Monday, March 26, 2012

2011 Edgar Award Nominee: Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
By Tom Franklin

     Tom Franklin lives in Oxford, Mississippi and teaches in the MFA program at The University of Mississippi.  This novel is set in small town Mississippi in contemporary times.  “Crazy Larry” Ott lives a reclusive life on a small farm.  His increasingly demented mother lives in a nearby nursing home.  Larry works at his father’s old service station and garage, an establishment that the locals avoid like the plague.  Larry is the town pariah because he is considered to be the murderer of a young girl in the 1970s.  The body of the missing girl was never found and no trial was ever held, but Larry was convicted by the court of public opinion because he was the last person to have seen her alive.  Interest in Larry escalates when twenty years later another local girl is missing.  The investigator, Silas Jones, is a childhood friend of Larry’s, a black man who grew up in a wooden shack on Larry’s father’s farm.  Silas is also known as “32”, the number he wore as a star baseball player in high school and at the University of Mississippi.  The relationship between Silas and Larry is hazy in the beginning.  In flashbacks we see them growing up in the 1970s, a time when racial tensions ran high in the deep South.  The relationship grows more distant in high school when Silas becomes renowned as an athlete and Larry becomes more reclusive.  The relationship is severed when Larry takes a girl from the next farm on a date to a drive-in movie and she is never seen again.   

     Twenty years later another girl is missing, Larry becomes the obvious person of interest and Silas, now a local police officer, has to reconnect with his former childhood friend because of the investigation.  Without ruining any surprises, suffice it to say that the relationship between Larry and Silas is revealed to be much more complex than the reader first imagines, the murders of the two girls (a generation apart) are linked, but not in the way you would first suspect and the complex story comes to a fairly solid, complete resolution. 

     The strengths of this book are many.  The characters are vivid and are drawn with an economy of words.  The setting in Mississippi (much like the early novels of John Grisham) plays an integral role in the plot line and again, is very keenly described by the author.  The inclusion of descriptions of local foods is a nice touch as well.  The whole story is told with the underlying presence of racial tension.  The author doesn’t bludgeon you with this; it just lurks in the background adding intensity to an already suspenseful tale.  I greatly enjoyed this book and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin was a very worthy Edgar nominee and I thought was every bit as good as the eventual winner, The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.  I look forward to more novels from this author.

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