Review – Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

When I was a kid I enjoyed spelling different words.  Mississippi was one in particular I loved from the sing-songy approach “M-I-crooked letter, crooked letter, I…”

When a recommendation came up on my Nook that was just that, I was intrigued and later amazed.

Tom Franklin’s tale of murder, mystery and personal conflict spans several decades of small town Southern America and will hopefully not be his last tale. 

I grew up in a small, one stoplight southern town so the dialect, the characters and setting were a trip through not only the past but my past.  Franklin’s ability to connect with the reader, to let them walk into the story, was amazing.

The story, set in rural Mississippi, focuses on the present day reality for two former high school friends, Larry Ott and Silas Jones.  I should point out Ott is white and Jones is black – important because during their time in high school race matters weren’t always an easy topic.

Ott, when in high school, was an awkward teen with few friends, save Jones.  In the present day Ott is infamous.  Infamous because, though never convicted, literally everyone is convinced he is responsible for the disappearance and likely death of a female high school classmate.  The sole basis for Ott being suspected was that he was really an odd kid and had likely been the last to see her. 

Since the time of the disappearance 25 years past, he has been known as “Scary Larry” and has been the town pariah living his days in a mix of painful memories and efforts to just be left alone.

Of course his efforts to be left alone become impossible when another female goes missing and the legal crosshairs fall, naturally, on Ott.  After all, he was a suspect 25 years ago, why not now?

Jones, now the local constable, and not without a few demons of his own, ends up investigating the new disappearance.  He’s torn between his suspicions and his knowledge of the past.

Franklin guides the reader through the present investigation with frequent visits to the time of the first disappearance.  We learn of dark secrets relating not only to the first disappearance, but that also relate to Ott and Jones’ past relationship.

While the present disappearance gets us going, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is really about several mysteries, some of which the reader won’t even realize are mysteries until well into the book. 

Franklin is, simply put, a master storyteller. 

There was once a time when the term literary fiction caused my eyes to glaze over, but no longer, particularly with Tom Franklin.  His prose, the word choice, the character development, the dialogue, all verge on the brink of perfection.  The tale flows effortlessly. 

Through the book Franklin doses out, at just the right moment, tidbits of information that weave the tale into a complete tapestry that suddenly I found myself staring out in wonder as to how it had been so elegantly completed, largely without my realizing it.

I’m a musician when I’m not a writer and I get frustrated when I see a great guitar player.  My first thought is always to give up the guitar, but then my frustration turns to inspiration and I work harder on my playing.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was like this in the literary sense.  I read it and wanted to stop writing.  But in the end, it has inspired me to work even harder as a writer.

I’ll be back to reread this one many times.

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