Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter begins with one of the most compelling first lines I’ve heard in a while: “The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.” From there, Kevin Kenerly’s expert narration winds us through the empty storefronts, rusted out mailboxes, and weeded trailer lots of Chabot, Mississippi, where Ott pays the price every day for a 25-year-old crime no one can prove he committed. Silas “32” Jones lives on the opposite side of the law as the sheriff of this “hamlet”, where he continues to build on his hero status (earned on the high school baseball field) by doing expert police work.
In addition to the murder, Franklin has woven into this tale a Faulknerian family mystery complete with unexplained photographs, hand-me-down coats, and shotguns earned in fistfights. 32’s efforts to solve the Rutherford girl’s murder lead him much further back into his past than he is prepared to go, back to a one-room cabin on the Ott property where he lived as a child with his mother.
Kenerly speaks in a journalistic tone showing neither judgment of Ott’s isolated, suspicious lifestyle nor admiration of 32’s heroism. A vehicle for the story in earnest, Kenerly allows us to follow Franklin’s carefully placed clues about the Rutherford girl’s murder and Larry and 32’s mysterious and tangled past. Kenerly does this not only without giving anything away, but by adding a detached detective tone, carving out a space in the story for our emotions.
To the open-minded listener, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is an opportunity to atone for our playground sins not necessarily to straighten out our crooked letters, but to be redeemed into something more whole. Sarah Evans Hogeboom
In a small Mississippi town, two men are torn apart by circumstance and reunited by tragedy in this resonant new novel from the award-winning author of the critically-acclaimed Hell at the Breech.
Larry Ott and Silas “32” Jones were unlikely boyhood friends. Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents, Silas the son of a poor, single, black mother - their worlds as different as night and day. Yet a special bond developed between them in Chabot, Mississippi. But within a few years, tragedy struck. In high school, a girl who lived up the road from Larry had gone to the drive-in movie with him and nobody had seen her again. Her stepfather tried to have Larry arrested, but no body was found and Larry never confessed. The incident shook up the town, including Silas, and the bond the boys shared was irrevocably broken.
Almost 30 years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence in Chabot, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion, the looks of blame that have shadowed him. Silas left home to play college baseball, but now he’s Chabot’s constable. The men have few reasons to cross paths, and they rarely do - until fate intervenes again.
Another teenaged girl has disappeared, causing rumors to swirl once again. Now, two men who once called each other friend are finally forced to confront the painful past they’ve buried for too many years.
©2010 Tom Franklin (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“A masterful performance, deftly rendered and deeply satisfying. For days on end, I woke with this story on my mind.” (David Wroblewski, New York Times best-selling author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)
As an AA female it got a bit tiresome having to hear the lovely and expressive "N" word said so many times and with such fervor to help me understand the true nature of the natives and their mindsets in this story at a time in our history when blacks were not houseguests normally received with opened arms.
I was born in Mississippi and spent many summers at my grandparents on one of their farms and was sheltered from the brutality and inhumanity that pervaded the south in my youth as I grew up in Illinois. However, in all truthfulness, I personally never actually experienced the racism that is well documented having occurred in Ole Miss, I received most of my lessons in Illinois. I knew it existed and that it was explosively dangerous, the news was very informative in this regard. My sole experience with it there came when a bunch of us kids were ushered to a back entrance at a movie theater and 'made' to sit in the balcony. It was cool to me, I always sat in the balcony at home anyway, but entering through the back was a bit creepy.
I didn't think that racism put Mississippi on the map, Elvis did that, so at 59, listening to this book is a grim reminder of just how far we truly have not advanced. We've made some progress, no doubt, but it left me unmoved. I say this because my great-grandmother was Caucasian and married to my great-grandfather, a black man, in a state that hung folks on trees like freshly washed laundry; this book didn't surprise me at all. I knew early on where it was going...
I think this book could have really delved deeper into interpersonal relationships, both interracial and intraracial ones, more substantially. It could've depicted stronger how daily life was for biracial persons trying to live innocuously between two worlds at differing points in time. It could've given a more realistic perspective of how crime really was handled by small town sheriffs and their deputies and how the law and the white citizens dealt with their 'perceived' notions regarding black on white crime then. The book touched on aspects of it, but what if it had gone deeper, more bolder and challenged 'US' in the now?
