Thursday Thriller Audio: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (July 6, 2021)
Length: 12 hrs
Narrator: Adam Lazarre-White
I wish I had the words to describe Razorblade Tears. A crime novel at its heart, the story also has elements of a gritty revenge thriller, but it is also about so much more. The book follows two men, Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins, a couple of rough-around-the-edges ex-cons whose lives would never have crossed had fate not put them on the same path for truth and retribution.
One might even think all this sounds just a bit like the beginnings of a buddy vigilante story, had the circumstances not been so tragic. Ike, a black man, got out of jail fifteen years ago and vowed to turn his back on the criminal world after he saw how it nearly cost him his family. But when his son Isiah came out to him and announced that he was going to marry the love of his life Derek, Ike couldn’t find it in himself to accept it, tearing a new rift in their relationship. Derek’s father Buddy Lee, who is white, was not so supportive of his son either when he found out, but things between them were already strained due to the older man’s alcoholism and multiple stints in prison.
Both our protagonists saw themselves as failed fathers. Neither were able to accept that their sons were gay, declining to attend the wedding. But mere months later, Ike and Buddy Lee receive the devastating news—their boys are dead, gunned down outside an upscale wine store in Richmond, Virginia. Meeting for the first time at their sons’ funerals, the two of them recognize in each other their pain and regret, and when the police turn up no leads, Ike and Buddy Lee decide to team up and do right by their children by finding their killer. For some reason though, people seem reluctant to come forward with any information. It almost seems like they’re afraid. Fortunately, Ike and Buddy Lee still have their contacts in the underworld, and unlike the authorities, they don’t have to do things by the book or worry about getting their hands dirty. They might not have been there for Isiah and Derek when they were alive, but they’d be damned if they were going to let those who killed them walk free…and when they catch them, there will be hell to pay.
Still, I promise this won’t be like any revenge story you’ve read before. It doesn’t matter how much violence and chaos and death Ike and Buddy Lee leave behind, the book never lets us forget why the two men are doing it in the first place. Despite this being first and foremost a mystery crime thriller, with some brutal action thrown in, it was also a heartbreaking read. Here we have two fathers grieving the loss of their beloved sons. It’s a pain that’s always near the surface, the idea that some things are just too late, and there’s no way to go back in time to right the wrongs. So not only is Razorblade Tears a tale of vengeance, in many ways it is also a tale of redemption, for both Ike and Buddy Lee realize they will never be able to see their boys again and tell them they love them, or say they’re sorry. All they have is the way forward, and while it won’t ever be enough, knowing that the corrupt system has failed to bring Isiah and Derek justice, finding out who killed them will be a good first step to absolution.
There are also some powerful messages here, handled in incredibly meaningful, nuanced ways. At first, a tenuous bridge is built between the racial divide as Ike and Buddy Lee team up, brought together by their shared grief and anger towards those responsible for their sons’ murders. But this partnership gradually grows into a genuine friendship of trust and loyalty as both men start to better understand each other. Together they also share stories of fatherhood, their guilt at having rejected their sons for being gay, lamenting their past mistakes and all that they wish they could take back. Years of ingrained upbringing and viewpoints might not be changing overnight, but by the end of the book, the main characters definitely reach a point where they are willing to open their minds and see things differently.
If there was a single weak point in the novel though, it might be the story. Still, these are relatively minor issues, like a few instances where the plot leans heavily on tropes, or where someone might act out of character or do something irrational just for the sake of moving things in the right direction. And although the identity of the killer was obfuscated behind layers of motivations and even the involvement of a rough biker gang, ultimately it was still pretty easy to guess who was behind it all.
Still, I loved this book. Razorblade Tears is easily the most hard-hitting thriller novel I’ve read so far this year. If you’re looking for crime fiction that’s unflinchingly brutal, emotionally cutting, and moves at a relentless pace, then you need to pick this up. Also kudos to Adam Lazarre-White, the narrator the audiobook. Some of his voices could use a bit more emotion, but overall I loved his portrayal of the characters. Highly recommended if you want a suspenseful and thought-provoking read. This one definitely needs to be made into a movie.