Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

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Overview

Tom Franklin's extraordinary talent has been hailed by the leading lights of contemporary literature—Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Lee Smith, and Dennis Lehane. Reviewers have called his fiction "ingenious" (USA Today) and "compulsively readable" (Memphis Commercial Appeal). His narrative power and flair for character-ization have been compared to the likes of Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy.

Now the Edgar Award-winning author returns with his ...

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Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: A Novel

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Overview

Tom Franklin's extraordinary talent has been hailed by the leading lights of contemporary literature—Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Lee Smith, and Dennis Lehane. Reviewers have called his fiction "ingenious" (USA Today) and "compulsively readable" (Memphis Commercial Appeal). His narrative power and flair for character-ization have been compared to the likes of Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy.

Now the Edgar Award-winning author returns with his most accomplished and resonant novel so far—an atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi. In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.

More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

Winner of the 2011 CWA Gold Dagger Award

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Editorial Reviews

David Wroblewski
The classic trifecta of talent, heart, and a bone-deep sense of storytelling…A masterful performance, deftly rendered and deeply satisfying. For days on end, I woke with this story on my mind.
Dennis Lehane
A new Tom Franklin novel is always a reason to get excited, but Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is more—a cause for celebration. What a great novel by a great novelist.
Ron Charles
Franklin, an Edgar-winning writer of atmospheric tales, deserves an audience to match the praise he's attracted for Poachers, Hell at the Breech and Smonk. If you're looking for a smart, thoughtful novel that sinks deep into a Southern hamlet of the American psyche, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is your next book…Franklin first attracted attention as a short story writer, and you can see that skill in this well-crafted tale, which despite all the historical and psychological ground it covers, finishes up in a tight 272 pages. The terror of a quiet oddball is a thread-worn plot, of course, but this is a novel that spells out something else entirely.
—The Washington Post
George Pelecanos
“Beautiful writing, a spot-on sense of place, wickedly funny dialogue, and an emotionally potent story charge this highly original, literary crime offering from master stylist Tom Franklin.”
Washington Post
“[A] terrific new novel….If you’re looking for a smart, thoughtful novel that sinks deep into a Southern hamlet of the American psyche, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is your next book.”
Dennis Lehane
“A new Tom Franklin novel is always a reason to get excited, but Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is more—a cause for celebration. What a great novel by a great novelist.”
Richard Russo
“Long after the other 75 novels of suspense you’ve read this year merge in your memory, you’ll vividly recall this novel. Franklin has written not just a thriller of the first order, but a very fine novel, indeed.”
David Wroblewski
“A masterful performance, deftly rendered and deeply satisfying. For days on end, I woke with this story on my mind.”
Library Journal
Edgar Award winner Franklin's (Poachers) classic Southern drama is more about the pathos of loneliness than the mystery that unfolds within its pages. Set in racially charged early Seventies Chabot, MS, it centers on an interracial friendship between two boys, Larry and Silas, whose lives are irrevocably changed when Larry is suspected of murder. Some 30 years later, when a local businessman's daughter disappears, the nightmare begins anew—this time, with devastating consequences for both men. Actor/narrator Kevin Kenerly captures the essence of each character; he is especially masterly in his rendering of Larry, from his frustration over having no control over the events in his life to his acceptance of a life of loneliness to his clinging to the faint hope of companionship. Franklin and Kenerly together create a marvelous character that will stand the test of time. With a tone and setting reminiscent of Faulkner; highly recommended. [The Morrow hc also received a starred review, LJ 8/10.—Ed.]—Valerie Piechocki, Prince George's Cty. Memorial Lib., Largo, MD
Kirkus Reviews

There are murders in this Mississippi melodrama, but pay them no mind; its core is the brief friendship of two boys, one black, one white.

