Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At this point, I feel like meeting S.A. Cosby at the 2019 Bouchercon was the crime fiction fan equivalent of seeing the Beatles at The Cavern Club in Liverpool. This guy is just that good, and it seems like the whole world is realizing it right about now.
Ike Randolph is a black man who runs a successful landscaping company. Buddy Lee is a white guy who can’t pay the rent on his crappy trailer. Despite being completely different on the surface, the two men do have some things in common. They’re both ex-cons with a history of violence, their sons were married to each other, and neither man could really deal with their kid being gay. When the couple are violently murdered, neither Ike nor Buddy knows how to process their grief nor deal with their failure to accept who their sons were. When you are men like Ike and Buddy there’s only one obvious way to deal with their feelings – Team up and go on a bloody revenge rampage.
This seems like a straightforward plot about violent men seeking justice for their loved ones, and as someone who thinks John Wick is great cinema, I’m always up for that kind of story. However, there is a lot more than that going on here with issues like race and homophobia in the forefront. Ike and Buddy aren’t just dealing with external threats like a biker gang, they’re also deeply wounded internally as they try to cope with how they each treated their son for being gay. Ike is even more of a powder keg than Buddy, and as a black man there’s an irony in how he has both been treated badly just for being who he is while he couldn’t help but treat his own son terribly at times. Now he’s filled with regret and shame, yet he still has a hard time accepting that his boy was gay.
While the book is also filled with violent characters doing violent things, this isn’t a fist-pumping Hell-Yeah! kind of fun where you are encouraged to cheer on the punishment being doled out. There’s a real sense here that no matter how seemingly righteous the reason, there’s always a price to pay for inflicting harm on others. Also, no matter how careful you are there are always unintended consequences for this kind of behavior that can boomerang on you viciously, and that’s exactly what happens to Ike and Buddy.
Cosby reminds me of writers like Joe Lansdale and Johnny Shaw in the way that he can do a rural crime story and mix violence, humor, heart, and some deeper themes in the story. While the comparison to writers like those is easy, Cosby has his own unique point of view and the talent to make it clear, and that’s why he’s a great fresh voice in crime fiction.
My previous reviews of S.A. Cosby:
My Darkest Prayer
View all my reviews