All The Sinners Bleed is the third Southern noir book by S.A. Cosby that I have read, after Blacktop Wasteland (2020) and Razorblade Tears (2021). I was very happy to be alerted by the Libby app that this book was available for a 1-week loan; it took me only four days to finish reading it—All The Sinners Bleed was almost impossible to put down once started.
Like the two previous books by Cosby that I have read, All The Sinners Bleed is set in the rural South. This time the protagonist is Titus Crown, who has recently surprised himself—and Charon County in rural Virginia where he was born and raised—to become the first Black man elected Sheriff.
The book begins with a bang (literally!) on the first anniversary of Titus’ election with a shooting (at Jefferson Davis HIgh School!) where a mentally troubled Black man named Lattrell Macdonald shoots and kills a well-regarded science teacher Mr. Spearman and is then himself shot by the (white) members of the sheriff’s department after brandishing a rifle while muttering incoherently about Mr. Spearman’s phone. When Titus investigates what reasons Latrell could possibly have to kill Mr. Spearman he discovers a horrifying secret which roils the entire small town of Charon.
It turns out that Mr. Spearman was a murderous pedophile, who preyed upon young Black children, assisted by Latrell to do so, while wearing masks and costumes. Even the casual description of Mr. Spearman’s acts are nauseating and Titus takes it upon himself to spare his deputies from seeing the worst stuff himself once they get a search warrant to search Spearman’s house. (The people who do watch the videotapes and view the pictures often find themselves vomiting afterwards and questioning their religious faith.) However, it soon becomes clear that there's a third man who is either white or a very light-skinned Black guy who was also involved in the heinous acts that were committed and this person, who Titus calls “The Last Wolf” is still on the loose.
Cosby does an excellent job of depicting the internal dialogue and philosophical contradictions that Titus has as a black man serving in a public-facing law enforcement role. Many in the community want to see the incidents only in black and white: i.e., “crazy black guy killed beloved white teacher,” or “brave white cop killed armed black guy,” but Titus takes a more nuanced view because he has a job to do: catch this m****f*****. Cosby shows how the procedures and rules the sheriff's office needs to follow don’t allow him to be as forthcoming to the public in as timely a fashion as he (or they) would like. Titus is laser focused on solving the crime and capturing the remaining at-large sicko who has been raping and torturing Black kids to death. But both the black and white concerned citizens of Charon are not happy with the way Titus is doing his job in light of the revelation that Charon County has a resident serial killer on the loose.
An important characteristic of detective novels is not only how interesting the protagonist is but also how well-drawn the supporting characters are done. In the case of All The Sinners Bleed, Titus is a fully realized main character. He lives with his elderly father and has a complicated relationship with him due to his father’s (in)actions after the death of Titus’s mom decades before. These events also complicated Titus’s relationship with his brother, who dealt with his grief by using drugs. Additionally, the reasons that Titus moved back to Charon County in the first place after leaving the FBI are slowly revealed (in intermittent flashbacks) with more details that cast him in a less heroic and more realistic fashion.
Of course, since this is a genre novel, we end up with a lot more violence and dead bodies than the ones from the school shooting scene that began the book. It’s clear that the perpetrator of these atrocities is becoming more unhinged as Titus’s investigation gets closer and closer to revealing who The Last Wolf is.
In the end, Titus (and the reader) discover who the serial killer is and stops his crime spree, but not until after a number of more horrific acts get perpetrated. Overall, I enjoyed spending time in the company of Titus, but events towards the end of the book and the fact that Cosby appears to not feel the need to build multiple mystery stories around the same character/detective, mean that it is unlikely that he’ll appear in another Cosby southern noir book. Even if that is the case, I definitely hope that we get more books from Cosby!
Title: All The Sinners Bleed.
Author: S.A. Cosby.
Length: 352 pages.
Date Published: November 1, 2022.
Date Read: June 27, 2023.
OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).