The first book I read this year was “Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Cosby
Synopsis: “Blacktop Wasteland” is a book that reads like a “Fast and the Furious” movie. There are scenes of car chases and heart pumping action, mixed with emotional family drama. The protagonist, although he is more of an antihero, is Beauregard Montage. Affectionately nicknamed “Bug” by his father, he is a man full of contradictions and paradox. He is attempting to buck the all too familiar cultural trend in his rural Virginia community of paternal abandonment. His own father, Anthony “Ant” Montage was a callous criminal, albeit a mysterious one to “Bug” due to his death while ”Bug” was young. Given this setup, “Bug” was easily pulled into a life of crime based mostly on circumstance and family heritage.
The novel essentially alternates back and forth between Beauregard’s seemingly futile attempts to be an everyday family man and his life of crime. It is implied that he was a ruthless robber in the past but gave that up once he married his wife Kia and tried to make it on the straight and narrow. He worked as a mechanic at a body shop owned by Kia’s family and then opened his own shop to feel some independence and forge his own fiscal path legitimately.
This is the premise for which the book takes shape. “Bug’s” life seems to be falling apart. His body shop has run into financial trouble due to a rival shop in the area, his daughter from a previous relationship is dating a young gang banger and works menial jobs to save money for college, and his mother is set to be kicked out of her assisted living facility and money needs to be paid to clear a debt. While “Bug” is attempting to make money drag racing (and subsequently being swindled by crooked cops), he is approached by a former associate to rob a jewelry store for “one last heist”. “Bug” knows this is not a good decision but feeling cornered he ultimately obliges.
What I Liked: I always like a good crime novel and Blacktop Wasteland doesn’t disappoint as far as action scenes go. Many of the passages are page turners and I love books that keep me from putting them down (it helps me to read one per week :)). I also liked the character development, especially for Beauregard. Having to provide for your family is innate for most men, and that drive can make you do things that seemingly blur the line between right and wrong. That being said, I’ve never broken the law to provide for my family and some of “Bug’s” decisions seem a bit exaggerated.
What I Didn’t Like: Much of the dialogue seemed to use a lot of cliché’s (something endemic to many thrillers) and the plot seemed to be a bit farfetched. It is an action crime thriller, so some logic is to be thrown out a bit, but without spoiling anything, it just didn’t seem that most of the action sequences could actually occur. My favorite stories are those that leave me with the sense that something extraordinary happened but it was generally possible. Some of the novel asks the reader to suspend belief that a lot of the goings on could actually happen as described.
Summary: Overall, I thought it was a solid book and a fun ride. Amazon rated it as their #3 book of the year for 2020 and that for me is just too high. Comparing it to a movie, it is popcorn fare, but not worth an Oscar nomination for “Best Picture” and that is the comparison that Amazon is making with that ranking. Amazon always seems to be a bit different in the books they promote in their top 100 relative to the rest of the book review landscape.
However, I did find a couple of the characters interesting. Beauregard’s propensity and addiction to a life of crime reminds me of the movie, “The Hurt Locker”. As much as the soldiers in that movie knew that war was bad for them, they had an addiction to it, and the inability to break that addiction is key to understanding decisions the characters made. He wants to work and live legitimately, but in a self-loathing moment in the book, Beauregard ponders whether it’s in his DNA to do so. We all know that if someone truly wants to change most things about themselves they can do so, but in this moment “Bug” has given up hope. The idea of “one last heist” sounds promising until you realize you are caught in a downward spiral and cannot get out.
The true hero of the story in my opinion, is “Bug’s” wife Kia. She is a strong woman, raising two boys, while also standing up to “Bug” and constantly warning him that the financial benefits he seeks to reap aren’t worth being involved with the characters that he has to associate with. She is his moral center and her toughness with him is what I believe eventually leads him to attempting to change. The fact that she doesn’t take his bullshit and distills it into discovering what is actually bothering him is crucial to “Bug’s” character attempting to find peace. Without Kia, “Bug” likely would have been long dead (much like his father who didn’t have the benefit of a supportive wife).
Verdict: Overall I rate this book as a 7.9/10, which is a moderate recommend. I am looking forward to seeing what else Cosby writes although I have to admit, I’m not going to rush out and immediately read it. I get a John Grisham feel to Cosby’s writing style, which is always a nice beach read and that’s the category I would put him in currently.