The Anthony Award-winning mystery writer returns with a novel of paternal revenge, with the fathers of a murdered gay couple teaming up to take out their sons' killers. Along the way, the two ex-convicts—white "redneck" Buddy Lee and Ike, who is Black—unpack their own homophobia, toxic masculinity and prejudices against one another.
Cosby’s drive to expand the chorus of voices representing the South is on full display in his follow-up, Razorblade Tears ... The novel’s DNA may seem familiar to readers of Blacktop Wasteland or Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series, but its composition feels utterly unique, as if the elements of one’s waking life were scrambled in a dream ... Cosby wisely tweaks the formula, mixing in biting humor and frank confrontations about race and sexuality amid the mayhem — and making Razorblade Tears a more emotionally raw affair than Blacktop Wasteland, which balanced its violence with some nifty car chases. While the automobiles of choice here are pickup trucks of various vintages, it’s rage that drives these characters in their statewide hunt for clues to their sons’ murders ... As interesting as these characters may be, where Cosby excels is in revealing a broader picture of the New South ... Cosby presents them without judgment or artifice, placing the fathers’ prejudices, hang-ups and deep-seated rage in stark relief ... Cosby has an unnerving ability to describe what fists, knives, guns and assorted garden implements can do to the human body, which may make the violence more vivid than some readers can abide. Riding shotgun with the violence, though, is also great beauty — in descriptions of the grief of a community, in the fathers’ stirring awareness of the true meaning of love and even in Cosby’s reverence for the vibrant natural world ... The contradictions in Razorblade Tears suggest the deeper moral ambiguity in this and all vigilante narratives. Unlike another Shakespearean character, who famously said revenge is a dish best served cold, these Southern fathers are well aware of the paradoxes of their mission, even as they are compelled to finish it in the name of justice for their boys.
Cosby’s prose is vibrant and inventive, his action exuberant and relentless ... As with Blacktop Wasteland, you may come for the setup, but you’ll stay for the storytelling. Cosby writes in a spirit of generous abundance and gleeful abandon and, unlike a lot of noir writers, he doesn’t shy from operatic emotion...Cosby himself is fearless in concocting colorful similes in the grand tradition of go-for-baroque pulp ... Over the top, sure, but there’s no way your mind will not recall this image the next time you’re at a wine bar or walking the boardwalk in Ocean City ... More important, the book moves. It thrums. Razorblade Tears practically taunts you every time you try to put it down ... The ride isn’t seamless. When you’re as exuberant with language as Cosby is, not every turn of phrase is going to land, though his hit rate is impressively high. And the novel’s brazenly cinematic finale — you might even call it Bruckheimeresque — snaps together with a tidy efficiency that belies the emotional messiness of the preceding tale ... Cosby excels when presenting the struggles of flawed characters as they wrestle with moral failings and haunting regrets ... Isiah and Derek, though, never come into focus as fully imagined people, which is especially notable given how successful Cosby is at breathing life into everyone else. The novel’s side trips into the sons’ milieu — including a gay bar called Garland’s, named for Judy — are the least sure-footed scenes in the book ... by the novel’s end, despite the occasional bumps, I bet you’ll be eager for more. This is how crime writers establish a following: by priming readers to get excited about whatever’s coming next. If that’s the true measure of making a name for yourself, then Cosby’s already there.
... a double-barreled action saga that brings to mind the mayhem of early Dashiell Hammett and the bedlam of vintage Sam Peckinpah. Leavening the violence is the salty banter of two bereaved fathers who turn out to be, for better and worse, much more alike than they suspected.