I love a story that draws me in and won’t let me go until I have turned the last page. Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is such a novel.
It is a story about two men who were failed boyhood friends due to race, prejudice, and lies. Twenty-plus years ago, Larry and Silas were young boys and friends for a brief period of time. Larry white and Silas black. This was the 1970s in Mississippi and prejudices were strong, whether against the color of one’s skin, economic standing, or the ability to fit in with the norm. These put strain on the boy’s friendship which was finally broken by tragic circumstances.
When Larry took a girl on a date and she was never seen again, he became the town pariah, even though he never confessed and no charges were filed against him. Silas moved away and worked hard to forget about his past and Larry.
Now, Silas has returned to serve as the town’s constable and another girl has disappeared. As expected, Larry is the prime suspect. But Silas is skeptical and works to solve the current crime. To do so he must examine not only the facts of the case but also his own past in order to bring to light the truth of both his and Larry’s character.
While light on suspense, the story unfolds in a way that keeps you turning pages as it doles out clues and details in perfect rhythm. Each chapter further reveals the facts and the complex relationship between Silas and Larry.
Franklin’s prose is perfectly balanced, allowing description and dialogue to anchor us firmly in small town Chabot, Mississippi. And although it doesn’t make the social statement or have the impact of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, this is an American novel in that fine tradition.