Blacktop Wasteland

Aficionados of good noir have certain expectations: a moral dilemma, a crime, a double cross, a chase and wittily blunt dialogue, all unfolding against a pitiless landscape. S.A. Cosby's unforgettable Blacktop Wasteland has all that, but it doesn't play out in the genre's customary white metropolis. The novel revolves around a Black family living in Virginia's Red Hill County--"no one's destination," as lifelong resident Beauregard Montage puts it.

Things aren't going well for Beauregard. The garage he owns with his cousin is losing customers to a new (white-owned) shop. He's got a mother in a nursing home that needs to be paid, a kid who needs braces, another who needs glasses and still another who won't make it out of Red Hill if Beauregard can't cover her fall college tuition. He's been flying right for a while now: five years in juvie will do that, plus he wants to do better for his kids than his long-absent father did for him. But when Beauregard is invited to be the getaway driver in a diamond heist in another county, does he really have a choice?

Blacktop Wasteland starts with a car chase, and Cosby (My Darkest Prayer) never takes his foot off the accelerator. He's a natural storyteller and a nimble writer (one character is "as useful as a white crayon"). And Cosby works the magic performed by only the best noir scribes: somehow he gets readers to root for the protagonist as he commits a crime. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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