Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Rarely do I come across a novel I savor so strongly that I force myself to put it down often so that I can extend for as long as I can my reading pleasure. But Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is such a rich experience, you won’t want it to be over.

This is a book that has it all. Descriptive detail so vibrant you’ll feel like the mud of rural Mississippi is clinging to your soles, and your soul. Characters that walk right off the page. A story that grabs you and never lets go. Atmosphere so thick you’ll be sweating from the heat and humidity of the deep south. Dialog authentic enough to make you feel like you’re eavesdropping. Small town intrigue, a chronology that arches over ordinary lives, and a twist that makes you whack yourself in the forehead and say, why didn’t I see that coming?

Franklin’s words are so well chosen, it’s like sipping cream that has risen to the top of a bucket of warm raw milk. The author struggled with his story for years, he admits, revising and ripping it apart and putting it together again over and over until the pieces fit together seamlessly. It was well worth the wait.

Franklin, a writing teacher at the University of Mississippi, has crafted a masterful novel that perfectly captures the dark spirit of a land haunted by the past. This novel stands as tall and impressive as the work of any of the great southern writers, bar none.

Tom Franklin

The story is classic southern bucolic gothic, a tale of a man, Larry Ott, shunned by his neighbors for an assumed outrage, a missing girl, never found, with whom he had the last contact. Though never accused directly, the locals have convicted him in their minds for the past twenty years.

It’s also the story of Silas, the town constable, his childhood friend, long since alienated from the man they call Scary Larry. Conflicted by their past, Silas must unravel a series of violent crimes, a sinuous journey that leads to a revelation about his personal history.

The minor characters are equally fascinating, peopling the book with a cast that makes you feel like you are living the story, not just interpreting symbols on paper. The book transcends the writing process, the same way great music moves you emotionally and becomes much more than just sound.

Franklin is the author of two previous novels, Hell At The Breech and Smonk and a collection of short fiction, Poachers, but critics agree this is his best work to date. The novel won the CWA Gold Daggar and was nominated for the 2011 Edgar prize for best novel.

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