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)
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.
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.
English Mystery Collector
I usually keep 2 or 3 audio books going at once. Not so with this one. I could not put it down and the
reader is perfect. Great plot, superb characters, and it all hits from page one. Don't miss this one!
Liked this novel...just right on for southern Mississippi. I guess our familiarity with the issues, the time, the culture made this such a winner for us. We will listen to more....
Oh, this book had the potential of being a total knock-out. It has a great premise, good characters, good writing, all the ingredients, but it never had a plot twist or a surprise. I knew what would happen almost from the get go. It was so obvious as to be almost embarrassing. I kept reading because I just knew some fabulous twist was on the next page. It just never came. Taken from a relationship standpoint, it was pretty good, but what could have been a fabulous murder mystery ended up being no mystery at all.
One redeeming factor was that the narrator was really good.
I'm an avid listener. Audio books are a mini-vacation for me. They fill my "need to read" when I don't have time - which is most of the time. Great element of multi-tasking!
As a stand alone plot-based story, this tale could have been mean spirited or just sad. This skillfull telling provide a look into how long held feelings can do more harm than a bad act itself, and how a bit of personal bravery can change things forever. A look at the delicate balance of "getting along" and "knowing one's place" in the South of the 50's and 60's that is more what I know from experience than the caricatures we so often see. A complex tale of black and white children coming of age with an understanding of their separate positions in the community until something happens to change the course of all their lives. The title is strangely non-informative until you hear the first chapter. Not a transparent story - I wonder how much "between the lines" will be clear to people who have not lived in this environment.
List of favorite books: Woodcutter - Reginald Hill, Consent to Kill, First Deadly Sin - Lawrence Sanders, Sniper Elite - Scott McEwen
The narrator was one of the best I heard... This was my first book by this author, and I was impressed!!!
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.
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