Monday, May 23, 2011

[Book Review] CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin


Darletha reviews CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin (William Morrow, 2010)

Larry Ott is a 41-year-old white man living in Chabot, Mississippi. As a child, he wasn’t the strapping boy a father would be proud of and he struggled to find his place in a desegregated school. When he was sixteen, Larry’s date disappeared and was never found. Larry was never charged with a crime but he still became known as “Scary Larry.” When crime occurs in this small Mississippi town, Larry is automatically considered a person of interest. Larry lives as an outcast with only mail-order books and pet chickens as his company.

Silas “32” Jones is a black man who works as Chabot’s only constable. He was Larry’s only childhood friend. Silas grew up poor but he eventually became a popular high school athlete and Ole Miss graduate. A young woman from a prominent family is missing. All fingers point to Larry since he was the prime suspect in a similar crime 25 years ago. This latest investigation forces Silas to face an old friend and a past he has avoided for many years.

This somber novel is a combination of coming-of-age story, mystery, and human drama. Some of the most painful passages capture Larry being bullied and his eventual isolation as an adult. The southern setting allows Franklin to explore race relations and how they dictate the way blacks and whites interact.

I decided to read this novel because of its rave reviews. I liked the title, which is part of a childhood rhyme about Mississippi that we learned as children in the South. I was expecting a typical investigative mystery but Franklin does more with this story, creating an introspective tale of reconciliation and redemption.

Darletha Matthews, South Branch Library

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