Title: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Author: Tom Franklin
Genre: Contemporary fiction, mystery
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the publisher for this book tour
First line: The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
“M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I.” -How southern children are taught to spell Mississippi
When Silas and Larry were boys, they were friends. Larry was the son of a white couple; Silas the son of a single black mother. Their parents didn’t know about the friendship, and the rest of the world was determined to come between them. In high school, racial differences seemed too big a gulf to cross, and the boys drifted apart. Then, on prom night, a teenage girl disappeared – and Larry was the last person to be seen with her. Due to lack of evidence and no confession, the charges were dropped, but the town had already convicted Larry and he became the town loner: “Scary Larry.”
Years later, Silas is back, working as the town constable. When another girl goes missing, attention is turned toward Larry, and Silas is in the middle of the investigation. As he searches for the truth, he must also face his history with Larry – and the things he has kept secret from all those years ago.
I love mysteries where the mystery is the story, but I also love mysteries where the mystery is the backdrop for the story of the characters. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is the second type of mystery – and the story of Larry’s and Silas’s friendship takes center stage. Franklin deftly shows how racism has to be taught, and the evolution of the boys’ relationship is heartbreaking.
Franklin knows small town southern life. Larry’s ostracism is complete; he has become a legend, so that even the generations who weren’t around when the girl disappeared treat him like the town freak. In spite of this, he stays in town, making a semblance of a life – a life that would have continued to be the same, day after day, if it wasn’t for the fact that another girl disappears. The mystery isn’t all that mysterious, but I don’t think the author intended it to be. Because it is obvious who the perpetrator is, the reader isn’t distracted from the real story of Larry and Silas.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a must-read for all fans of southern fiction and literary mysteries. I look forward to reading more of Franklin’s work.