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Book Review: “Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Cosby

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Blacktop Wasteland cover
Photo: Macmillan Publishers

It was only after tearing through the final pages of Blacktop Wasteland that I noticed my tensed-up body and racing heartbeat. S.A. Cosby’s supercharged muscle car of a novel warms up with one of noir fiction’s most compelling characters in recent memory, then puts the hammer down with unrelentingly vivid and violent action en route to an unforgettable and emotional finish.

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Product Details: Hardcover, 285 pages
Retail Price: $26.99
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
ISBN: 9781250252685
Publisher: Flatiron Books

Blacktop Wasteland summary and review

As Blacktop Wasteland begins, Beauregard “Bug” Montage is up against the wall. He’s behind on the loan for his failing auto garage. One son needs glasses and the other needs braces. College is slipping out of financial reach for his daughter. A Medicaid glitch has left his aging mother on the verge of eviction from her nursing home.

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S.A. Cosby photo
S.A. Cosby
Photo: Macmillan Publishers

That’s more than enough trouble for one Black man in rural Virginia — especially when he’s worked so hard to escape the cycle of generational poverty and build a life for himself as a family man and business owner. But Bug also has an ominous secret. Both inspired and tormented by his absent father’s checkered legacy, he was once the best, most daring getaway driver in the business. And there’s a part of him that’s always wanted to return to that life of crime behind the wheel and give himself over completely to the seductive roar of his dad’s beloved Plymouth Duster.

Driven by financial desperation and his own demons, Bug agrees to be the wheelman for a jewelry store robbery that just might pay off big. It’s a fateful decision that will endanger everyone and everything he holds dear and drag him through a hellish series of deadly pursuits, vicious double-crosses, and violent confrontations.

Throughout this book, Cosby’s characterization, dialogue, and plotting are downright masterful — easily the equal of first-rate country noir writers like Daniel Woodrell, Attica Locke, and Tom Franklin. He transcends the typical crime-fiction cliches — one last heist, anybody? — with believable character motivations and an unflinching focus on the consequences of violence and toxic masculinity.

Amid all the questionable decisions, white-knuckle car chases, and bloody setpieces, it’s clear exactly what’s at stake in Blacktop Wasteland. As Bug faces down physical threats, he must also grapple with what kind of man he truly is — and what kind he wants to be. He’s a character who will stick with me for a long, long time.

Blacktop Wasteland can be purchased from Amazon, Bookshop, the publisher, or your local independent bookseller.