In a small Mississippi town, two men are torn apart by circumstance and reunited by tragedy in this resonant new novel from the award-winning author of the critically-acclaimed Hell at the Breech.
Larry Ott and Silas '32' Jones were unlikely boyhood friends. Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents, Silas the son of a poor, single, black mother -- their worlds as different as night and day. Yet a special bond developed between them in Chabot, Mississippi. But within a few years, tragedy struck. In high school, a girl who lived up the road from Larry had gone to the drive-in movie with him and nobody had seen her again. Her stepfather tried to have Larry arrested but no body was found and Larry never confessed. The incident shook up the town, including Silas, and the bond the boys shared was irrevocably broken.
Almost thirty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence in Chabot, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion, the looks of blame that have shadowed him. Silas left home to play college baseball, but now he's Chabot's constable. The men have few reasons to cross paths, and they rarely do -- until fate intervenes again.
Another teenage girl has disappeared, causing rumors to swirl once again. Now, two men who once called each other friend are finally forced to confront the painful past they've buried for too many years.
"Starred Review. Edgar Award winner Franklin (Hell at the Breech, 2003) renders luminous prose and a cast of compelling characters in this moody, masterful entry." - Booklist
"The Southern atmosphere is rich, but while this novel has the makings of an engaging crime drama... [it generates] far more fizz than pop." - Publishers Weekly "Starred Review. A ripping good mystery, this novel also has depth and a subtle literary side, as the local area comes to life through the writer's cinematic descriptive phrases and a large and colorful cast of supporting characters. Highly recommended." - Library Journal
"Beautiful writing, a spot-on sense of place, wickedly funny dialogue, and an emotionally potent story charge this highly original, literary crime offering from master stylist Tom Franklin." - George Pelecanos
"Lyrical, morally complex, superbly crafted, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter further validates Tom Franklin's status as one of Americas best writers." - Ron Rash, author of Serena
"A new Tom Franklin novel is always a reason to get excited, but Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is more - a cause for celebration. What a great novel by a great novelist." - Dennis Lehane, author of The Given Day
"Lately I've been wondering why, in an age when every new novel is hyped as a revolution of one sort or another, the classic trifecta of talent, heart, and a bone-deep sense of storytelling so rarely appears. But here it is: Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. It's a masterful performance, deftly rendered and deeply satisfying. For days on end, I woke with this story on my mind." - David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
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Rated of 5
I liked it even if it was not my favorite type of book
I read this book for a book club - and I have been searching for a good way to describe it. The Library of Congress data calls it "psychological fiction". This is a good description.
The book includes a “who-dun-it” thread, but it is really a study of two men. If you are looking for a feel good book – this is not it. If you are looking for a book with depth, I think you may find it here.
One of the two men in the study is a person who appears to have overcome the odds of being a poor black kid raised by a single mother in the south; but, the truth is, this man is really a selfish and cowardly pretender. I can understand what drove him to cover up his involvement in an event that resulted in a life of isolation and abuse by the other man and I think he paid for what he did by the emotional guilt he felt during his life, but I am glad I am not faced with having decide whether to forgive him.
The other of the two men in the novel is considered by the community to have zero redeeming qualities but actually he is the one who stronger of the two. He wanted a friend so desperately but keeps getting knocked down so he lives a lonely life never really having a true friend or an understanding companion. I am left wondering if he ever realized what an admirable person he really was.
I think the author does a fantastic job of letting us experience the emotional trauma of both men.
I am glad I read this book, but will probably not read another book by Franklin because this is not the type of book that I prefer. I also feel compelled to say that the author’s transition from one time period to the other caused me momentary confusion at times and I would have preferred that he shorten some of his long, long, long sentences consisting of phrase after phrase after phrase.
My final comment is that the author masterfully held my attention from beginning to end – I guessed correctly who was the villain of the book, but I never anticipated the twists and turns in the route to the book’s conclusion
Rated of 5
Lisa H. (Salisbury, MD)
Ssss....Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter Slithers Up On the Reader Like a Snake in the Grass
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter slithers up on the reader like a snake in the grass or in the deep, dark woods of Mississippi. The story uncoils itself in alternating turns from past to present through the voices and memories of former childhood friends, Silas and Larry. The setting and dialogue are deeply evocative of the rural south, and the racial relationships are finely drawn. There are some surprising twists and turns along the way, which will cause the reader to question what they think they know. Hmmm, who's the bad guy? Is it black on yellow, or yellow on black? An excellent mystery, but an even better character study!
Rated of 5
Trudy N. (Houston, Texas)
Engrossing, Vividly Descriptive, Captivating
Tom Franklin’s 4th book, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, was engrossing. It was tedious at first, because the beginning chapters were vividly descriptive providing background information to set up the plot. It made the reader anxious to reach the meat and potatoes part of the novel, and move on from the background descriptions. It did not move fast enough for this reader.
Fortunately, then, the mystery of who killed whom began to unravel. Because of the ethnic juxtaposition of the book’s protagonist, I was captivated. However, the sordid supporting characters in the novel were most fascinating , as it is difficult to believe that those people actually exist. Interestingly, though, the denouement was
uplifting. I recommend reading the book, especially to Southerners.
One could compare it to Shirley Grau’s Pulitzer winner from 1965,
The Keepers of the House.
Rated of 5
Penny N. (Saginaw, MI)
It's not often that I am a loss for words. From the book title, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, to the last page, I forced myself to read this tome. Half the way through I almost said, this book is so horrible I can't read any further. I don't need to love the characters in any book. But in this case I found none of them had any redeeming qualities. The the male who perpetrated most of the animal cruelty probably was the worst. The other characters, especially the males were were unkind, ignorant and stupid. These people would all perform well in the clogged arena of Halloween movies, I kid you not. Bits and pieces of the writing were actually quite well done. But nowhere near enough to matter. I have reviewed mysteries and murder stories, as well as other books for years. This book really hit bottom in my rankings.
Rated of 5
Pamela B. (Monona, WI, WI)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Tom Franklin's book draws the reader in from the very first sentence. Is the monster real, or a manifestation of the evil within? The present and the past draw together to answer this question. An enjoyable read, filled with memorable characters, and real feel for small town life in rural Mississippi.
Rated of 5
not a murder mystery
This book was classified as a murder mystery by the bookstore in which I purchased it. While there is a murder (or possibly more), this book is about relationships, reflection, race relations, and Mississippi. Its characters make it worth reading; the "murder mystery" is almost a sideline.
The author put me in Mississippi, on a farm, in a nursing home, and in a squad car, all through the eyes of his well-developed and compassionate characters. I really enjoyed this book. If you like character-based novels, this is a great read.
Tom Franklin is the author of Poachers: Stories, Hell at the Breech, and Smonk. Winner of a 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, he teaches in the University of Mississippis MFA program and lives in Oxford, MI, with his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, and their children.
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