Larry Ott has been ostracized by the small town of Chabot for 25 years. Back in 1982, the white high-school student took his neighbor Cindy Walker out on a date. She was never seen again. The town assumed Larry had killed her, so though no body was found, no charges brought, Larry was punished. When the time came for Larry, a mechanic, to inherit his father's shop, he had no customers. He survived by selling off parcels of the family's woods to the timber company. Now, in 2007, another disappearance: the daughter of the company owner. While we're absorbing this, a masked intruder shoots Larry on his porch. He survives, thanks to quick thinking by his erstwhile friend Silas Jones, a black man and the town's only cop. Silas has been having a busy day: finding the decomposing body of a local drug dealer (not heard of again), removing a rattlesnake from a mailbox. These dramas share space with frequent flashbacks to the childhood of Larry and Silas. The result is a sluggish story, a surprise after Franklin's two hell-for-leather historicals (Smonk, 2006, etc.). Silas and his mother once lived in a hunting cabin in the Ott woods. Larry taught Silas how to hunt and fish until a racial slur ended their friendship. Turns out Silas was also involved in Cindy's disappearance, though absolutely not as her killer. There's no lack of mysteries here, and no lack of red flags either, but other mysteries—of character—go unexamined. Why hasn't Larry, instead of living like a zombie all these years, just left town? And why has Silas, after bigger assignments elsewhere, returned home to a nothing job?

There's little suspense in a novel that's most notable for its heavy-handed treatment of race.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060594671
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/17/2011
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 128,895
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Franklin

Tom Franklin is the New York Times bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award. His previous works include Poachers, Hell at the Breech, and Smonk. He teaches in the University of Mississippi's MFA program.

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Read an Excerpt

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

A Novel
By Tom Franklin

Harper Perennial

Copyright © 2011 Tom Franklin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-059467-1


