Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

The Litwits March selection was Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter which was bound to incite a fabulous discussion…and I missed the meetup due to sinus migraines.  SHAME.  I hated to miss the discussion since I’ve not missed a single, solitary meeting since we began in September 2010.  My husband was slightly appalled, but as I had been mostly living in a dark hole all week moaning and inviting dear, sweet death to take me away – he understood.  Was that dramatic enough for everyone?

The ladies assured me that the discussion was fabulous – aren’t they always though?  I can’t wait to catch up with everyone in April and get a rundown everyone’s general feelings towards the novel.  Or ladies, if you’re reading this – please leave your feelings in the comments!

Anyway, everyone will just have to suffer through my own opinions for the time being!  And a word of warning, THERE BE SPOILERS LATER IN THE PROGRAMMING.

So – Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter takes place in small town Mississippi 25 years after Larry Ott is believed to have murdered a local girl.  He’s not in prison and was never convicted because they never found a body or much evidence beyond the circumstantial.  All the town knows is that he was the last person seen with her.  Of course, like any good little blip on the map, the townsfolk ostracize him from society and he becomes the ultimate loner.  When another girl goes missing, everyone immediately suspects “Scary Larry” and onetime childhood friend turned town constable, Silas, is left to uncover the whole imperfect truth.

Franklin’s novel is well-written, atmospheric, and succeeds in creating some of the best character development of almost any ‘mystery’ novel (literary or otherwise) I’ve ever read.  He smartly and realistically tackles heavy themes such as racism with the respect and depth they deserve.  On the other hand, the plot is very slowly paced and the book took me a long time to get through – particularly the middle.

I’ve seen some readers cite the plot as a bit too predictable, and I both agree and disagree.  Nothing that happens within Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter surprised me.  I saw most everything coming well beforehand, but I don’t think Franklin intended to shock his readers with plot twists.  Instead, I believe he wants his readers to fall into the same biases, prejudices, and yes – even racism that the book’s characters find themselves victim to.  That way, you are just as complicit in condemning Larry or Silas or the stepfather or whoever else you believe might have done the crimes.  After all, we never actually know who killed Cindy or even if she was killed, but we sure do have our conspiracy theories and rash judgments to guide our way.  Well done, Mr. Franklin, well done.

As an aside, Tom Franklin notes that the title comes from how southern children are taught to spell Mississippi – ‘M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I’.  I loved that and thought it extremely apt as the novel’s title.  As a southern child, I absolutely knew this little way of spelling Mississippi and appreciate the trip down memory lane.

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4 thoughts on “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

  1. I loved this book, and think you hit the nail on the head. It wasn’t about the mystery as much as it was about the relationships and the impact that the murders had on the town and its residents. I think the story was very sad at times, but it was also really lovingly written. Great review today!

  2. I listened to this on audio last summer (and yet still haven’t posted my review) and would pretty much agree with your assessment of the book. I think the atmosphere of the book was its strong point.

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