Franklin’s description of life in southeastern Mississippi reminds me of growing up in east central Saskatchewan. I knew all the residents of the area. I knew their family histories. They knew mine. Fortunately, the reputations around Meskanaw were positive. Not so in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.
Larry Ott, the odd awkward country boy, who loves to read, especially horror, never fits in at school or in the tiny town of Chabot. His ostracization by the community is sealed when a girl he took on a date in high school, Cindy Walker, goes missing and is never found. There is not a doubt from anyone beyond his mother that Larry must have sexually assaulted and killed her.
While there is no proof and he has never been charged Larry is shunned. No one comes to the garage, Ottomotive Repair, he has carried on since his father died. No one calls him or visits him. He is barely tolerated in area churches.
Now 41 Larry lives alone, eats KFC suppers by himself, watches some T.V. and reads his horror novels.
Silas Jones is bright and sociable and handsome and athletically skilled. Though he only came to town as a young boy, he is designated a good guy. Since high school, when he was a talented shortstop, he has been known as 32, his uniform number. 32 is Chabot’s police department.
While he is unmarried and without children 32 has a good relationship with his girlfriend, Angie. She is clearly looking to build that relationship.
In the transformation of the South during the 1960’s and 1970’s it is a twist that the solitary Larry is white and the popular 32 is African American.
Each of Larry and 32 are living out their lives as expected by the community.
Life grows even more isolated for Larry when the Rutherford girl, university aged daughter of the leading town businessman, goes missing. Larry is the primary suspect. Many think he is a serial killer.
At the same time local drug dealer, M & M, the second baseman for 32 also disappears.
As investigations proceed the plot moves seamlessly back and forth between current times and the youth of Larry and 32.
It is a rare talent that Franklin has to make the lives and characters of people just getting by and the poor intriguing.
I have enjoyed those John Grisham books set in rural northern Mississppi. Both Grisham and Franklin evoke the feel of the country and the people who live there.
While Franklin’s book does not have the same racist confrontations as Grisham there is still in the late 1970’s when Larry and 32 were teenagers a continuing racial strain. Much has changed in the South since To Kill a Mockingbird.
I understand why so many reviewers have loved this mystery. Franklin draws you into the lives of Larry and 32 to depths uncommon in crime literature. He builds tension as lives are unfolded in ways I did not see coming in the plot.
I expect Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will be a crime fiction classic read and appreciated for decades to come around the world.