when a book is this perfect a fit to my personal readerheart, i just want to talk about every little bit of it and my enthusiasm tends to become incoherence pretty quickly, so it’s probably best if i keep this brief.
i could resort to a glib tagline:
two ex-cons + two murdered sons = so many bodies.
i could let his words speak for themselves and quote from one of the many pages i folded over:
“People like Isiah and Derek and View Spoiler »your mama « Hide Spoiler didn’t deserve to die the way they did. And the people that killed them don’t deserve to live. I can’t speak for Buddy Lee, but that’s what keeps me going,” Ike said.
“Revenge?” Tangerine asked. Ike smiled ruefully.
“No, hate. Folks like to talk about revenge like it’s a righteous thing but it’s just hate in a nicer suit,” Ike said.
but it’s not enough. i’ll try not to go fangirling off the rails here. suffice it to say that between this, Blacktop Wasteland and My Darkest Prayer, s.a. cosby has quickly become one of my all-time favorite authors.
Blacktop Wasteland is the only gearhead novel i will ever love, featuring a reformed getaway driver drawn out of his small business-owning, family man retirement by that proverbial “one last job.” it’s blisteringly good, and earned him much-deserved critical praise and recognition as an exciting new voice in crime fiction. this one is even better; deploying his taut-but-lyrical prose and exceptional character-work into a much broader story with gritty action sequences for the crime fiction fans, and resonating social themes for people who like to Talk About Books—a perfect balance of genre and literary fiction.
quickplot: ike and buddy lee (the ex-cons from the glib tagline) meet at a funeral, grieving over the freshly-dug graves of their sons. the young men were murdered only a few months after their wedding; a ceremony which neither father attended.
both men have done time, but have left their criminal ways behind them, living the good-citizen life for years. however, as the months pass without any arrests in their sons’ case, they decide to take matters into their own hands, falling back pretty hard into their old ways, reaching out to former associates, following leads, and finding their skills of forcible persuasion undiminished.
they may be rusty but they are formidable.
it’s a grizzled (and grisly) buddy pic of a novel—two flawed but not unsympathetic antiheroes who share the guilty remorse about being locked away and missing so much of their sons’ lives, expressing (and attempting to exorcise) their guilt through some of that old testament salting-the-earth kind of violence.
their shared purpose bonds them in a gruff sort of friendship, calling each other out on their more unsavory behaviors and beliefs—buddy lee’s alcoholism and unexamined racism, ike’s disgust with his son’s homosexuality; his refusal to accept his son when he was alive, punching out his rage that his only child died without a reconciliation.
but in between dropping bodies and putting the hurt on others, there’s time for some personal growth.
this isn’t some feel-good story where men stuck in outmoded and problematic ways of seeing the world are suddenly cured of their bigotry by grief-riddled self-examination—where a black man teaches a redneck that thinking you’re not racist because you’re not wearing a pointy white hat doesn’t mean you’re not still harboring some racist beliefs, or where a man grapples with the fact that being part of a discriminated group doesn’t make you more tolerant and understanding towards other discriminated groups.
but it’s also not not that.
“Feels like we waited pretty late in the day to start learning shit,” Buddy Lee said. The bartender brought them two more shots.
“Day ain’t over yet,” Ike said.
i, for one, learned, in great detail, what a body does to a woodchipper.
gun to my head and i have to say something negative?
the only complaint i can see being made about cosby’s writing is about his tendency to get a little simile-prone:
The wound on his cheek was weeping like a broken-hearted bride.
but while some of them are a scootch too flourishy, others are sheer perfection:
When he hit the ground, his large and small intestines began to unspool like a ribbon of saltwater taffy soaked in merlot.
he is a tremendous writer, and i hope he doesn’t get dismissed as “genre” and overlooked come awards time because, like the criminally overlooked* tana french, he’s literary AF.
i will leave you with one more simile
Time makes loyalty thin. People shed it like snakeskin.
i’ve read over 130 books this year, and this one is easily #1.
* by award committees outside of the mystery realm
ALL THE STARS!! s.a. cosby is three-for-three with me. it’s gonna be a second before i get a chance to review this one, so just go out and read it for yourselves and then you won’t even need me!
i finished all of my july obligations so i am rewarding myself with this before my august obligations begin…