With My Darkest Prayer, his debut novel, S. A. Cosby leapt onto the literary landscape of crime fiction by showing himself to be a true wordsmith dedicated to crafting exquisite sentences and revelatory metaphors. Cosby followed this up with his break-through novel, Blacktop Wasteland, which proved his ability to craft complex characters readers care about whilst throwing them into exciting and adventurous plotlines. Now with his third novel, Razorblade Tears, Cosby has written the masterpiece he was destined to produce – combining all these elements amidst a story that shows true empathy, compassion and understanding. Razorblade Tears is a novel that wears its heart on its sleeve and never pulls punches; because of that it manages to elicit honest reflection and genuine change from the reader.
When Isiah and Derek – a married, mixed-race, gay couple residing in Richmond, Virginia – are murdered, it brings their fathers together in completely foreign and unexpected ways. Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee could not be more different, and yet they share an identical, metaphorical scar – neither of these macho men was able to accept that their sons were homosexual. As it becomes clear that the local police have no interest in seeking justice for their kin, these two men join forces to exact revenge on those that shattered their family unit(s).
The bond between Ike and Buddy is tenuous to say the least. Cosby repeatedly places them in a car together, traveling to investigate another thread of this case, with nothing to do but converse with each other. It is here that they begin to understand that despite all their differences, they are more similar than either could have anticipated. They are two fathers coming to terms with their grief, while learning about each other and themselves. Their interactions are a kind of dance – one where neither participant knows the song or the steps, but they are unable to leave the floor until the music stops and their goal achieved.
Cosby fills the narrative with discussions of complex and unsettling topics, but does so in a way that never feels pedantic. Almost every chapter contains examples of micro-aggressions related to race, economics, age, gender, ethnicity, and more. By doing so, Cosby is able to show that these missteps are not the sole domain of any one group of people – each of us can fall into these traps and it is not until we hear the tales of others that we begin to sympathize and understand that life is a journey for everyone and it does not need to be a competition to see who has the more challenging road, but rather should involve finding ways to help each other over the rough patches.
Razorblade Tears is not all doom and gloom. Cosby has a knack for blending humor and pathos in such a way as to bring about laughter followed by tears followed by healing. Reading Cosby’s prose makes one feel smarter…well, honestly, it makes the reader smarter and makes them feel, thereby making them better humans – all without ever realizing that their World View may be shifting as they follow Ike and Buddy on their path. Each scene becomes a revelation. Take for example a brief stop at a gay bar where neither of these men is within their element. Cosby turns this set piece into one of the most illuminating moments in the entire novel and one that readers will never forget.
In Razorblade Tears, S. A. Cosby shows that just a “little bit” of insight can make a world of difference. Here, the murder investigation is just the impetus for the growth journey of these two men. By allowing the reader to ride shotgun on this excursion, Cosby graces us all with the gift of self-reflection. Keep the tissues handy, you are going to need them. Following up what is sure to become a seminal novel in the crime fiction canon is going to be difficult, but S. A. Cosby has shown that his talent knows no bounds, so readers will wait with baited breath for what comes next.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.