Title: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Author: Tom Franklin
Publisher: William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins
Publish Date: September, 2010
Hardcover, 274 pages
ISBN 10: 0060594667
ISBN 13: 9780060594664
Tom Franklin's extraordinary talent has been hailed by the leading lights of contemporary literature—Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Lee Smith, and Dennis Lehane. Reviewers have called his fiction "ingenious" (USA Today) and "compulsively readable" (Memphis Commercial Appeal). His narrative power and flair for characterization have been compared to the likes of Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy.
Now the Edgar Award-winning author returns with his most accomplished and resonant novel so far—an atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi. In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.
More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.
"M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I.
-How southern children are taught to spell Mississippi"
First Sentence: The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
... and just like that, the reader is pulled into a book teeming with suspicion, intrigue, secrets, and mystery.
In Chabot, MS, Silas Jones is the only law enforcement officer. He is backed up by Roy French, the Gerald County Chief investigator, a former game warden and Vietnam vet.
Larry's father Carl didn't really like him; he was a sickly bookworm, not the strapping athlete that he would have liked to have for a son. As the owner of the Ottomotive Shop, Carl liked to tell stories to the audience that gathered for him daily - stories full of macho swaggering and bravado, and Larry didn't fit into that world. The kids at school called him "Scary Larry", as he was always lugging around a horror story, and he had no friends. His mother Ina's nightly prayer for him was for him to have a friend all his own.
Silas and his mother Alice moved to Chabot in 1979, and Larry's father used to pick them up, coatless in the winter, on the way to school. When Larry's mother found out about it, the rides stopped, but Larry and Silas became uneven sort of friends, secretly and against Carl's wishes. In an incident instigated and provoked by Carl, the boy's friendship disintegrated, and Larry was once again without a single friend. And Silas kept working on his baseball game while he and his mother lived in an unheated shack on Carl's property.
When his nearest neighbor, Cindy Walker, asks him to take her to the drive-in, Larry is beside himself with joy. When Cindy never makes it home, all eyes are on Larry as the culprit, and he is ostracized. He eventually drops out of school and joins the Army, where he emerges as a certified mechanic.
Silas goes to college, and eventually returns to Chabot as a law enforcement officer.
25 years later, Larry is 41, living a solitary existence in his parent's house (his father died in a drunk driving accident and his mother is now in a nursing home) - going to the Ottomotive Shop every day with his only customers being a few people straggling through the town - outsiders all, as no one in the town will take their business to him.
Then Tina Rutherford, 19 years old, the daughter of the mill owner in Chabot, comes home from college for a visit ... and goes missing.
In an instant, tongues start wagging and suspicion points to Larry - he got away with it once, right?
DON'T pick up this book unless you have some time to spend, because once you start it, you won't want to put it down. It's a page turner; you'll keep saying, "OK, just one more chapter." I started reading this about an hour before I planned to go to sleep, and two hours later, I MADE myself close the pages. I went to sleep and dreamed about the book (seriously, THAT'S a sign). The next morning, as soon as Bebe Boy James was off to school, I opened it again and didn't put it down until it was finished.
You can't help feeling sympathy for Larry, who is so desperate for friendship, for conversation, that he even befriends Wallace Stringfellow, a young and cruel man-boy who seems gruesomely fascinated with the mystery of Cindy Walker and what Larry may have done to her. And WHAT made Ina tell Carl he couldn't give Alice and Silas a ride to Larry's school? And what about Cecil Walker, Cindy's drunken stepfather? And who killed the neighborhood marijuana dealer, Morton Morrisette, who used to play baseball with Silas? What made Alice move from Chicago to this rather segregated backwater?
As secrets slowly ... oh, so slowly and deliciously .. unravel, you are left shaking your head, and wondering, "Why didn't I see THAT coming?" There is ONE secret that you may end up having a sort of suspicion of before it is revealed, but you're not ... quite ... sure. This is the best kind of mystery as well as a study in human relationships and the secrets that we all keep.
If it's not on your shelf, it needs to be. It's character-driven, but with mystery, human drama, suspense, and murder all tossed into the mix - a great literary sort of work. No matter your preferred genre, you will probably love this book.
As he did each night before sleep, Larry prayed for his mother, that the following day might be a good one for her, that his cell phone might ring or that, if it was time, the Lord take her quietly. In her sleep. And that God would forgive him his sins and send him customers.
"You know what else?" he said. "I don't care if you done it or not, took that girl. We'd still be friends if you did."
"I wouldn't mind, is all I'm saying. If you had a done it. If you'd a raped that girl. And killed her. Sometimes women can make you crazy can't they? You ain't got to tell me that"
What's missing out of you, Silas?
Courage, he thought.
No wonder he felt at ease among these damn chickens.
Writing: 5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Characters: 5 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 5 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
Sensitive Reader: There are some curse words, but they are essential to the character of the person saying them.
Visit the author's website
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My thanks for this title go to Sharon at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews, where I won this book in a giveaway. I can't find her original review post, but here is a link to her giveaway post.
|This title is listed in my 2011 Books Won Challenge List|
|This title is listed in my 2011 3 R's Challenge list|
|This title is listed in my Off The Shelf Challenge list|
Disclosure: This is a review of my personal copy.