CriminOlly thinks: Cosby has reinvented the pulp crime novel for the 2020s. Thrilling, compassionate and righteously angry. 5/5
Title: Razorblade Tears | Author: SA Cosby | Publisher: Headline | Pages: 336 | ISBN: 9781472286529 | Publication date: 6th July 2021 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
Quite rightly, everyone raved about SA Cosby’s blisteringly kinetic crime debut ‘Blacktop Wasteland’ when it was released last year. That includes me, and you can read my review of it here. The danger with an out of nowhere, word of mouth smash like that from a new author is that it ends up being a flash in the pan. A one off work of genius that the writer can’t repeat. For that reason I was nervous opening ‘Razorblade Tears’. It took me precisely one paragraph to know I had nothing to worry about.
The setup of the book is one of my favourite things about it. The heroes, Ike and Buddy Lee, are both ex-cons, one white, one black. They’re brought together when their sons, a married gay couple, are murdered. The two men set out to find the killers and kick off a truly memorable, gripping novel that is one of the best examples of popular fiction I’ve read in years. It mixes mystery, action and a buddy movie style odd couple to make a thriller that ticks every single box. In ‘Blacktop Wasteland’ Cosby proved he could write car chases that screamed off the page with the energy of a great movie. In ‘Razorblade Tears’ he does the same thing with gunfights. The shootouts here grip and thrill completely, not least because the reader really cares about the outcome.
Not only is it brilliantly entertaining, it also comments on the state of modern America without ever feeling preachy. It covers racism, homophobia, and the affects of poverty, in a way that doesn’t shy away from the hard questions. Ike and Buddy Lee both struggle with their sons’ gay identities but come to a new understanding of equality in a way that feels completely natural. They’re both great characters. Ike a dour, determined man who reminded me a little of Walter Mosley’s Socrates Fortlow. Buddy Lee a washed up, wisecracking alcoholic redneck who finds redemption through his quest for justice.
I really think that Cosby has reinvented the pulp crime novel for the 2020s. His prose may go over the top at times, but it’s never less than brilliantly readable and has a raw authenticity that makes it a delight to read. Whether he’s describing acts of violence or tenderness his words have huge impact. ‘Razorblade Tears’ really does have everything you could want from a book. It’s filled with humour, compassion and righteous violence. It thrilled me and moved me and I can’t wait for Cosby’s next book.
Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.
The last thing he expects to hear is that his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss.
Derek’s father Buddy Lee was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed his father was a criminal. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.
Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.
Content Warning: Racism, homophobia, transphobia, drug abuse
Tolerance Warning: All good