Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (winner of the 2011 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award) is set in a place in Mississippi so small that you have to use words like village or hamlet, because there aren’t enough people living there to justify the word town. Twenty five years before the novel opens, a girl went missing during her date with local oddball Larry Ott. Because there was no evidence to link him to the disappearance, Ott was never charged. Of course, everyone thinks he did it. The book opens with a long establishing shot showing us the depth of Larry’s loneliness and isolation. The first chapter ends with Larry being shot by an intruder.
As the story moves forward (with Larry in a medically induced coma), we meet his former childhood friend turned constable, Silas “32” Jones. Franklin also shows us, through flashbacks, Larry and Silas’ life when they were teenagers and Cindy Walker went missing. In the sections set in the present, another girl has gone missing and everyone’s pointing the finger at Larry. Silas doesn’t believe it. Larry’s a gentle guy, for all that he was raised by a violent racist and bullied by the black and white kids at his school. He mostly just wants to make friends and read, but he never got the chance. Silas pokes and prods and asks questions. (And he has uncanny good luck in finding bodies.)
By the time the book is over, all the pieces will fit into place. You may or may not figure out the actual culprit before Silas does, but I found that I didn’t really mind. Franklin is such an atmospheric writer that I enjoyed just being along to see how he would let it play out. You can feel the muggy air and claustrophobia of über-rural Mississippi. (You may want to light a citronella candle as you read this.) The way that Franklin weaves the past and the present and the multiple narrators together is masterful. This is a very good book.