All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: June 6, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Southern Grit, Suspense
It occurred to him no place was more confused by its past or more terrified of the future than The South.
It’s always gratifying to watch a new author come into their own. I’ve been reading S.A. Cosby since his debut Blacktop Wasteland and have found his writing getting stronger with each of his novels. His latest, All the Sinners Bleed, is a taut, propulsive thriller about the struggles of a Black sheriff in a small Virginia town after a school shooting upends the town’s complacency, revealing decades of secrets that have rotted its very foundation.
Titus Crowne leaves his FBI job in Indiana to return to his hometown where he runs for and is elected as sheriff. He’s the first Black sheriff in the county’s history, an unwelcome change for many of the residents and department employees. A year into his tenure, as things are settling down, the killing of a Black teen in response to a school shooting puts Crowne at odds with not just the county’s elected officials, but with members of his own team, as one of the deceased, a beloved member of the community, is discovered to have been leading a heinous double life.
All the Sinners Bleed is a DARK thriller. Not just thematically, but explicitly. A heads up for squeamish readers: The crimes in the novel are gory. This is not a favorite in my fiction, but they are a critical component in the story’s narrative. The key is that they’re not the novel’s focus, a sign of Cosby’s continuing growth as a writer. His first two novels relied on a great deal of testosterone with brutal fights as the only way to resolve conflict. All the Sinners Bleed, as gruesome as sections are, has more nuance. Titus is not just a Black sheriff in a Southern town long used to mistreating Blacks. He’s a law officer struggling to reconcile his own past, the son of an ailing father, and a man who knows he should be in a better place with his relationships, but can’t seem to get there.
Cosby combines these elements with confidence and, while some of them are a bit extra, they’re true to his style. There’s nothing understated in any of his novels, but within their sphere, whether on the wrong side of the law or the right, his characters feel authentic, as do their encounters with the virulent racism, corruption, and religious fundamentalism still to be found in the rural South. That he can do this while still clocking in with Formula One pacing and tsunami levels of tension make All the Sinners Bleed the kind of mystery that is impossible to put down.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.*