Review: All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

cover of All the Sinners BleedAll the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby
Flatiron Books (June 6, 2023)
352 pages; $23.79 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Blending social issues, unforgettable characters, and razor-sharp prose, S.A. Cosby has muscled his way to the front of the crime fiction genre. Cosby’s newest, All the Sinners Bleed, showcases his horror/thriller roots in a way we haven’t seen since his debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, and stands poised to cement the author’s position as the new king of the crime hill.

The story starts with an incident that’s all too familiar to us now: a young man walks into a school with a gun. He targets and kills a popular teacher before being gunned down by local law on the school’s steps.

The task of finding out why Latrell Macdonald  gunned down Jeff Spearman falls to Sheriff Titus Crown, a man who is almost rigid with dignity and purpose. Crown is the first black sheriff in this small Southern county’s history, and he’s well aware of the scrutiny he’s under. As if a young black male murdering a popular white teacher isn’t complicated enough, Crown is also attempting to mediate a dispute brewing over a Confederate statue in town.

It’s your classic powder keg….and then Crown makes a discovery that casts the victim, the killer, and the entire investigation in a whole new light.

Cosby does an incredible job of presenting all of this from Crown’s perspective. The sheriff has so much to balance here: the knowledge of the lives and perceptions he’s about to destroy; the responsibility he feels toward the victims; the burden of protecting those around him; and the job of shepherding a very delicate, immensely important investigation. We see his pain, his determination, and his doubt, and the way these things shape his work and his relationships.

I’d say the second best character, behind Crown, is the county itself. Cosby brings it alive in a way that’s reminiscent of Stephen King’s towns of Derry, Castle Rock, and Jerusalem’s Lot. He sprinkles in a handful of chapters written from Charon County’s perspective, chapters that examine the inner thoughts and hidden lives of its inhabitants. In these chapters we learn a bit about the town’s history, and about the darkness that has enveloped it from the beginning.

There’s a little Silence of the Lambs deep in this book’s DNA, and a nice helping of some classic slasher tropes to boot. However, Cosby is playing this as a straight crime novel, so don’t go in expecting the next Friday the 13th. It’s gruesome and suspenseful in places, but All the Sinners Bleed isn’t about a supernatural terror preying on Charon County — it’s horror with a human face, the kind of horror that could be hiding in plain sight around the corner or across the street, the kind of horror any of us could have to confront on any given day.

Highly, highly recommended.

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