It’s a sign of how popular and well received SA Cosby’s novels Razorblade Tears and Blacktop Wasteland have been that his first novel has now been republished, complete with a new introduction from the author. In that introduction he states that this piece of work was from a writer in progress – one who was already fluent in writing short stories but chose this as his first real attempt at a novel (and taking his own experience of working in a funeral home as a component in the story). To this end, it may be a little less polished in style the two previously mentioned novels in terms of writing subtlety (Descriptions, particularly physical ones, might be a little more over written, the humour signposted by ‘he/ she broke out laughing at my response” or other characters remarking on the witticisms coming from a funny guy, compared to the author’s following books which had the confidence to just let the humour and characters stand on their own. But I hasten to add – this is with the benefit of hindsight. If you haven’t read SA Cosby yet, I want to say up front his writing is funny (sometimes in the darkest way) and his characters are, from his earliest work to his most recent novel, some of the best creations in recent literature. So saying anything about this being ‘less finessed’ than the later books is, for me, like saying Stephen King’s Richard Bachman books are ‘less polished’ than the books published under his own name – and I loves me some Richard Bachman.
So, the plot:
Nathan Waymaker is an ex-marine, ex-cop, current funeral home worker, who gets involved with a suspicious suicide when he’s asked to investigate by associates of the dead man. What follows is a tangled web involving church, authorities and local bad guys big and small.
There are certain elements which showed the author’s influences – some of which would carry through to his break through novels: there were, it seemed to me (and I could be completely wrong in the author’s own reading influences/ likes) dashes of Joe Lansdale and Andrew Vachss, as well as the character Skunk, who plays the deadly, shadowy cameo role in this novel that Joe Pike plays in early Robert Crais novels or Win plays in earlier Myron Bolitar novels from Harlan Coben.
One thing I’d point out about my consumption of this book – I listened to the audio version rather than reading the print edition. I’m firmly of the belief that an audio version really shows you an author’s chops. I could mention several bestselling authors I’ve listened to works from which have been fine on the page, but when you listen to them the dialogue really sounds tin eared. Part of that can sometimes come down to the narrator of course, but more often than not it’s just that the audio is less forgiving than the page. SA Cosby’s works have, I’m pretty sure, all been narrated by Adam Lazarre White and they’re a perfect match. Of course, it helps that Cosby’s dialogue is so good, but the choice of narrator really is perfect in terms of capturing the style and mood of the author’s words.
Is it as good as the author’s follow up novels? Perhaps not quite at those stellar levels, but compared to 99% of crime/ mystery books out there this is still very much at the top of the tree for me.
The ending suggests there might have been the intention, and certainly the scope, to turn this into a series: while the main points of the plot were all completely resolved there were certainly enough finer details around characters and background, as well as a sign that things aren’t over for the main character, to suggest this could have become an ongoing saga. As much as I enjoyed the book, in the grand scheme of things, maybe it’s a good thing it didn’t get the plaudits that paved the way for the exceptional books that followed – but I’d be more than happy to hear more about Nathan Waymaker in the future at some point.
Available now in Paperback, Kindle and Audio from Headline