I was delighted to be invited by the publisher to review one of the most anticipated thrillers of the summer, S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland. In a recent essay, Cosby wrote: “In my book I address many issues that I faced growing up in poverty in the South. And while I never resorted to a life of crime to try to grab my piece of the American dream, I know people who did. I did my best to examine those people and deconstruct the choices they made while acknowledging the systemic barriers that give so many of us so few options.”
Beauregard “Bug” Montage is trying his best to live an honest life as a husband, father and small-business owner. His own dad, a legendary getaway driver, left when Beauregard was a teenager, and never came back. His son inherited his souped-up Duster, and his almost preternatural ability to drive fearlessly and with finesse.
As the book begins, Beauregard needs money desperately—business is slow at his car repair shop ever since a bigger, slicker operation opened up in town; his mom’s nursing home is demanding thousands of dollars; his daughter’s about to start college; his son needs braces. “He had a credit card with about $200 left on it. He could use that to pay the light bill. But that would burn up his budget for supplies. He was’t robbing Peter to pay Paul. They had both ganged up on him and were mugging him.”
He decides to do One Last Job in a last-ditch effort to solve his financial problems. What could possibly go wrong?
Beauregard agrees to serve as the wheelman for a couple of criminals who are planning to rob a jewelry store. It seems like an easy payday, but one mistake leads to another, and Beauregard finally has to confront his ultimate nightmare: by trying to provide for his family, he’s put them in jeopardy.
This is primarily a sleek, fast-paced crime novel, but it’s suffused with tragic elements, too; it tells a story of trying to overcome your family history, and never quite being able to come to terms with the ghosts of your past. Beauregard, who served time in juvenile hall, desperately wants his children to have the opportunities he never had. He remembers his old guidance counselor, who “had tried his best to get him to consider going back to school when he got out. Maybe college. Beauregard knew Mr. Skorzeny had meant well. Unlike a lot of the staff at Jefferson Davis Reformatory, he didn’t view boys like him as lost causes. What Mr. Skorzeny didn’t understand, what he couldn’t understand, was that boys like Beauregard didn’t have the luxury of options. No father. A mother who was one flat tire and a bad day away from a nervous breakdown, and grandparents who had lived and died in a constant state of abject poverty. For boys like Beauregard, college was the stuff of dreams. Mr. Skorzeny might as well have told him to go to Mars.”
Beauregard makes some bad decisions and does things many people would find unforgivable, but by the end of the book, my heart broke for him nevertheless. This is a bravura performance from a new author to watch.