Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th August 2020 from Headline
Beauregard “Bug” Montage: honest mechanic, loving husband, devoted parent. He’s no longer the criminal he once was – the sharpest wheelman on the east coast, infamous from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida.
But when his respectable life begins to crumble, a shady associate comes calling with a clean, one-time job: a diamond heist promising a get-rich payout. Inexorably drawn to the driver’s seat – and haunted by the ghost of his outlaw father – Bug is yanked back into a savage world of bullets and betrayal, which soon endangers all he holds dear…
Hold on to your hats because this book is going to be HUGE. This is an amazing book from a brilliant voice whose prose is like liquid gold, so soft and viscous is it as it flows through your veins when you are reading.
A strong contender for Book of the Year, S.A. Cosby’s book is raw, painful and deeply empathetic. Beauregard Montague is a good man. He’s made mistakes in the past and he has paid for them. He loves his children and he loves his wife. He’s also devoted to his Duster car – all that’s now left of his daddy who left them when Bug was a child and never came back.
Bug and his family live in rural Southern America and are piss poor. He has an auto repair shop and he’s good at what he does, but he has completion undercutting him at every turn as well as the fact that they’re white and he’s black, so he’ll get fewer customers to begin with.
On top of that, there’s a problem with his mother’s Medicaid and it looks like she’s about to get thrown out of her care home. Bug is between a rock and a hard place – and his options for survival are narrowing by the hour.
At once a heist thriller and a Southern noir novel with deep bite, Blacktop Wasteland is a portrait of a drugs raddled, poverty stricken America where even a good man earns a kick in the teeth and the struggle for survival is a daily battle.
Bug is an intelligent man. He can think and plan his way out of most things, but mounting debt and business problems leave him with no option but to consider one last job to get him out of the hole he is in. He knows that when destiny comes calling, it isn’t good news, but when she carries a shovel, he might as well pick it up and start digging.
That’s what happens when he’s approached about being a driver for a jewellery store robbery. He agrees and he lays down his conditions very clearly. But they men he’s working with don’t have the same sense of danger nor the same discipline and it all goes badly wrong. Now everyone is after his hide and his family aren’t safe.
Cosby’s writing is blissful. His rose elevates this from a strong, excellent heist story to a character study that excels in every respect. His phrasing is perfect, his emotional resonance shines out and the pain of Beauregard’s situation is as clear as a pole star in the black night sky. His rhythms and cadences are lyrical and seductive.
He shows us how systemic racism and poverty combine to make life impossible for Beauregard and how both of these issues affect the inner lives of individual men and women. Bug never did have a chance to make it. His life, his upbringing and his environment combine to reduce a fighting chance to virtually zero. Most of those around him bury their pain and their lack of hope in drugs and drink and petty scams interspersed with spells in jail for their crimes, but he’s really trying…it’s just that the deck is always going to be stacked against him, because that’s how life is. It’s how it was for his daddy, and it’s how it’s going to be for his children and he can’t see any way out of it for him, or for them. There are no good choices.
Cosby’s raw and painful observations of what it is like for whole communities of economically deprived black Americans is wrapped up in a brilliant, visceral storyline that draws you to Beauregard and his family even as you are watching his children learn things that no child should ever have to know about.
Verdict: This is a gritty story and a compelling one, brilliantly told with a voice that rings out loud and clear. It’s mature and thoughtful and it’s also full of complexity and painful truths and it comes bundled in a crime novel that is reminiscent of the best of Walter Mosley and James Sallis. An absolute must read.
S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. He won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story for “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, and his previous books include Brotherhood of the Blade and My Darkest Prayer. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.