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All the Sinners Bleed
S.A. Cosby
Flatiron Books, 2023

S.A. Cosby (Razonblade Tears, Blacktop Wasteland) delivers a new crime novel, this time featuring local sheriff Titus Crown, the first Black sheriff of Charon, Virginia, which boasts a Confederate statue and a band of Confederate yahoos along with the Black community, some of whom now see Titus the “sheriff” as an oreo because that office never much gave a damn about them in the past. Titus is ex-FBI and has resigned due to a dark episode in Indiana, which is hinted at but never fully revealed until near the end.  He says he’s returned to Charon to help his father, which he does, though his demons drove him there and continue to haunt him.

The book begins with a school shooting.  Only the well loved geography teacher, Mr. Spearman, was shot and killed. The shooter, a mentally troubled Black boy named Latrell, exits the school with his rifle held over his head, shouting at Titus:  “You don’t know the things I’ve done. I tried to stop, and they said they’d kill my little brother. The Angel, he never took off his mask. But Mr. Spearman, he liked for them to see his face.”  Titus yells at his officers to hold fire, but one of them fires a fatal shot.

Some of the Black townspeople are claiming that Latrell was shot unfairly by a white cop even though the crime was heinous.  This plays out in time, but meanwhile Titus had listened to what Latrell had to say and believes there was some truth there. Being ex-FBI, Titus is a good profiler and his instincts lead him in the right direction.

Apart from all the suspense, what I love about S.A. Cosby is how he pulls you into the Black community of a southern town and gets you to look at life through their eyes:  to understand the initial reaction of a white cop shooting a Black boy; to feel what it’s like having to walk by a Confederate statue and commingle with those who proudly wave the Confederate flag; to have to deal with a haughty white city supervisor.  These are things we all understand, but do not always get to see from the inside out.  I think of the great TV series The Wire which pulled us into the drug-infested Baltimore tenements and made us see the world through the eyes of those who lived there.  This is a novel that deserves to be read, that should be read; it delivers the entertainment of a good crime novel and offers a disturbing portrait of our times that begs serious reflection. J.A.

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