Book Review – Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

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It’s not often a book insinuates itself into my “Favorite Books Ever” list; I’ve read some amazing literature over the decades, and I hold many titles dear: The Mists of Avalon, Ender’s Game, The Help, Contact, Dances with Wolves, Going After Cacciato, Ishmael, Snow Crash… so many others that don’t come immediately to the weary mind.

Now, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin joins the ranks of the favorites. I love his voice, I love his descriptions, I love his varied sentence structure. Here’s the opening:

THE RUTHERFORD GIRL had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.

“It’d stormed the night before over much of the Southeast, flash floods on the news, trees snapped in half and pictures of trailer homes twisted apart. Larry, forty-one years old and single, lived alone in rural Mississippi in his parents’ house, which was now his house, though he couldn’t bring himself to think of it that way. He acted more like a curator, keeping the rooms clean, answering the mail and paying bills, turning on the television at the right times and smiling with the laugh tracks, eating his McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken to what the networks presented him and then sitting on his front porch as the day bled out of the trees across the field and night settled in, each different, each the same.
“It was early September. That morning he’d stood on the porch, holding a cup of coffee, already sweating a little as he gazed out at the glistening front yard, his muddy driveway, the bobwire fence, the sodden green field beyond stabbed with thistle, goldenrod, blue salvia, and honeysuckle at the far edges, where the woods began. It was a mile to his nearest neighbor and another to the crossroads store, closed for years.
“At the edge of the porch several ferns hung from the eave, his mother’s wind chime lodged in one like a flung puppet. He set his coffee on the rail and went to disentangle the chime’s slender pipes from the leaves.”

Two of my favorite books from the last year have taken place in Mississippi, and both have been about race relations, told mostly from a black protagonist’s perspective.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a multiple-murder mystery set in a small Mississippi mill town in the present day. We see the story mostly from the perspective of Silas, the town constable, an immensely likable and rich character. Occasionally, we take the perspective of Larry, the town outcast.

The writing is superb, the characters detailed and vivid, with few exceptions. Franklin gives the reader sufficient hints to figure things out and still feel pretty good for having done so, without completely telegraphing the entire story too early on. In one review I read prior to the book itself, the reviewer wrote of a “deeply satisfying ending,” and I could not agree more.

There are certainly enough opportunities for things to go horribly awry and make for an unhappy ending for any number of characters, but Franklin manages to keep the reader’s faith and attention, and carries on to what is, indeed, a really satisfying ending. A sentence more would have been too much, a paragraph less wouldn’t have been enough.

It’s not a vast, sweeping, epic tale like The Mists of Avalon, but it is a really good book.

I can’t say much more without stealing some of the pleasure of the read from anyone who might pick the book up, and I certainly don’t want to do that. What I do want to do, though, is to encourage you to buy or borrow this book soon. It’s a short and sweet read, less than 250 pages – one afternoon’s dalliance, perhaps two. You won’t be sorry you took that time, and I bet you might even search out Franklin’s other titles, as I have done.

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