Titus Crown is overqualified to be the sheriff of rural Charon County, Va. He went to UVa on a football scholarship, Columbia for grad school, and spent a decade working on domestic terrorism cases with the FBI. But after a raid gone bad at a fundamentalist compound, Titus moved back into his childhood home and ran for sheriff, hoping to clean up a history of racial prejudice and corruption.
His first big challenge comes when a troubled young Black man walks into the local high school and shoots a very popular teacher dead, getting shot dead by one of Titus’s deputies in the aftermath. In the investigation that follows, Sheriff Crown and his department realize that the teacher was in fact a monster who left a pile of dead, Black children in his wake. And worse, he has an accomplice who’s still out there and may strike again.
It’s a dark, but intriguing premise for a crime novel, but S.A. Cosby doesn’t do it justice. The novel is overstuffed with incidents and superfluous characters. It is entirely too easy to see the gears of the plot spinning. Characters are introduced and their role in the plot is immediately obvious. Cosby’s prose is riddled with cliched similes and hacky down home phrases. He’s not really interested in the mystery of the killer’s identity, and indeed the reveal is extremely anti-climactic. The book is caught in a no-man’s land, neither entertaining enough to be genre fiction nor elevated enough to be the socially-conscious literary fiction the author seems to wish it to be.
Cosby is on surer footing with his protagonist. Titus is a compelling central figure. Guilt-ridden and closed off to other people, he is a dutiful public servant, but as a Black man living in America he is sympathetic to the townfolk skeptical that anything can be done to clean up the Sheriff’s department. He’s a character the reader will like spending time with, I just wish he had a more cohesive story surrounding him.