Chapter One

THE RUTHERFORD GIRL had been missing for eight days when
Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
It'd stormed the night before over much of the Southeast, flash floods on
the news, trees snapped in half and pictures of trailer homes twisted apart.
Larry, forty-one years old and single, lived alone in rural Mississippi in his
parents' house, which was now his house, though he couldn't bring himself to
think of it that way. He acted more like a curator, keeping the rooms clean,
answering the mail and paying bills, turning on the television at the right
times and smiling with the laugh tracks, eating his McDonald's or Kentucky
Fried Chicken to what the networks presented him and then sitting on his
front porch as the day bled out of the trees across the field and night settled
in, each different, each the same.
It was early September. That morning he'd stood on the porch, holding
a cup of coffee, already sweating a little as he gazed out at the glistening front
yard, his muddy driveway, the barbwire fence, the sodden green field beyond
stabbed with thistle, goldenrod, blue salvia, and honeysuckle at the far edges,
where the woods began. It was a mile to his nearest neighbor and another to
the crossroads store, closed for years.
At the edge of the porch several ferns hung from the eave, his mother's
wind chime lodged in one like a flung puppet. He set his coffee on the rail
and went to disentangle the chime's slender pipes from the leaves.
Behind the house he rolled the barn doors open, a lawn mower wheel
installed at the bottom of each. He removed the burnt sardine can from the
tractor's smokestack and hung the can on its nail on the wall and climbed
on. In the metal seat he mashed the clutch with one foot and brake with the
other and knocked the old Ford out of gear and turned the key. The tractor,
like everything else, had been his father's, a Model 8-N with its fenders and
rounded hood painted gray but its engine and body fire-engine red. That
red engine caught now and he revved it a few times as the air around his
head blued with shreds of pleasant smoke. He backed out, raising the lift,
bouncing in the seat as the tractor's big wheels, each weighted with fifteen
gallons of water, rolled over the land. The Ford parted the weeds and wild
flowers and set off bumblebees and butterflies and soggy grasshoppers and
dragonflies, which his mother used to call snake doctors. The tractor threw
its long shadow toward the far fence and he turned and began to circle the
field, the privet cut back along the barbwire, the trees tall and lush, the south
end still shaded and dewy and cool. He bush-hogged twice a month from
March to July, but when the fall wildflowers came he let them grow. Migrating-
hummingbirds passed through in September, hovering around the blue
salvia, which they seemed to love, chasing one another away from the blooms.
At the chicken pen he shifted into reverse and backed up, lowering the
trailer hitch. He checked the sky shaking his head. More clouds shouldering
over the far trees and rain on the air. In the tack room he ladled feed and corn
into a plastic milk jug with the mouth widened, the brown pellets and dusty
yellow corn giving its faint earthy odor. He added a little grit, too, crushed
pebble, which helped the chickens digest. The original pen, which his father
had built as a Mother's Day gift somewhere back in Larry's memory, had
run twenty feet out for the length of the left side of the barn and adjoined a
room inside that had been converted to a roost. The new pen was different.
Larry had always felt bad that the hens lived their lives in the same tiny patch,
dirt in dry weather and mud in wet, especially when the field surrounding
his house, almost five acres, did nothing but grow weeds and lure bugs, and
what a shame the chickens couldn't feast. He'd tried letting a couple run free,
experiments, hoping they'd stay close and use the barn to roost, but the first
hen made for the far woods and got under the fence and was never seen
again. The next a quick victim of a bobcat. He'd pondered it and finally
constructed a scheme. On a summer weekend he'd built a head-high moveable
cage with an open floor and attached a set of lawn mower wheels to the
back end. He dismantled his father's fence and made his own to fit against the
outside door to the coop, so that when the chickens came out they came out in
his cage. Each morning he latched an interior door and, weather permitting,
used the tractor to pull the cage into the field, onto a different square of grass,
so the chickens got fresh food—insects, vegetation—and the droppings they
left didn't spoil the grass but fertilized it. The chickens sure liked it, and their
egg yolks had become nearly twice as yellow as they'd been before, and twice
as good.
He came outside with the feed. Storm clouds like a billowing mountain
loomed over the northernmost trees, already the wind picking up, the chime
singing from the porch. Better keep em in, he thought and went back in and
turned the wooden latch and entered the coop, its odor of droppings and warm
dust. He shut the door behind him, feathers settling around his shoes. Today
four of the wary brown hens sat in their plywood boxes, deep in pine straw.
"Good morning, ladies," he said and turned on the faucet over the old
tire, cut down the center like a donut sliced in half, and as it filled with water
he ducked through the door into the cage with the nonsetting hens following
like something caught in his wake, the tractor idling outside the wire.
He flung the feed out of the jug, watching for a moment as they pecked it
up with their robotic jerks, clucking, scratching, bobbing their heads among
the speckled droppings and wet feathers. He ducked back into the coop and
shooed the setting hens off and collected the brown eggs, flecked with feces,
and set them in a bucket. "Have a good day, ladies," he said, on his way out,
turning the spigot off, latching the door, hanging the jug on its nail. "We'll
try to go out tomorrow."
Back inside the house he blew his nose and washed his hands and shaved
at the bathroom mirror, the hall bathroom. He tapped the razor on the edge
of the sink, the whiskers peppered around the drain more gray than black,
and he knew if he stopped shaving his beard would be as gray as the beards
his father used to grow during hunting seasons thirty, thirty-five years before.
Larry had been chubby as a kid but now his face was lean, his brown hair short
but choppy as he cut it himself, had been doing so even before his mother had
gone into River Acres, a nursing home nowhere near a river and mostly full
of blacks, both the attendants and attended. He'd have preferred somewhere
