Blacktop Wasteland – S. A. Cosby

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.

He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.

Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland…or die trying.

S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland has been one of the most visible books on Book Twitter (at least the corners of Book Twitter where I spend time) for the last several months. The early reviews for this were glowing, the hype leading up to its release was real, and every last bit of it is completely spot-on. This is a fucking gut-punch of a novel!

The premise of Blacktop Wasteland will initially feel comfortable for anyone who has spent time reading crime fiction or watching crime movies. It has a distinct “just one more job, then I’m done with this” vibe, but when you start to peel back the layers of this book, there’s so much more going on. Blacktop Wasteland is a harrowing look at the effects of systemic racism on families, and how it connects to poverty and crime in the Black community.

The book takes place in rural Virginia, where the oppressive heat almost feels like a character unto itself. Beauregard Montage is a father, a husband, and a talented mechanic who owns his own shop. But in another life (or rather, the Life) he’s known as the best wheelman you could hope to find. Bug (as he’s known) has largely left that life behind him, but with bills past due, his mother’s nursing home hounding him, and the pressure of competing with a shiny new auto repair shop owned by white people, Bug can’t resist the temptation of that One Last Job.

Naturally, things do not go according to plan.

This is an emotional story, one that feels incredibly personal. Cosby has a clear love of the crime fiction genre, and this feels like one of those books that people will be reading & recommending for decades. And oof…the badass movie that this could turn into? It needs to happen.

While not similar in many ways, I can’t recall reading a crime novel that felt so brutal & emotionally raw since I read Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan. Add in some car chase scenes worthy of the Fast & Furious franchise, and you’re in the ballpark of what a thrilling & captivating novel Blacktop Wasteland is.

This book is beautifully written, haunting, upsetting…there was a moment in this one where I legitimately stopped and said “Oh, fuck no” right out loud. I know that this isn’t S. A. Cosby’s debut novel, but it certainly feels like it’s something of a breakthrough book. I’m extremely excited to check out more of his work going forward! Get Blacktop Wasteland on your radar if it’s not already there, this is a fucking classic crime novel!

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