There are three possible viewpoints a crime fiction can be written in; the crime fighter as a protagonist, the criminal as a protagonist and less often, the crime victim as a protagonist. Blacktop Wasteland takes the second viewpoint with Beauregard ”Bug” Montage as the skilled criminal. Bug is a criminal at heart although he tries to convince himself that that life is in the past. To be fair to him, he makes a genuine effort to draw a line with his past. That his past catches up with him is not the crux of the matter in Blacktop Wasteland. The meat of this thriller is about the life issues that have hedged Bug between in a rocky spot. The melancholy and the constant ache for a better life that has hedged him between a rock and a hard place, are the real deal that makes this book exceptional.
Bug is a loving father, caring son and faithful husband, His car repair shop is going under, his aged mother is about to be kicked out of the care home where she is, his son needs braces, his second son needs new glasses and his daughter is about to skip college due to a lack of funds. None of these family issues is unique to Bug in the real world. What is unique is that he is fighting a demon from his past – one that threatens to define him and his lineage. Maybe if he was not a skilled gateway driver he would be able to banish his demons but because he is an exquisite heist planner and the best getaway driver around, Ronnie comes calling for one last job. A job big enough to tempt Bug but Ronnie and his crew are untidy enough to make the risk almost too much for even Bug and his famed skills.
Like most crime fiction novels, Blacktop Wasteland has lots of violence, guns and action (it also has a lot of car chases). However, what makes it special are the life matters that resonate with the reader long after the last page is turned – family, loyalty, fatherhood and how the colour of one’s skin still mattered in present-day America. Some turns of phrases in the book are a bit too cooked but not enough to stop this from being a very enjoyable read.