I downloaded Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter on a whim from the library’s website, mainly because I liked the cover, but I’m also a sucker for anything set in the South, and this novel didn’t disappoint. After having finished it, I found a paperback copy at the library bookshop and picked it up for JB, who not only really enjoyed it, but passed it off to his dad, which is just about the highest praise a book can receive.
Twenty-five years ago, Silas (“32”) Jones and Larry Ott were the best of friends, despite one being the black son of a single mother, and the other being the white son of a lower-middle class family in 1970s Mississippi, a time and place not conducive to interracial friendships. Unable to be public about their friendship either at school or at home, they formed a secret bond, meeting in the woods that connected their homes to fish, hunt, and teach each other about girls. In their senior year, Larry takes a girl on a date to a drive in movie – his first date – and she disappears later that night, with Larry having been seen with her last. But Larry denies any involvement, and the sheriff is unable to prove a connection, so the case goes cold, with Larry being ostracized from the community, and Silas breaking their friendship and leaving town soon after graduation.
Fast forward two and a half decades, and Larry is a mechanic in his late father’s shop, but his existence is solitary, having never been able to quite shake the suspicions of the past. Silas is back as the town’s sheriff, dating a lovely young EMT and keeping an eye on the citizens of his small town. He and Larry have never spoken after the night the young girl disappeared; they’ve had no reason to. Except now another young girl has gone missing, and all eyes turn to Larry again.
This is not a pulpy paperback mystery that you pick up at the airport and leave at the gate when you land. This is true Southern literature on par with Ferrol Sams and Conroy and Grisham’s early works, and Franklin immerses the reader in the oppressive heat of Mississippi, where Confederate flags still wave proudly and Budweiser and Marlboros are the way of life. It’s a bit of a languid novel; it moves much like all things do in the South, so don’t expect action-packed scenes or shootouts. Instead, allow Franklin to bring you in to this sleepy, dying Mississippi town and slowly reveal the monsters – and beauty – living within it.
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