I was just hoping for so much more. I was sorely disappointed and this book left me u-n-i-m-p-r-e-crooked letter-crooked letter-e-d.
A bit late to wonder on this point now isn't it?
The performance was very well done.
I will not recommend it.
Please don't miss this one. If your hesitant just don't think about it..CLICK, CLICK, DOWNLOAD. You won't regret it. This is for anyone who respects a good story!!
It's been a long time since a book grabbed me like this one. I just couldn't put it down. The reader is great and the story just kept building.
Alison's Book Marks
Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood friends, who drifted apart in high school. Larry went on a date with a girl to a drive-in movie, but the girl did not return home and was never heard from again. Larry was never arrested, as there was no proof. Silas moved away shortly after and the two did not speak again until years later. The years between were hard and solitary for Larry, "Scary Larry" the locals called him. He was once again under suspicion when another girl went missing. Silas, constable of their small hometown, and was called in to investigate when Larry Ott was discovered with a severe gunshot wound that left him in a coma. What happened to Larry, and the real story of what happened to the girl recently missing, as well as the one missing from all those years ago slowly unravels in this riveting narrative.
A little slow to start, Tom Franklin's narrative voice gradually pulls the reader into the story, which gets the heart pounding about 3/4 of the way in. Some categorize Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter as a thriller, but it's more of a subtle roar than a loud scream.
Even though Larry Ott spends almost the entire book in a coma, his story comes to the reader through Silas's detective work and his own memories of the past, peeling apart their story one layer at a time.
A note on the audiobook. I read this book with my book club, and a few readers did not catch on at first as to which characters in the novel were black and which were white. Since racial tension is palpable in Mississippi, even in present day, I'm afraid they may have missed a significant source of drama. I had the benefit of Kevin Kenerly's superb narration, whose accent and diction left no doubt in the listeners' minds. He gave each character his/her own voice, tone, accent, and it really allowed me to immerse myself in the story. This may sound strange, but Kevin Kenerly was able to make a character's stature grow larger just by the deep tone of voice he gave him. When I heard his Silas/32 voice, I immediately imagined CC Sebathia (NY Yankee pitcher) who stands at 6'7", and has a serious but kind face. There is one scene in the book that sent chills up my spine, highlighting the perfect marriage between author and narrator. All in all, a terrific audio!
A smart, memorable novel that slowly draws readers in and delivers a satisfying end.
Though I was interested in the story and the characters, I found the novel to lazily meander through time with no real twists or turns in the plot. Once all the players were introuced the plot was predictable to the end.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is part murder mystery, part tale of personal and family redemption, and wholly evocative of a poor, rural area of Mississippi in both the '80s and the present. Tom Franklin's writing is superb -- carefully crafted, its beauty at times spare and at times lyrical -- and his ear for dialect is unerring. Kevin Kenerly's narration captures the South and the timbres of black and white voices with perfect understatement.
One reviewer remarked that this is not a book for the sensitive, but I disagree. Yes, it touches our own pain on many levels; yes, we are drawn into bleak lives. Even at their bleakest moments, though, the characters are never entirely without a touching, tenuous, almost baffling hope. Ultimately, this is a story of healing, of refashioning what is broken into a new wholeness. A book that can take us on that journey is for the most sensitive among us, a book that above all is uplifting.
I love audio and ebooks but only give them a 5 if they hold my attention. An avereage story gets a 3 . Thrillers & Crime are my favorites.
Wonderully written story. As many of the scenes unfold, particularly the memories of the characters you almost feel like you are there with them. Very well done and engrossing. I was lloking forward to see what happened but didn't really want it to end.
Books like this are why I am an audible customer. It took a little time to get into the book because it does jump around a bit. I even had to rewind a bit and go back to reconnect to the story, but it was late and I was drowsy too. Unexpected twists and turns kept my attention from then on. Well written book by a wordsmith that knows how to turn a phrase. Well narrated too. Five stars for mystery lovers.
Interesting characters, good story, good pace, and perfect narration. This was a very enjoyable listen. Whenever i "sneak" time listening to a book where i'm not driving or jogging, i know the book has me hooked... And even though i know how important good narration is, i don't usually make too much of it. But in this case, it's worth emphasizing - not overdone, not flat, just spot-on perfect.
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