Titus Crown, elected first black sheriff of the fictional Virginia county of Charon in All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby, has years of experience investigating terrible crimes. Even in the rural community, Crown tends to expect the worst from others, constantly on the hunt for motivation.
Many residents of such rural places argue that racist wrongdoings are part of the past, “washed away by the river of time that flows every forward” and “those things should be forgotten and left to the ages.” Crown knows better. “The South doesn’t change. You can try to hide the past, but it comes back in ways worse than the way it was before.”
Racism and religion thrive side by side in the South, and Crown generally declines to argue with men of God, noting “I left that abusive relationship a long time ago.” The death of a beloved parent often prompt children to question their faith, and after his own mother died from a debilitating disease, Crown realized “adults didn’t really know more than kids. That everyone was making it up as they went along and religion was just another crutch, like liquor or weed.”
Despite strong opinions and volatile emotions, Crown presents a stoic front. He cares for his elderly father, even as Crown cannot forget, “that the night his mother died his father had left two little boys alone to fend for themselves with just a vague notion of salvation for their mother.” To himself, Crown admits “there was still a thirteen-year-old inside of him that hated his father just a little bit.” But there is love, too. A simple action of a hand to a shoulder, “gentle words, was why he loved his father more than that little boy hated him.”
Crown’s conflicted past as an FBI agent and his history as an investigator, including the recent discovery of seven children tortured and murdered, reinforce his religious skepticism. For Crown, religion had thousands of years and chances to stem evil, instead falling prey to human interpretation and manipulation. As he explains to one man of God, “the devil is just the name we give to the terrible things we do to each other.”
Overqualified for the sheriff position, Crown is meticulous, certainly not as eager as town officials to close cases quickly and protect tourism. Every clue must be collected and analyzed. “Might be nothing, might be everything. Titus thought that summed up the startlingly random nature of most police investigations.”
The writing is strong and personal opinions are delicately inserted, never interfering with the plot. The protagonist is a keen and moral observer of human behavior and emotion: “That was often how crimes were solved.” That does not exclude analyzing and dwelling on his own motivations and connections.