Most years I split my “favourite” stacks into regular fiction and crime fiction, but this time round ― mainly because we just had a baby, and I’m typing this with one hand while my other comforts our daughter ―I decided to just grab the ten books that most entertained, moved me, or provoked the most thought, and highlight them together.
Everything below was published in 2021, but I read plenty this year, published previously, that deserve special mention, particularly “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters, “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker, and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by Michael Chabon.
Truncated to a logline, you might think “Razorblade Tears” is your standard revenge fantasy thriller about two bereaved fathers from a small town in Virginia who unite to hunt down the men who killed their sons.
But this is no “Death Wish” retread about middle-age pacifists turned apex predators by the murder of their loved ones. The two fathers at the centre of S.A. Cosby’s second novel, Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins, are morally complex and deeply flawed; ostensibly bad men whose lives have been pockmarked by violence and prison sentences. Their sons, happily married to each other, were shot execution-style outside an upmarket wine store on their anniversary, and the police aren’t anywhere close to solving it.
Say what you will about 2020, but it’s been packed with some phenomenal crime fiction and thrillers, and it was so difficult culling my list of favourites to a measly ten. In any other year, Peter Swanson’s “Rules For Perfect Murder” would feature; so too the new Rankin (“A Song for the Dark Times”), at least one of Connelly’s (“The Law of Innocence” and “Fair Warning”), and Silva’s “The Order.” But when I sat back and reflected on my year of reading, these were the ones that resonated.
“Blacktop Wasteland” is a Greek tragedy, its characters performing actions long-inscribed in the books of their lives. It’s pitch perfect noir, as S.A. Cosby viciously and violently unspools the implacable fate of Beauregard Montage, getaway driver turned mechanic, who is unable to escape the world of criminality.
Beauregard needs cash: a lot more than he can make in illegal drag races in his classic duster. His repair shop in Red Hill County, Virginia is haemorrhaging; his cancer-stricken mother is about to be kicked out of palliative care; his daughter needs tuition; and his son needs braces. A big heist —last one, he swears, to himself and his wife — could make all his worries go away.
Or, as eventuates, lead to devastating consequences.
The Montagues have a family tradition of violence and bloodshed. Beauregard’s father was a wheelman too, until he disappeared, leaving a shattered family, and a young black kid scrounging for ways to fill the gaping hole left by an absent father. Beauregard wants that tradition to end: but the only way he can withdraw his family from that life is to throw himself into it. The shattered man holding his life together with trembling fingers (despite Beauregard’s outward swagger) is great noir fuel. You want Beauregard to claw his way out of trouble, but you despair at the choices he makes. “Blacktop Wasteland” has a simple narrative, textured with piercing insights into racial tensions, fatherhood, and the yearning for a better a life. It’s gritty, violent and action-packed; think “Fast and Furious” thrills meshed with the depth of Dennis Lehane’s great crime novels.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Headline Book Publishing
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publish Date: 2-Jul-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom