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)
I usually don't buy books less than 10 hours and am easily distracted by bad southern accents, so I let this pass me by several times. I am so glad a recent editor's review convinced me to download this - it is the best audiobook I have listened to in a couple of years at least. This audiobook gets it right on so many levels. The narration, mystery, and characters are all spot on.
The number one narration pitfall in more than one audiobook is the southern small town law officer. Here the main character is a constable in a fictional Mississippi town, and he is read especially beautifully. The others have reasonable accents that give life to the characters without being too distracting. The mystery (mysteries) are also compelling. This is not a whodunit with a build to a surprise twist, but a slow unveiling of the truth and more importantly, an understanding of the people involved. And the people - that is where this book excels.
I am in my forties and rarely read anything involving race that has any relation to my experience of current life in the deep south, but this book is absolutely the best depiction of the complexities of class and race in everyday relationships. Not as defining elements, as in so many books with outdated stereotypes, but still integral to the understanding of the history of people growing up post segregation. These characters felt real, gripped me early, and kept me compelled until the end.
I highly, highly recommend this audiobook.
Mr. Franklin has a thorough knowlege of the rural, post integration south. Having said that, his characters make David Copperfield seem like privileged youth. He has drawn my compassion quota almost over the top. I believe the basis of the book is abuse of children of both races and its consequences. John Wayne Gacey is both the name of a character's dog and, a glimpse of the depravity that can grow in a neglected and abused young person. This is not a novel for the sensitive.
The two main characters of this book will haunt me which is I suspect, the mark of a good author.
The author deftly leads the reader into a small Southern town to watch and ultimately understand the way two boys -- one black, one white -- interpret friendship and loyalty, both as youths and later as adults, and how the judgment of the town's residents can destroy one of the boys' life. Plenty of action, with surprising twists all along the way, keep the story intriguing and unique.
I am a 65-year-old psychologist, married for 25 years, with two sons who are 25 and 22. I love reviewing the books and the feedback I get.
You might not expect a story set in Southeastern Mississippi to be so poignant and so
completely involving. (I apologize to all Mississippians). The title refers to the method in which
children are taught the spelling of their state's name. However, the story and the characters here are so thoroughly, so brilliantly conceived that the book holds your interest in a spellbinding way. Virtually any other book will find that this one is a hard act to follow. The primary characters, Larry Ott and Silas (who is known as 32) have a story to tell that draws you in and grabs you by the brain and heart. I searched for Tom Franklin's other work, and was disappointed to find how little there is. Very hard to make a living as a writer these days, no matter how breathtaking your talent is. I can rave about other books, but I can't rave hard enough to do this one justice. The two men have intertwining life stories that encircle each other in a way that constantly surprises you. Justice, that wonderful construct (in the abstract) follows them for twenty or thirty years of their lives. I won't spoil the plot or the nature of these two men for you: the delight is in your own discovery. The secondary characters are also extremely well drawn, although the women are less so than the men, as we have come to expect, even from the best of our male writers these days. One of the women turns out to have an absolutely critical role. I will say little more, except to tell Tom Franklin, if he happens to be reading, to bear up and be brave: his talent is almost matchless. We are out here reading, and we are waiting for him to write again.
This is classic story telling at it's best. It's a nicely paced story about the history of two men. The narrator does a great job of different inflections when dialogs are read. I was sorry to see this book end. It left me wanting to learn more about the characters, although it had wrapped up the story quite nicely.
I grew up near the area this book was set (the settings are fictional, but the bigger towns, like Hattiesburg and Meridian, are real). From just a Mississippi standpoint, it does a good job of representing some elements of the region. Maybe it's a little darker and more isolated than the exact region is, but that hardly matters to the novel.
The story is very good. It starts as a bit of a mystery, then turns into more of a story about relationships and culture and personal history of the region. The racial dynamics struck me as very real, which is unusual for a story set in Mississippi in the 80s (the history parts of the story). Either the racism is too extreme or not visible, usually, but this story nails it just perfectly. The racial tensions are there, but they are also weakening, and they don't create conflict, so much as they influence conflict when it happens.
The characters are good. Larry is hard to get a read on, in a good way, and the rest of the characters have their good and bad sides, interwoven believably. The plot develops smoothly, with tension and suspense but without an artificial formulaic feel. The relationships feel genuine, sometimes pathetic, sometimes touching.
Overall, I really liked the book. It's not a tense thriller or a cliff-hanging mystery, but more of a story of relationships within a mystery. It's dark and brooding and a wonderful moody setting that felt real to me.
The reader is fantastic, and fits the tone of the writing perfectly. He creates distinct voices, crosses subtle accent and dialogue and even racial distinctions without caricature, and generally just feels like the story.
So I'd recommend it as a good story, a great mood setting, and a great narration.
The very best download this year for me. Couldn't wait to know what happened...never wanted it to end. Simple, touching, real and read by the BEST narrator yet. Worth every hour of listening! Can't recommend it highly enough.
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.
Enjoying one good listen after the next!
This book just ended for me less than 10 minutes ago and I am forlorn! I didn't want it to end. In fact, I wish there was a sequel to continue to untangle the relationship of Silas and Larry. Having none, we will just have to imagine all the possible endings, happy and otherwise.
The story is completely engaging; as is the narration of Kevin Kenerly whose portrayals of the handful of characters is nothing short of brilliant. His intonation and pace were so perfect and true to the story he was reading that he brought it to life.
Make no mistake, this is a painful, poignant story of the old south recounted in a south that is coming of age. There are injustices and hurts that most of us can only imagine, having not experienced life as a poor African-American boy or a young man wrongfully accused of a grotesque crime. Larry, Silas, Wallace and others are captivating characters that will have you hooked early on in the story and you will be awed at how these relationships play out as the story evolves.
Loved this book! Hope that you will too!
I enjoyed this book more than any book in recent history. This was a great mystery with no ridiculous surprises or twists. Good characters, great plot, very evocative descriptions. What's more, Kevin Kenerly is a fantastic actor and it was a treat to hear this read in such authentic voice. Nothing about it was corny or overdone, and there was no cringing at his female voices, either. Perfectly done. I'm looking forward to more from this author and reader.
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