Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Summary: 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 character-ization 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. -- William Morrow 

I was so excited to see that CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin was nominated for a 2011 Edgar Award. I have only read one other book on the list  -- Laura Lippman's I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE (my review) which I adored, but I can most definitely see why CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER is considered one of the best mystery books of the year. It was soooo good!

CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER tells the story of Larry and Silas, two men who were friends when they were younger despite their many differences. When a girl goes missing in a small Mississippi town, Silas (who is now the town constable) begins to investigate and the immediate suspect is his old friend Larry. That's because, over 20 years ago a teenage girl went missing after a date with Larry. Larry never admitted to the crime, nor was he ever found guilty, but he has always been blamed for the crime.

After the first girl went missing, Larry chose to stay in his hometown, leading basically a very lonely existence -- oh how my heart broke for him; while Silas disappeared for years before returning as a constable. The two men had no contact after the strange disappearance of the girl. Fast forward 20 years, Larry and Silas are brought back together as a result of another unfortunate crime; and now, they both have to face their past and come to terms with each other's actions.

Based on the description of CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER, you can probably guess that the cases of the missing girls are the "mystery" parts of this novel. The book does delve into these crimes and eventually offers the reader explanations for both; however, I wouldn't say that the mystery is what made this book so special (although it was a good one.) Rather, it was Mr. Franklin's writing -- it was nothing short of spectacular!

I just want to rave about how well written CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER was. Not only did the story unfold beautifully as the book went back and forth between the present day and the past, but the characters were remarkably well developed, especially for a book of this genre. Both Larry and Silas were incredibly complex, yet flawed, characters; and I just felt as if their relationship was portrayed so realistically -- and honestly. In addition, I thought Mr. Franklin's dialogue was spot-on, right down to the regional colloquialisms and dialect.

And that brings me to my next point... Mr. Franklin's descriptions of the setting. The book takes place in rural Mississippi (thus the title -- it's a rhyme to help kids remember how to spell Mississippi) and Mr. Franklin brought this small town to life. I could see and feel this town right down to the old jeep that Silas drove, to Larry's deserted automobile shop, to the woods where the girl's body was found. Mr. Franklin's word choice was so perfect -- it seemed as if each and every word was used to evoke a particular feeling in the reader.

Because CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER was such a great literary novel, I do think it would be a wise choice for book clubs. There is a reading guide available with 23 questions! Some of the topics you might want to discuss include honesty, betrayal, parent/child relationships, friendships, prejudice, deception, responsibility, and redemption. There are even some symbols in this novel that you could explore.

If you are a fan of literary suspense, then you won't want to miss CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER!

This book counts toward the Okra Picks Challenge and the Criminal Plots 2011 Challenge. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, Franklin must be a fantastic writer, because that book's not that thick! I assumed everyone knew the crooked letter way of spelling Mississippi, but have found out otherwise since this book came out.

Kaye said...

Wow, this one sounds great - I love it when an author writes so well that you feel like you are right there along with the characters. Glad you enjoyed this one so much. Wonderful review, Julie!!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

As you know, I loved this too! I tried to convince my book club to read it, but I really couldn't convey how good it was. Maybe I'll show them your review! :--)

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

This one is on my list -- big time! :)

Raejean said...

I wish I was a faster reader and could get to more books on my wish list!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm posting my review for this one on Monday! It WAS soooo good, wasn't it? I had just finished two Tana French books, though, so I was only a teensy underwhemled. I think it'll be in good running against Faithful place, though!

Swapna said...

This book didn't appeal to me at all when I first heard about it, but after all the great reviews, I need to give it a try!!

Anonymous said...

I've got this one on my TBR list. Do you think it would appropriate for a high schooler? I'm looking for a book to recommend to students for summer reading. How's the language/violence/sex/etc?

Julie P. said...


I'm going to say that I don't think this book is ideal for high schoolers. There are some adult situations!

sistallard said...

Franklin is an excellent writer; the book is totally captivating,compelling and very hard to put down. In terms of the issues the story raises (loyalty, honesty,racial prejudice, etc.) you could apply another explanation for the title "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" and that is "Y (why), Y (why)" Enjoyed it very much.