Razorblade Tears is a revenge-focused crime novel about two aging, mostly-ex criminals who set out to avenge the murder of their sons. Both Ike and Buddy Lee have unresolved issues with their sons, who were married to one another – neither man was accepting of their relationship while their children were alive. Their sons had been together since college and had a child together, but neither Ike nor Buddy Lee had more than a passing glance at one another because of their refusal to accept that relationship and participate in the lives of their sons. Both Ike and Buddy Lee had also spent a portion of their children’s lives in jail, which further complicated their relationships with one another. After their sons are brutally murdered together outside of a store, Buddy Lee and Ike both experience excruciating regret for the way in which they missed opportunities to connect with their sons. When the cops lack the ability or desire to solve their sons murder, Buddy Lee reaches out to Ike to convince him to seek justice outside of the law.
Portions of the book read like a buddy comedy – as in all the best buddy comedies, Ike and Buddy Lee are VERY different but have a strong enough connection that it’s plausible they would be working together. Ike is a Black man who was known for a period of time as Riot. He’s put his violent past behind him and has been running a successful lawn care business for many years, but his son’s murder reignites the anger that fueled him when he was known as Riot. Buddy Lee is a white, alcoholic ex-con who has strong convictions about loyalty and a moral code that doesn’t preclude committing felonies. Both fathers bond over their regrets about how their homophobia prevented them from enjoying a relationship with their sons. There are moments where Ike calls Buddy Lee out on his casual racism, and moments where both Ike and Buddy Lee are forced to face their own struggles with acceptance of LGBTQ folks. For the most part, characters calling one another out or in for racism and homophobia and sexism happens as part of dialogue that moves the story forward and feels seamlessly integrated into the plot. The story is able to make a point about what it’s like for people to live in America at this time while also delivering a fast-paced thriller.
For me, the book is a four star rather than five star because I’m only so-so on crime novels with tons of violence. I love the character driven parts of the plot, but parts sort of reminded me of the end of a Stephen King novel, which I always simply speed through – I don’t like reading long descriptions of violent fights. If that’s your jam, this books has some of that – it’s definitely a blood-soaked sort of journey. Like a lot of crime novels, when you realize who is responsible, there’s a feeling that it’s a little TOO pat, but I think the writer was able to more or less sell the close connections here. Cosby gives his novel a clear resolution but I think it’s an open and interesting question whether there was true redemption here, too.