Earlier this summer we spoke with S. A. Cosby, author of one of our favorite thrillers of the year: Blacktop Wasteland. We had a fun, long-ranging conversation that included some of his reading recommendations. Sadly we had to edit the interview for length, but his recommendations were too good not to share.
We asked him about the book that made him a reader, the book that sparked his interest in writing, and what he recommends reading during the long, strange summer of 2020.
Read on for his answers.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Let me think, the book that made me a reader. I was 10 years old, I was way too young; I was already a voracious reader of juvenile literature like The Hardy Boys (I'm telling my age now), Nancy Drew, and the Three Investigators. By the way, I loved the Three Investigators; I actually thought the Three Investigators were better than the Hardy Boys, but anyway, the book that I read that made me realize I love reading, that it was something that could transport me to another world: my aunt gave me her copy of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I was about 10 years old. I had no business reading that book, none whatsoever. In fact, after I finished that book I slept with a silver butter knife under my pillow for a week, afraid vampires were going to come get me. Reading that book, I think, was the first time that I actually felt like I was in that world that the writer had created. I felt like I was in Salem’s Lot. I felt like I could see Ben Mears, I felt like I could see Mark Petrie in my mind, I could see the head vampire, Barlow. I re-read that book a while back and it still holds up for me. That small town of Salem’s Lot is very like where I grew up in Mathews, Virginia. That was the first book where I felt “Wow, man, this is incredible, it's blowing my mind.” After that I became a voracious reader of Stephen King and then spread out to other things. But Salem’s Lot was the first grown up book that I read and really understood what a talented writer could do for a reader.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
The book that made me want to be a writer was—again, too young, shouldn't have been reading it—Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. I read it and it made me realize, up until then I had been a fan of all kinds of mystery, horror, and sci-fi, and they were all white writers. You know: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers, and all of that. And Ellery Queen (I love Ellery Queen). But reading Devil in a Blue Dress, it was the first book that I read that I realized that, you know what? I can tell a story about people who look like me. It may not be as good as Mr. Mosley's book, but he showed me a pathway, showed me how to do it. I think my early work was a pastiche of Walter Mosley's. His work showed me there was a way to do it, a way to talk about it, and you could get published, and that's what made me want to get really serious about writing.
Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett
If you haven't read anything by Kellye Garrett, rectify that immediately. She has two books in her Detective by Day series, starting with Homicide Hollywood. They're incredibly funny, fast-paced, smart, Black girl magic, cozy mysteries. They aren't my usual taste; they take place in L.A. on the periphery of the Hollywood scene. But Kellye is such an incredible writer with such a gift for dialogue and plot that even a big old husky hoss like me can sit down and read mysteries that hinge on clothing consignment shops! She's just an incredible writer.
Broken Places by Tracy Clark
Tracy Clark is incredible writer. Read anything by her. She writes a series, the Chicago Mystery series. The first one in the series is Broken Places, and like I said, she's an incredible wordsmith.
They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall
Rachel Howzell Hall is amazing. What blows me away is, I'm in awe of writers who can write thrillers in that way and take a familiar plot device—strangers in a deserted area—and really turn it up.
The Cambodian Curse and Other Stories by Gigi Pandian
Next up is a collection of short stories by Gigi Pandian; she writes locked-room stories and she's probably one of the best locked-room story writers out there right now. Gigi’s short stories feature her crime-solving historian and amateur detective, Jaya Jones. They're great. She also writes a magical realism series. But her locked-room stuff is just amazing.
Three-Fifths by John Vercher
If you haven't read of John Vercher’s Three-Fifths, it’s an excellent, excellent book.
What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt
Two more books: they're not mining the same territory, but I love them and I think people should read them. The first is: What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt. He is a Southern crime writer/filmmaker/screenwriter. He's an incredible writer and was nominated for an Anthony [Award] a few years ago. What We Reckon is such a modern classic, in my opinion, of Southern Gothic fiction. It's like if Jim Thompson had written a book and he had a bit of a sense of humor.
The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Last on the list is one of my all-time favorites. I read it a few years ago and it just blew me away: The Devil All the Time. I think they're making a movie of it. It's such an incredible story. It's not Southern per se, more Midwestern Ohio/West Virginia Valley in the fifties, but it has a Dickensian flow to it: multiple characters, multiple points of view, but just raw and real. The beauty of the prose belies the grotesqueness of the story. It's definitely a book where you're afraid to turn the next page but the writing is so good you can't stop.
S.A. Cosby, author of one of our favorites thrillers of 2020 so far, dishes on the book that made him a reader, the book that made him a writer, and what he recommends we read this summer.