea of a former criminal trying to go straight who takes one last job has certainly been done before in crime fiction. Cosby hits all the familiar beats with the planning, the heist, the twist, all the other elements you’d see in a Richard Stark novel, and he does them well. As just a crime novel this makes for a helluva page turner.

Where the book hits the next gear (Get it?) is in the character work done with Bug, and it’s all about the relationships. First, there’s the daddy issues with Bug being haunted by his unresolved feelings for his father, a criminal who vanished at a critical moment in Bug’s youth. Then there’s the hateful dying mother he feels obligated to support. Finally, there’s the wife and kids he dearly loves and is trying to make a brighter future for.

Like many a character in a crime fiction like this, Bug claims he’s doing it all for his loved ones, but there’s a part of him that also loves the outlaw life. It also fits his violent tendencies better than being a family man, and one of the key things that Cosby digs into here is the notion of a person split between two conflicting lifestyles that are fundamentally opposed. In the end the book is really about Bug coming to terms with who he really is, who he wants to be, and what kind of damage he’s already done to the people he loves.

In addition to all this, the writing just absolutely cooks. There’s great action, gritty violence, humor, heartbreaking moments, and while reading there were some driving sequences where I found myself pressing my foot on the floor as if I could stomp the brake to slow the car down. I grew up in a rural area, and I may have broken a few speed limits on country roads in my youth so Cosby’s descriptions of what that rush is like really hit home for me,

It’s a fantastic follow up to his first novel, and it makes me more sure than ever that Cosby is a writer to watch.

View all my reviews

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