Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Book of the Month
by Tom Franklin
It’s a familiar story – a missing girl, an atmospheric location and a creepy suspect, but the writing of this amazing literary thriller (for that’s what it is) will knock you for six. I read it in two sittings on the Virgin pendolino train from London to Glasgow and back again, hardly noticing the tipping of the train that usually has me rather green around the gills.
The story is about two boys Larry Ott and Silas Jones, one black one white who live in the boondocks in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi. Larry is a bit of a misfit escaping into his Stephen King novels rather than hanging out with the other boys, but that’s not to say he doesn’t want to be accepted. Every night he and his mother pray together and the end of the prayer is always for God to send Larry a friend.
Larry’s mother’s prayers are answered when Silas arrives in Chabot with his mother Alice. They mysteriously (to Larry) take up residence in a shack on Larry’s family’s land and the boys become friends but, this being the unenlightened deep south, and one boy being black and the other white, the friendship has to remain a secret.
Then Larry unexpectedly gets a date with girl next door Cindy Walker. He is flabbergasted (as is everyone else) that a worldly wise beautiful girl like Cindy would want anything to do with him. But the date does not go as Larry had hoped and when Cindy disappears later that night Larry is the number one suspect. He is never proved guilty of any crime as no body was ever found but from then on he’s known as ‘Scary Larry’ and marginalised by the people of the town. Soon afterwards Silas leaves Chabot to take up a college scholarship and Larry is alone again.
Now, twenty years later, Silas is back in town working as a cop, another young girl is missing and oddball Larry is, once again, suspect number one.
Tom Franklin is a brilliant storyteller. His writing is soft and lyrical, his ear for dialogue perfect, and his love of his environment obvious. This story edges along twisting and turning like the creeping kudzu vine that smothers everything in its path. If you love a great thriller and want believable characters and an evocative location, then I urge you to read this.
CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER won the 2011 CWA Gold Daggger Award.
Published by Pan Macmillan, 320 pp.
Read our interview with Tom Franklin.