I had no real plan to read this book until I noticed it won the UK CWA’s Gold Dagger award earlier this month and was the only book from the shortlist for that award which I had not read. As I was not blown away by any of the shortlisted books I was curious to see what kind of book the winner was.
In Amos, Mississippi Silas ’32’ Jones is the lone police officer, sharing his office with the town clerk and spending most of his time on mundane duties like directing traffic or extricating snakes from mailboxes. When the daughter of the town’s wealthiest family goes missing people start pointing the finger at Larry Ott, better known as Scary Larry. He garnered the nickname 25 years earlier when another young girl went missing and Larry was the only suspect in her disappearance. Though that case was never resolved the entire town believed has always believed him guilty of her murder and he has been a virtual outcast all the while. Even Silas, once Larry’s only friend, has kept his distance from Larry ever since that night.
I love books which draw me in their world and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter does so masterfully. The combination of exquisitely poignant characters and a totally absorbing depiction of small town Mississippi, complete with dialogue rich in local idioms and, at times, confronting language is simply perfect. As I read I could almost feel myself slowing down to the deliciously languid pace of the novel and Franklin’s writing made it easy for me (who has never been closer to Mississippi than a few days spent in Louisiana many moons ago) to conjure up images of the town and its people in my mind. Even when I was only a few pages into the book I felt like I was there in Amos and I was reluctant to tear myself away, which accounts for me staying up late into the night to finish the book in one sitting.
Although ostensibly about the mystery of the two missing girls the book, for me anyway, was mostly about the two men, the disparate tracks their lives had taken and the ways they coped, or didn’t, with their various hardships and guilty secrets. After being introduced to the men as adults we learn about their pasts, both shared and separate, and only the coldest of readers could fail to be won over by them both, even though (or perhaps because) neither is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. In a relatively short space (the entire book is only 270 pages) with scenes of stark symbolism and authenticity we see the events that shape the boys into the men they will become.
I am always wary of the much-hyped book but in this instance all the buzz, awards and kind words are well deserved. For a book in which poverty, racism and domestic violence feature heavily it is remarkably gentle and, ultimately hopeful. It somehow straddles the line between harsh realism and overt sentimentality to be that rare thing: a perfect reading experience. I would recommend it to everyone.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 5/5
Publisher William Morrow 
Length 274 pages
Format trade paperback
Book Series standalone
Source I borrowed it from Kerrie – thanks