Friday, August 07, 2020

“Blacktop Wasteland” by S. A. Cosby – The Miserable Driver's Seat

Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby (Book cover)
S. A. Cosby might have single-handedly brought back the getaway heist thriller genre, at least for a bit, with his recent summer bestseller, Blacktop Wasteland.

Following the story of Beauregard, a mechanic with a troubled past trying to keep afloat a failing family business, we see him fall back into his old ways when the perfect opportunity presents itself to solve all of his family's problems. As he should have known though, nothing is perfect in the world of jewel heists.

S. A. Cosby Fires Up the Imperfect Heist

Naturally enough, I think I speak for the majority of us when I say we don't really have any plans to commit any big heists, probably never did, and never will. Putting together complex and concrete plans to steal nigh-invaluable treasures is something pertaining to fantasy for most of us. Nevertheless, we're drawn to the concept like moths to a flame: the thrill of the idea is too much to ignore.

Personally, I've always been a fan of any type of heist-related entertainment, and I find recent years there has been a lack of it in the realm of literature. Which is why I was quite happy to see S. A. Cosby play what might be an important part in reviving the genre when he published another bestselling novel, titled Blacktop Wasteland.

The premise for the story is quite simple, and if I might say so myself, nothing we haven't exactly seen before, but do bear with me on this one. It begins by introducing us to Beauregard “Bugs” Montage, on the surface a simple mechanic trying to keep his family business afloat in the face of economic struggles.

Beneath the surface though, Bugs has a bit of a criminal past behind him, renowned as the best getaway driver on the East Coast. One day, a former associate of his shows up, and offers a way out of the crumbling life he had been desperately trying to build for himself: one last easy job on a jewellery story, with a perfect plan to boot.

Needless to say, the plan goes in any way but perfectly, and soon Bugs finds himself drawn into the most chaotic and dangerous scenario he ever had to face. Everyone has their limits, and Bugs is about to find out just how far his can stretch.

Cliches Done Right in Blacktop Wasteland

From the brief synopsis of the story I've provided above, I think you can already recognize most heist books and movies released in the last three decades.

It is true, the heist genre hasn't evolved very much, and at this point it can sometimes feel as if the whole thing is arranged from cliches. However, where most authors would just throw them in as they please, S. A. Cosby takes a more calculated approach.

Indeed, throughout the whole book it felt like I was seeing familiar elements, from the “one last job” stereotype to the composition of the heist team. However, Cosby doesn't simply drop these tropes on you and expect you to enjoy them from the very first pages. Instead, he actually finds ways to work them into the story as not only believable, but necessary elements.

Everything is explained in precise detail, and pretty soon I stopped automatically recognizing these familiar elements as tropes, but instead saw them as logical extensions of the plot.

I also think the author's insistence on doubling down on the tropes and going all-in paid off quite well, largely because of how serious and sincere they end up sounding.

The elements which in the hands of other authors would have sounded recycled and laughable somehow come to life under the guidance of Cosby's hand.

Also, don't let the presence of all these cliches fool you into thinking this is to be a light Sunday afternoon waster. Very few of the elements have a merely decorative nature, and once they become unpacked later on the true depth of the story begins to shine.

Facing Our Circumstances

Indeed, beyond the tropes and high-octane action this book offers in abundance, there are also some more profound themes which the author tries explore, largely through Bugs and the fate he has been dealt.

Cosby details quite convincingly the struggles Bugs has to face because of his race, the decisions he is pushed to make due to his poverty, and the ever-raging internal conflict brought on by his previous life of crime.

Beneath the simple and cliched veneer of the typical heist story protagonist, Bugs is a complex human being whom we might be able to learn something from.

The character surrounding Bugs also prove themselves to hold deeper thoughts than we were led to believe at first sight, and slowly but surely, they shed the illusion of being simple plot elements. To me, they ultimately felt like a grand exposition of the different ways the past and uncontrollable circumstances can dictate a person's life.

With this being said, Cosby knows what type of novel he is writing, and doesn't forget to deliver the meaningful passages alongside good doses of fast-paced action, the kind we're used to seeing in the best of heist stories.

From the planning of the heist to the inevitable mess and clean up which follows, I can hardly think of more than a few moments where the pace slowed down a bit.

Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby (Book cover)
Personally, I think what Cosby accomplished here is quite a spectacular feat, as few are capable of mixing meaningful and thought-provoking character studies with a consistent stream of action and plot progression.

The Final Verdict

Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby will, I sincerely hope, reignite the flame of the heist genre for more authors to follow suit. It delivers a fast and furious story, elevated by the way in which the authors deals with the cliches, and which still manages to be insightful and thought-provoking all at the same time.

If you've been looking for a good heist novel lately, I strongly recommend you give this one a try.

S. A. Cosby (Author)

S. A. Cosby

S. A. Cosby is an author from Southeastern Virginia whose works of short fiction have appeared in numerous magazines, with “Slant-Six” having been selected as a Distinguished Story in Best American Mystery Stories in 2016.

His short story, “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, had the distinction of earning the 2019 Anthony Award for best short story. He has also published full-length books, including My Darkest Prayer and Blacktop Wasteland.

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