S.A. Cosby knows what it feels like to endure rejection, his first novel, “My Darkest Prayer,” got rejected 63 times before it finally found a publisher in 2018. After that Cosby dropped his agent then found another who understood what Cosby is all about. In 2020 his breakout second novel, “Blacktop Wasteland,” placed the author front and center on the crime fiction landscape.
His 2021 follow-up, “Razorblade Tears,” won many awards as Cosby became one of the hottest writers in the genre. His growing fan base wondered: What is this guy going to do next? His new novel, “All the Sinners Bleed,” will be out this week and it is every bit as good as this reviewer could have hoped it might be.
He’s taken a different approach this time. Previous books featured protagonists mostly operating on the wrong side of the law. In “All the Sinners Bleed” his main man is a cop, the sheriff of fictional Charon County, Virginia. Titus Crown is the first African-American to hold that office in this deeply conservative rural locale.
Titus is a former FBI agent, he has returned to the place where he grew up to live with his elderly father. Titus keeps flashing back on something that happened when he was with the FBI. Something really bad. It ended his career with them.
As the story opens he and his deputies have been called over to the local high school — there’s a shooter on the loose. When they arrive on the scene they get the students evacuated then confront the gunman, a troubled young man with a drug problem.
Titus tries to persuade the killer, who has already shot a beloved teacher, to drop his weapon. He doesn’t comply; a deputy kills him. Everybody knows everybody in this small community and they are feeling devastated about the loss of that teacher.
Titus scrutinized the dead teacher’s personal effects. There were shocking films. There’s footage of that school shooter along with the teacher, and a third mysterious man wearing a wolf mask. The videos reveal this evil trio tortured and killed at least seven Black children.
With two suspects already dead, Titus begins to focus on revealing the identity of the third perpetrator in the wolf mask and on locating and identifying the young victims of those sadists. There are clues, Bible quotations, mostly.
With many churches in the community, Titus looks at some possible links between local preachers and the unsolved killings. Titus was raised religious, but he has been avoiding the church of his youth ever since his mother died because he cannot believe in a God who allowed his mother to suffer that much.
This feels personal, like the author is channeling feelings about religion and the brittle legacy of racism in rural Virginia, where Cosby grew up. “All the Sinners Bleed” is another smoking hot read. Cosby’s first novel was recently reissued and Hollywood is all over his stuff. This man never gives up. He has earned this.
Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.