A Black father. A white father. Two murdered sons. A quest for vengeance.
Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket in all that time. But a Black man with cops at the door knows to be afraid. The last thing he expects to hear is that his son Isiah has been murdered, along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek. Ike had never fully accepted his son but is devastated by his loss.
Derek’s father Buddy Lee was almost as ashamed of Derek for being gay as Derek was ashamed of his father’s criminal record. Buddy Lee still has contacts in the underworld, though, and he wants to know who killed his boy.
Ike and Buddy Lee, two ex-cons with little else in common other than a criminal past and a love for their dead sons, band together in their desperate desire for revenge. In their quest to do better for their sons in death than they did in life, hardened men Ike and Buddy Lee will confront their own prejudices about their sons and each other, as they rain down vengeance upon those who hurt their boys.
Provocative and fast-paced, S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears is a story of bloody retribution, heartfelt change – and maybe even redemption.Back of the Book
This is my SPOILER-FREE Book Review for
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
This review was cross-posted over at the Fresno LGBT News Link website under the “Book Flow” tab. under “More”
I have often written about genre and how it evolves, encompasses more than one type of thing, and sometimes is hard to pin down. That is definitely the case with Razorblade Tears. It is both a work of gripping Contemporary Fiction and an Adventure/Thriller book. With tight prose, memorable characters, and tropes that are enjoyable despite their familiarity, and some surprises along the way, this book felt more like a drama movie than a book of the month. In fact, -and I rarely say this- I think it would make a well-received film. I hope someone over at Netflix has read it.
Ok, review time.
This is a thriller set in the south. Our protagonists are both southern ex-cons with baggage and the inciting incident that sets the whole plot in motion is the execution-style murder of two men. So… it is a dark book. It is a violent book. It is a sad book. I feel it is a very “male” book, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Most Contemporary Fiction books have women protagonists and deal with “women issues” of relationships both internal and external. The Thriller genre, on the other hand, has been for years a male-dominated genre (as it grew out of the Western and Detective genres which were primarily concerned with men using violence to solve problems), but this trend has been changing as the number of women readers now surpass men readers (at least in the area of fiction) and current publishing trends have started to reflect that change with more women authors and protagonists. This book feels like a bit of a throwback to the more male-centered Thriller/Adventure novel and includes several familiar cliches and tropes, but it also can sit comfortably in the realm of Contemporary Fiction because while violence might be the beginning and end of the action, there is a lot of introspection and relationship building as well.
“Atmosphere” is sometimes called “Tone” and the tone of this book is like a car that feels like it is skidding out of control but from the perspective of the backseat passenger. We have no ability to affect what is happening, we are being carried along, and despite all our feminist thoughts on equality, there is something comforting in the fact that our father is behind the wheel managing the danger and will most likely be able to set things right at some point. Men are still socially constructed to be the violent protectors and one needs only to glance at the crop of network television shows or big-budget films to see that our culture still likes a tough male lead who can handle business.
S: Writing STYLE
Cosby writes clearly and his prose is easy to read. There is no real poetry to the text, but that makes sense considering the genre, plot, and characters. Dialogue by people with accents can be difficult but Cosby manages this perfectly. There are no ten-dollar words here, and the story is told mostly in the present tense with only a few well-timed and well-written flashbacks. This book was an easy read and even the violence was written in a way that could satisfy the squeamish and the bloodthirsty alike.
As I said, there are a few flashbacks and the central driving force of the action has already happened before the story opens up, but the narrative moves along at a pretty quick clip. It was only after I finished the book that I realized how little time had actually transpired. Action-packed? Well, I would say “action-full” with enough breaks that the reader can catch their breath and also sit with the uncomfortable truths and consequences. This was not an adrenaline rush book even though there were some exciting climatic bits. Again, it felt like it could easily be adapted for the big screen. An adaptation which, by the way, would need very little in terms of either padding or trimming. As for the plot itself, I was definitely invested even after the book took its turn into the thriller/action genre. There were no loose ends, no head-scratching moments. Cosby does a great job of letting us readers follow the action as it unfolds and we learn the important bits of information alongside our characters. Even the forgone conclusion was satisfying, which is no small feat considering that it was also a bit predictable.
Yup. After a slightly slow start, the story moved along well, and there was plenty to keep you invested. It is a fast read partly because it is interesting and you want to know what is going to happen next. Even when I could only snatch a few pages at a time, this book was worth digging out of my bag.
Probably the best part of the book was the characters. We had authenticity, we had pathos, we had satisfaction… and -most importantly- we had actual character development for both of our main characters. Both had distinct voices, motivations, and baggage. Both fathers grew and changed, and both felt like totally authentic real people you would actually encounter. I particularly liked the very honest discussions of race and privilege that I swear Cosby might have just copied down from an overheard conversation in a coffee shop or Walmart checkout line somewhere. Kudos to Cosby for giving us characters that we could sympathize with and root for while still feeling conflicted about the actions they were taking. Another shout-out to the well written dialogue.
T: Why THIS Book?
It had the LGBTQ tag on it but clearly was going to not have any actual LGBTQ characters in it. This was intriguing to me.
Would I recommend it?
Speaking of blended genre books… as I said, this book was tagged as an LGBTQ book. And yet. The two gay characters have died before the first page. So, is this really an LGBTQ book? Sort of. Both of the fathers were estranged from their sons because of their inability to accept that they were gay. Both fathers still love their sons despite their bigotry and lack of acceptance. And both fathers come to realize that they were wrong to let something like that stand in the way of time with their children. There is a very profound lesson to be found here that time is short and you can love someone who you don’t fully understand. It is a sad lesson because it, obviously, comes too late.
Maybe this is more of a PFLAG book because it definitely seems to be written for an audience of parents (maybe targeted toward fathers) who might not be fully on board with their children’s life choices or queer identities. Hey, this book seems to be saying, Is it really worth losing your child over that? Can you imagine if your child died thinking that you didn’t love them? Can you even imagine the guilt and sadness you would feel because your heart is hard and your mind is closed? Maybe you need to reevaluate some things before it is too late.
I think it is brilliant to have both that lesson of acceptance and that powerful warning exist in a book that harkens back to the Western style of “two men out for justice” and utilizes the concepts of “enemies to friends,” “violence solves a lot of problems,” and “the ends justify the means.” All of which are very (toxic) male genre types of ideas.
It is also worth noting that the sons were not killed because they were gay. Their gayness did not set into motion the murder or the retribution. However, it was the reason for the estrangement and it serves the purpose of eliciting character growth in our protagonists. So yeah, this is a book about men on a quest for justice/vengeance… but it is really a book about two unlikely partners overcoming a whole host of bad indoctrination and grieving the mistakes of their past.
And while I think that we need more queer representation in literature (especially outside of the romance genre), I do think we also need the representation of the Boomer generation coming to terms and getting over the bad lessons they were taught before it is too late as well. We need more books written in the style and genre that these people might read. In terms of that, I think this book was great and I highly recommend it. If there is a Boomer in your life who might be teetering on the edge of waking up to progressive ideals, especially if they are a man who likes Westerns, Sons of Anarchy, or Clint Eastwood movies… why not gift them this book.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?