Rachel's Reviews > Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
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's review
Sep 04, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read from September 01 to 04, 2011

In 1982, 16-year-old Larry Ott took Cindy Walker out on a date and she was never heard from again. Although everyone in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi, believes that he murdered her, there was no evidence and he was never charged with a crime. For the next twenty-five years, Larry lived in Chabot, ostracized by all, sometimes going an entire week without talking to anyone other than the cashiers at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now, another young woman, Tina Rutherford, has gone missing, and Larry becomes the prime suspect.

For a few months when they were 14, Larry was friends with Silas "32" Jones -- Silas being Larry's only friend in fact, as even before Cindy's disappearance, Larry had been something of an outcast. After the boys are forced to fight each other by Larry's father, the friendship ends. For the rest of their school days, Larry continues to be friendless and an oddball; Silas becomes a standout on the baseball team and wins a scholarship to Ole Miss. But after he ruins his pitching arm, Silas returns to Chabot as the town constable and now has to investigate Larry's involvement in the disappearance of Tina Rutherford.

I liked this book a lot. The plot moves at a good pace and the characters are well-drawn. The plot twists are mostly believable (except for the ones that are entertaining in how unlikely they are) and the mystery is fairly credible. Having said that, I think the book has been hyped beyond all reason. The reviews excerpted in the frontpages are ridiculous in their praise, one comparing Franklin to Shakespeare, Dickens, Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Cormac McCarthy. I'm not sure what those writers have in common, but I'm guessing it's that they're writers that the reviewer heard were good. And more than one reviewer said that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is more than just a suspense novel, it's a literary novel, which I would disagree with. This is not a particularly nuanced book. There's nothing subtle at work here. Characters are exactly who you think they are, the foreshadowing is heavy-handed, and there are a few plot points that are convenient but illogical (unless you believe that a person can figure out who his real father is simply by looking at an old picture of his mother, in which case this is all masterful). Not that I think Franklin was shooting for "literary," but if he had been, I'd call it a failure. As "just a suspense novel," however, it's really very good.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Deborah Edwards Hi Rachel. Nicely written review, as always. You liked the book more than I did, but I think you hit the nail on the head in the third paragraph of your review.

Rachel I think I would have liked this book less, but I lowered my expectations as soon as I saw that one reviewer had described the prose as "luminous." "Luminous" appeared in seemingly every other review of The Lovely Bones (which I thought was pedestrian, at best), so to me it's become code for "I have nothing substantive to say about this book, but everyone else seems to really like it, so I will jump on the bandwagon."

What I find weird are all the comparisons to To Kill a Mockingbird. They're both books set in the South, but beyond that I'm not seeing it.

Deborah Edwards Exactly. I actually found the book really underwhelming and could not believe all the praise heaped upon it. My guess is that Franklin knows a lot of influential writers/reviewers who owed him a favor. :) I like your take on the word "luminous." I'll keep an eye out for that in the future.

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