‘Blacktop Wasteland’ by S. A. Cosby – highly recommended

‘Blacktop Wasteland’ was one of those rare books that left me lost in admiration when I finished the last page. This was my immediate response:


What a powerful book.

A tense, exciting, vivid thriller that is character-driven and is as much about a man trying to decide on the kind of man he really is as it is about heists and violence while bringing the life of a black man in the contemporary South into focus.

And the narrator completely nails every nuance of this book.

Like I said, wonderful.”

I decided to wait a while to write this review to see if my opinion would alter once the initial gush of ‘That was great‘ subsided. On mature reflection, my enthusiasm remained undiminished but I was able to see a little more clearly what made this such a powerful book.

‘Blacktop Wasteland‘ tells a story that is well beyond my personal experience. Everything in it is ‘other‘ to me – language, race, country, muscle car street racing culture, a family man’s struggles to pay for his children’s health care, the potential for violence following you like a shadow every day – and yet I was immediately immersed in it all. It felt real and three-dimensional. 

‘Blacktop Wasteland’ opens with an action-packed street racing scene that is a long way from the sanitised violence and glamour of the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise. This meeting between street racers was vivid, exciting, tinged with risk and eventually tainted by abuse and betrayal. None of it was decorative. It wasn’t there just to give the reader a thrill. Its purpose was to start to reveal the personality of Beauregard “Bug” Montage,

His character, his struggle to decide the kind of man he is going to be, drives the whole book.

He is a man who has compartmentalised his life so that he can be two people. As Beauregard, his adult name, he is a loving father and husband and a business owner who works tirelessly to keep his family safe. As Bug, his nîckname since childhood, he is a dangerous man who responds to threats with escalating and remorseless violence, who plans and executes crimes with discipline, who has a reputation for being the best getaway driver in the business and who only feels truly alive when he’s behind the wheel of a muscle car evading the police pursuing him.

As the events of the book unfold, he comes to understand that this compartmentalisation cannot hold. That, as he puts it, ‘No man can be two beasts’. That he’ll have to choose between being Beauregard or being Bug. His fear is that, although Beauregard is who he wants to be, Bug is his true self.

Yet this isn’t a book about a man engaged in quiet introspection while lost in existential angst. S. A. Cosby delivers a tense thriller with all the trappings of a good heist movie: a good plan doomed to failure, robberies and gun battles, spectacular car chases, dishonour amongst thieves and the threat of violent men set on finding and killing the gang.

What makes the book remarkable is the way he uses this well-executed thriller to externalise Beau’s interior struggle, pulling me into his world and getting me invested in his success.

I loved the way S. A. Cosby keeps stacking the odds against Beau, almost as if he was the hero in a Greek tragedy, being tormented by the Gods. For the first half of the book, I could feel doom gathering around Beau, like clouds heavy with unshed rain. The possibility of loss was in the air, like the stink of gasoline. I began to doubt that anyone would come out of this story unscathed. 

Beau is surrounded by a diverse cast of well-drawn characters. Some are weak and bring their doom with them. Some are strong but unable to stay away from the things that will end them. Some are almost bystanders, swept up by the flash flood of violence the doom storm brings.

Even before I learned Beau’s backstory, I could see the scars that it had left on him and feel the joyful violence that he kept in check. His backstory gave me some context but didn’t overstep and try to explain Beau’s faults away and turn him into a hero. Beau remains a man defined by his struggle.

I strongly recommend listening to the audiobook version of ‘Blacktop Wasteland’. Adam Lazare-White’s narration nails every nuance of the book. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

S. A. Cosby is an American Anthony Award-winning writer from Southeastern Virginia. He is the author of Razorblade Tears (2021) and Blacktop Wasteland (2020), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book, and was named a best book of the year by NPR, The Guardian, and Library Journal,

5 thoughts on “‘Blacktop Wasteland’ by S. A. Cosby – highly recommended

  1. Yes! Cosby is the real deal! If you get a chance, I think his latest comes out in June: All the Sinners Bleed, and I highly recommend it. Lazarre-White narrates that one as well. Cosby is one of my new, MUST READ authors.


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