Hell on Earth

Bob Moyer takes a look at the latest book by an award-winning and best-selling crime novelist from southeastern Virginia, and likes what he reads.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

ALL THE SINNERS BLEED. By S.A. Cosby. Flatiron Books (Macmillan).  352 pages.


Charon County, the fictional Virginia setting of this novel, seems a typical Southern rural county: racial tension on a muted but regular basis, a town square in the county seat with a Confederate statue, two businesses owned by old white families that anchor the economy, a bar from which most of the drugs are distributed and a lot of pickups.

Charon is protector of the underworld in Greek mythology.

It seems, in author Cosby’s telling, Charon County and Charon’s country have something in common — they’re both hell to live in.

Titus Crown suffers his own personal hell at the beginning of the book. Having gone through the University of Virginia, Columbia and the FBI, he ended up back home, elected the first Black sheriff of the county. The white folks didn’t want him in the first place, and the Black folks have distanced themselves because they think he hasn’t done enough for them. He wonders whether it’s worth it.

Then evil breaks through the thin veneer of society.

A Black former student shoots the most popular white high school teacher in his classroom, and in turn is shot by a white deputy. Then Titus discovers evidence that the two dead men were part of a trio that sexually abused, tortured, and killed young black people — and the third person could still be at large. Sure enough, he lets the county know he is still alive and still killing. He leaves corpses in horrific condition, biblical verses carved into their flesh, all around the countryside. The populace is traumatized.

Cosby has written not just a mystery puzzle, in which pieces fall into place neatly. He has created a social discourse, in which the murders in the present poison the community, and secrets from the past open up old wounds. People are driven apart, even driven away, by the evil in the present emerging from the past. There’s more than just young bodies buried in Charon County.

Cosby writes with fluent comprehension of Southern society, an ear for dialogue and an eye for detail. He keeps plot progress and character development pulsing throughout the narrative, until there is a final confrontation between good and evil. He continues to establish himself as a preeminent writer of not just good mysteries, but also good novels.

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