S. A. Cosby
Isaac “Ike” Randolph is in mourning following the violent death of his son, Isiah. Ike has much to mourn, given the strained nature of their relationship, caused by Ike’s inability to accept that his son was gay. Now, having been gunned down with his husband, it’s too late to make amends. When Isiah and Derek’s headstone is vandalised, Ike finds himself partnering with his son’s father-in-law, Buddy Lee Jenkins, to try to get to the bottom of their sons’ untimely deaths, since the police seem to be busy elsewhere. As the two men investigate, they get to know their sons better than they did when they were alive and grow to accept the men they were – something that neither man was ever able to do when their sons were around to benefit from the love and acceptance. As they search for Tangerine, a young woman who seems to be at the centre of the mystery, they cross a white supremacist motorcycle gang who might just be working for the shady, powerful figure behind Isiah and Derek’s murders.
S.A. Cosby burst on to the scene in a big way in 2020 with the release of Blacktop Wasteland. One of my favourite books of the year, it reads like a classic crime novel, with Richard Stark’s stylings and Elmore Leonard’s ear for dialogue; it’s one of the best crime novels of the century thus far, and I cannot stress that too much. So, like many others I was very excited to get my hands on Cosby’s follow-up, and I’m pleased to tell you that it’s every bit as good as you’re hoping. A very different style to his previous novel, Razorblade Tears is comic-odd-couple-buddy-movie meets action thriller, which also manages to take a candid look at racism and homophobia in modern-day Deep South America through the eyes of a pair of grieving fathers trying to atone for the shitty job they did while their sons were alive. It’s a lot to pack into a fast-paced, action packed thriller, but S.A. Cosby knows how to tell a story in a way that keeps the reader glued firmly to the page.
Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins may seem like a strange choice as protagonists when you start into Razorblade Tears. They’ve both spent long stretches behind bars which has had an obvious impact on their relationships with their sons. Ike now owns a landscaping business and has spent his life feeling the effects of racism, and has no qualms about letting people know how bad Black people have had it in the Southern states (which leads some interesting pissing contests with members of the LGBTQ+ community). Buddy Lee, on the other hand, is the very definition of “white trash”, spending his days with a bottle in his hand and not much on his schedule. There are some interesting early clashes over race, but both men soon learn the truth in that old adage about throwing stones and living in glass houses.
Despite the obvious differences and the fact that these two men would not, in the ordinary course of events, be friends, the violent deaths of their children gives them some space in which to discover that they have more in common than they might ever have thought. Both men shunned their sons in life because of their sexuality, and now find themselves living to regret how badly they treated the boys while there was still time to do something about it. In many ways, this is the heart of the story, with everything else little more than an excuse to tell it, and it’s interesting to watch both Ike and Buddy Lee grow as people as the story progresses, showing that you can, indeed, teach an old dog new tricks.
Besides this touching human element, Razorblade Tears is a crime novel and it’s one of the best you’re likely to read this year. It has a decidedly dark bent and while Ike and Buddy Lee are the heroes of this story, there are enough questionable actions to ensure that the reader is unlikely to ever mistake them for “good guys” . That won’t stop us rooting for them, though, and we’re in their corner the whole way through their investigation, as a friendship blossoms and grows into something akin to brotherhood. The bad guys are almost caricatures and Cosby manages to put them in the same physical location as our heroes often enough to keep things interesting. The fight sequences tread the fine line between ultra-violence and outright comedy, setting Razorblade Tears apart from its contemporaries: no-one is writing crime fiction like this these days. S.A. Cosby has found a niche and filled it nicely. Building on the success of Blacktop Wasteland, Razorblade Tears shows that this is an author with legs, and one to be added to the “do not miss at any cost!” list.
If you haven’t checked out Blacktop Wasteland, you should waste no time adding it to your reading list. Then cue up Razorblade Tears and prepare to be blown away. S.A. Cosby is writing the best crime stories you’ll find on either side of the Atlantic, with a voice that’s reminiscent of the greats of a bygone age. He will go far, and you don’t want to be left behind, so get reading; you’ll have plenty of time to thank me later.