Source: Review copy
Publication: 6 July 2021 from Headline
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review
A BLACK FATHER. A WHITE FATHER.
TWO MURDERED SONS. A QUEST FOR VENGEANCE.
Ike Randolph left jail fifteen years ago, with not so much as a speeding ticket since.
But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid.
Ike is devastated to learn his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Though he never fully accepted his son, Ike is broken by his death.
Derek’s father Buddy Lee was as ashamed of Derek being gay as Derek was of his father’s criminal past. But Buddy Lee – with seedy contacts deep in the underworld – needs to know who killed his only child.
Desperate to do better by them in death than they did in life, two hardened ex-cons must confront their own prejudices about their sons – and each other – as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.
When S.A. Cosby ‘s debut Blacktop Wasteland came out last year, I was bowled over by his prose. This is writing that has a genuinely distinctive voice; one that is under-represented in fiction. With Razorblade Tears, that voice is again in full flow, just as rich, perhaps even stronger, just as grounded in the realities of being poor and dispossessed in rural Virginia.
Ike Randolph has known sorrow. He did time at Coldwater Penitentiary and since then he’s worked his butt off to earn a decent living and through hard work he now has a decent gardening business. It’s been a tough haul for this black man, but he’s made it thanks to his perseverance.
Buddy Lee Jenkins has also served time. He’s white, as casually racist as you’d expect him to be, lives in a trailer and he drinks too much. His wife left him for a richer man – an up and coming politician and he’s been overdoing the booze since then.
There’s no reason Buddy Lee and Ike would ever have crossed paths, except for the fact that their dead sons brought them together. Isiah and Derek got married and had a baby, Arianna. Then someone shot them both at close range – execution style. Ike and Buddy Lee have their sons in common, but they also share something else – a burning regret that their love for their sons could not transcend the shame that they felt for having brought up gay children.
That shame burns inside them both now that Isiah and Derek are gone. It eats at them as they regret every word and deed that they chastised their sons with, hoping to change them, as if that were ever possible. The love in their hearts was over-ruled by their bigotry and their homophobia. It never gained expression when they were alive and only now do they realise how very stupid it was that their sons never knew they were loved by their fathers.
And so Ike reaches out to Buddy Lee and they make a pact. They will find out who killed their sons or they will die trying. They will give no quarter in their search for who did this and when they find out, heaven help them.
The police have no leads – and Ike and Buddy Lee are told this is partly because the gay community is not given to trusting the police. Isiah, who worked for a gay newspaper, had received death threats and that seems as good a place to start as any. They have no idea whether this was a hate crime, or even a racial one but they are determined to find out.
This unlikely couple sets out to visit Isiah’s place of work which in turns leads them to a gay bar and then they get their first lead. But before they even have time to consider what that means, they are set upon by a pair of brutal thugs while visiting their sons’ home.
The violence meted out sets the tone for what is to come. S.A. Cosby’s brilliant, searing, visceral novel is full of dark rage and hard violence. From racist biker gangs to survivalists, Buddy Lee and Ike will have to battle their way through unrelenting hard-core violence in order to reach the truth.
Cosby writes with a raw and authentic voice, but his feel is so cinematic you can envisage the scenes as you are reading. By fighting together, these two men build a bond despite the fact that all they have in common is their bereavement and their quest for justice.
Working together and confronted by what has happened to their sons, they are made to challenge their own ideas about what makes a man and in so doing they will find themselves closer to the truth and closer still to getting justice for their sons. Though as Ike says: ’Folk like to talk about revenge like it’s a righteous thing, but it’s just hate in a nicer suit.’
Cosby’s characterisation is brilliantly done and these two weathered and bitter men will find a way into your heart until you fear for them just as you are appalled by the brutality of the violence they both commit and endure. This is exceptionally strong storytelling with heart that takes you on a thrilling journey, never stopping until your head is reeling and you are out of breath and giddy with excitement.
Verdict: Terrific plotting, dark, gritty and authentic, this by a masterly work by a brilliant voice whose prose is sharp as steel forged in fire and yet the middle is like liquid gold, soft and viscous as it flows through your veins when you are reading. Razorblade Tears is explosive and dynamic and is another absolute triumph from an author unafraid to tackle big questions head on.
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.