better, but it was all he could afford. He splashed warm water on his cheeks
and with a bath rag swiped his reflection into the steamy mirror.
There he was. A mechanic, but only in theory. He operated a two-bay
shop on Highway 11 North, the crumbling white concrete block building with
green trim. He drove his father's red Ford pickup, an early 1970s model with
a board bed liner, a truck over thirty years old with only 56,000 miles and its
original six-cylinder and, except for a few windshields and headlights, most
of its factory parts. It had running boards and a toolbox on the back with his
wrenches and sockets and ratchets inside, in case he got a road call. There was
a gun rack in the back window that held his umbrella—you weren't allowed
to display firearms since 9/11. But even before that, because of his past, Larry
hadn't been allowed to own a gun.
In his bedroom, piled with paperbacks, he put on his uniform cap then
donned the green khaki pants and a matching cotton shirt with Larry in an
oval on his pocket, short sleeve this time of year. He wore black steel-toed
work shoes, a habit of his father's, also a mechanic. He fried half a pound of
bacon and scrambled the morning's eggs in the grease and opened a Coke
and ate watching the news. The Rutherford girl still missing. Eleven boys
dead in Baghdad. High school football scores.
He detached his cell phone from its charger, no calls, then slipped it into
his front pants pocket and picked up the novel he was reading and locked the
door behind him and carefully descended the wet steps and squished over the
grass to his truck. He got in, cranked the engine and reversed and headed out,
raindrops already spattering his windshield. At the end of his long driveway
he stopped at his mailbox, tilted on its post, a battered black shell with its door
and red flag long wrenched off. He cranked down his window and reached
inside. A package. He pulled it out, one of his book clubs. Several catalogs.
The phone bill. He tossed the mail on the seat beside him, shifted into drive
and pulled onto the highway. Soon he'd be at his garage cranking up the bay
door, dragging the garbage can out, opening the big back doors and positioning
the box fan there to circulate air. For a moment he'd stand in front by the
gas pumps, watching for cars, hoping one of the Mexicans across at the motel
would need a brake job or something. Then he'd go inside the office, prop
open the door, flip the closed sign to open, get a Coke from the machine in
the corner, and click the lid off in the bottle opener. He'd sit behind his desk
where he could see the road through the window, a car or two every half
hour. He'd open the low drawer on the left and prop his feet there and tear
into the package, see which books-of-the-month these would be.
BUT TWO HOURS later he was on his way back home. He'd gotten a call
on the cell phone. His mother was having a good day, she told him, and
wondered might he bring lunch.
"Yes, ma'am," he'd said.
In addition to lunch he wanted to get a photo album—one of the nurses,
the nice one, had told him those helped jog her memory, kept more of her
here, longer. If he hurried, he could get the album, go by Kentucky Fried
Chicken, and be there before noon.
He drove fast, unwise for him. The local police knew his truck and
watched him closely, often parking near the railroad tracks he passed daily.
He had few visitors, other than midnight teenagers banging by and turning
around in his yard, hooting and throwing beer bottles or firecrackers. And
Wallace Stringfellow of course, who was his only friend. But always unnerving
were the occasional visits, like yesterday, of Gerald County chief investigator
Roy French, search warrant in hand. "You understand, right," French
always said, tapping him on the chest with the paper. "I got to explore every
possibility. You're what we call a person of interest." Larry would nod and
step aside without reading the warrant and let him in, sit on his front porch
while French checked the drawers in the bedrooms, the laundry room by
the kitchen, closets, the attic, on his hands and knees beaming his flashlight
under the house, poking around in the barn, frightening the chickens. "You
understand," French usually repeated as he left.
And Larry did understand. If he'd been missing a daughter, he would
come here, too. He would go everywhere. He knew the worst thing must
be the waiting, not being able to do anything, while your girl was lost in the
woods or bound in somebody's closet, hung from the bar with her own red
brassiere.
Sure he understood.
He stopped in front of the porch and got out and left the truck door open.
He never wore his seat belt; his folks had never worn theirs. He hurried up
the steps and opened the screen door and held it with his foot as he found the
key and turned the lock and stepped into the room and noticed an open shoe
box on the table.
His chest went cold. He turned and saw the monster's face, knowing it
immediately for the mask it was, that he'd owned since he was a kid, that his
mother had hated, his father ridiculed, a gray zombie with bloody gashes and
fuzzy patches of hair and one plastic eye that dangled from strands of gore.
Whoever wore it now must have found the mask French never had, hidden
in Larry's closet.
Larry said, "What—"
The man in the mask cut him off in a high voice. "Ever body knows what
you did." He raised a pistol.
Larry opened his hands and stepped back as the man came toward him
behind the pistol. "Wait," he said.
But he didn't get to deny abducting the Rutherford girl last week or Cindy
Walker twenty-five years ago, because the man stepped closer and jammed
the barrel against Larry's chest, Larry for a moment seeing human eyes in the
monster's face, something familiar in there. Then he heard the shot.
WHEN HE OPENED his eyes he lay on the floor looking at the ceiling.
His ears were ringing. His belly was quivering in his shirt and he'd bit his
lip. He turned his head, the monster smaller than he'd looked before, leaning
against the wall by the door, unable to catch his breath. He wore white cotton
gardening gloves and they were shaking, both the one with the pistol and the
one without.
"Die," he croaked.
Larry felt no pain, only blood, the heart that beat so rapidly pushing
more and more out, bright red lung blood he could smell. Something was
burning. He couldn't move his left arm but with his right hand touched his
chest, rising and falling, blood bubbling through his fingers and down his ribs in his shirt. He tasted copper on his tongue.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin Copyright © 2011 by Tom Franklin. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

