Friday, January 21, 2011
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.