Today I finally share my thoughts on Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby. It’s a book that has sat on my TBR shelf for far too long, but after hearing the author speak at Capital Crime I was determined to make time for it. So glad that I did. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
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.
A provocative revenge thriller and an achingly tender story of redemption, this novel is a ferocious portrait of grief; for those loved and lost, and for mistakes than can never truly be undone.
Why, oh why, did I not read this sooner. It is a masterclass in American Noir, a story of opposites drawn together by a shared tragedy. packed with anger, tension and threat, it is a stark direction of the intolerance, division and prejudice that is rife in American culture, where only one thing can bridge the chasm that exists between race, class and culture – family.
Buddy-Lee and Ike are two characters who really should not work together, polar opposites in all the ways that count, they have one thing in common. Grief for the loss of their sons, both murdered for reasons that neither man can begging to understand. At least not in the beginning. Is it because one was white, the other black, or because they were gay?
This is something that Ike himself had struggled to accept about his son, Isiah. You can feel that conflict burning Ike’s skin, feeding on it like a rot, with every interaction we have, and S.A. Cosby creates such a vivid sense of the overwhelming guilt Ike feels, that he never really understood his son, or tried to get to know his husband, Buddy-Lee’s son.
Although they are a strange pairing, there is something completely endearing about Ike and Buddy-Lee together. Endearing in as much as a pair of fathers, untied in grief and hell bent on revenge can be. Both have a checkered past, criminal histories that make their quest for the truth have that air of authenticity, and the author paints their pain and anger with such clarity that you can feel it pulsing from the page. Ike had made a promise to go straight, to not let his past consumer him, but, with a touch of encouragement, and conniving on Buddy-Lee’s part, it doesn’t take much to ignite the darkness within him, and the search for the truth is on.
This is a story which has so much authenticity and truth about it, about the prejudice and hatred towards the gay community that Ike and Buddy-Lee find themselves at the heart of, that it makes it, at times, quite a hard read. There is violence and threat, as you might expect, but there is also an intolerance and a sense of fear that comes of Ike in waves, a fear born of misunderstanding. The idea of homosexuality that one final taboo that is just one step too far for Ike. And yet, behind the fear, there is a surprising sensitivity to Ike, especially when it comes to one of the community who may well hold the key to his son’s murder.
This is a dark book, but infused with moments of light and poignancy. Buddy-Lee provides some of the comedic element, even though his own life is mired by one mistake or tragedy after another. I found myself really drawn to the two men. Felt their pain, their anger, and the need for revenge which spurred them onward. The mystery of the why is almost secondary to staying ahead of the who, a particularly nasty motorbike gang whose strings are being pulled by a higher, quite surprising source.
I love the author’s turn of phrase. There is an almost lyrical beauty to it that evokes not only the emotions of the characters but the true heart of the Virginia setting. I partly listened to the audiobook, and I have to say that Adam Lazarre-White, who also narrated Blacktop Wasteland, does an absolutely amazing job, bringing the text to life and making me care even more about the fates of our two protagonists.
There is an intensity to the story that goes beyond the violence, a poignancy that lasts beyond the joint funeral, and I don’t mind admitting that the ending floored me. As inevitable as it was, it still hurt. And that is the power of this book, and our heroes, Ike and Buddy-Lee. They leave a mark on you as a reader. S.A. Cosby forces us to care, challenges us to understand their motivation, their need for retribution, that comes less from a place of revenge and more from carrying a heart full of regret.
There are quiet moments of reflection, scenes of heart pounding action and everything in between. But it all adds up to a story which lives long in the memory, and a pairing who stay long in our hearts, all wrapped in a book which deserves all of the praise and attention is has been receiving. Undeniably brilliant and most heartily recommended.
About the Author
S.A. Cosby is the New York Times national best selling award-winning author from Southeastern Virginia. His books include MY DARKEST PRAYER, Blacktop Wasteland, Amazon’s #1 Mystery and Thriller of the Year and #3 Best Book of 2020 overall, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, Winner of the LA Times Book Award for Mystery or Thrillers and a Goodreads Choice Awards Semifinalist and the winner of the ITW award for hard cover book of the year, the Macavity for best novel of the year, the Anthony, The Barry , a honorable mention from the ALA Black Caucus and was a finalists for the CWA Golden Dagger. He is also author of the best selling RAZORBLADE TEARS which was also nominated for numerous awards as well
His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his story “Slant-Six” was selected as a Distinguished Story in Best American Mystery Stories for 2016. His short story “The Grass Beneath My Feet” won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story in 2019. His writing has been called “gritty and heartbreaking” and “dark, thrilling and tragic” and “raw ,emotional and profound “
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