Q&A with Tom Franklin
Author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Q: Tell us a bit about your latest book Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. How did you come up with the title?
A: Title's a pneumonic device used to teach children (mostly southern children) how to spell Mississippi. M, I, crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, humpback, humback, I.

Q: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a bit of a departure from your previous two novels— Smonk and Hell at the Breech—in that it is set in contemporary times and the story line is a bit less dark. What inspired the premise for this novel and the departure from a more historical setting?
A: I'd been wanting to write about a small town police officer, and I'd long had the image of a loner mechanic in my mind. When I put the two together, the story began to form. I used a lot of autobiographical stuff for Larry, the mechanic.

Q: A review in USA Today (for Hell at Breech) stated that “He also makes his characters rise up from the pages as if they were there with you.” …and this is certainly true in your latest novel. How do you approach the task of developing your characters and bringing them to life? Are the characters in Crooked Letter based on anyone in particular?
A: They're both a combination of different facets of different people, a conglomeration of fact and fiction. I usually try to just let them begin to do what they want to do, just put them in a situation and see what they do. When they begin to surprise me, do things I hadn't anticipated, that's when it's working.
But the character of Silas "32" Jones is very loosely based on the sole police officer of the hamlet of Dickinson, Alabama, where I grew up. This guy was actually the law in a nearby mill town, and my hamlet of Dickinson fell in his tiny jurisdiction. I've always loved the idea of small town cops, especially one who might be a kind of underdog to the police forces of nearby larger towns.

Q: In Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter your two main characters are anything but stereotypical, the young black boy goes off to college to play baseball and comes back to be the town constable and the young white boy is the accused murderer and the town outcast. What, if anything, prompted you to portray these characters this way?
A: No real person is a stereotype, and I try to make my characters as real as I can. We're all a mess of contradictions and secrets, strangenesses and desires, and nobody's all good or all bad. We're all somewhere in the spectrum between absolute good and absolute evil. So I just try to find a character who's fairly normal, and put him or her in a fix and see how he or she negotiates it to see, as Kurt Vonnegut says, what he or she is made of.
In this case, the story as I came to understand it called for Larry to stay home and Silas to leave. If it had been the other way around, I'd still work to make the characters unstereotypical.

Q: Without giving away too much of the story, what is one thing (emotion, thought) that readers can expect to walk away with after reading this book?
A: It's a sad book, but it's full of hope. Hope is what I want a reader to leave with.

Q: Historically the South has not always had a positive image in other parts of the country. How has your experience growing up and living in the rural South shaped your talent as a writer? And have you ever felt the need to justify or redeem the South’s past in any of your works?
A: I think growing up in the south made me the person I am, and the writer I am comes from that. So, yes, the south's made me the writer I am. It taught me to listen to the cadences and rhythms of speech, and to notice the landscape. It also has this defeated feel, a lingering of old sin, that makes it sweet in a rotting kind of way. Much of it is poor, much is rural, and that's an interesting combination, a deep well for stories.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? Who are some writers, past and present, that you admire or have inspired you?
I always knew I wanted to tell stories, one way or another. If I'd had a video camera in the mid 1970s I'm sure I'd be a filmmaker now. But I just had a portable typewriter, and so the stories I could tell were ones on paper.

Q: You are one of the most celebrated writers in the field, and have been compared to the likes of Harper Lee, William Faulkner, and Elmore Leonard. What do you believe is the one thing that sets you apart from other contemporary writers in your genre?
A: What sets me apart? I honestly don't know that I’m more "apart" from other writers of my generation. Landscape plays a large role in what I write, but that's true of many other writers. My stuff is set in the south, but that's true of others as well. I don't know, honestly.

Q: As a professor of English, what is one piece of advice that you would share with aspiring writers?
A: Read, starting with the classics. Read all the time. If you don't read, you won't ever be a writer. Also, write. This seems obvious, but it's amazing how many "writers" don't write very much.



Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Tom Franklin’s extraordinary talent has been hailed by the leading lights of contemporary literature—Phillip Roth, Richard Ford, Lee Smith, and Dennis Lehane. Reviewers have called his fiction “ingenious” (USA Today) and “compulsively readable” (Memphis Commercial Appeal). His narrative power and flair for characterization have been compared to the likes of Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy. Now the Edgar Award-winning author returns with his most accomplished and resonant novel so far—an atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi. In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas “32” Jones were boyhood pals, Larry the child of white,= lower middle-class parents and Silas the son of a poor, single black mother. Their worlds were as different as night and day, yet, for a few months, the boys stepped outside of their circumstance and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: on a date, Larry took a girl to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and there was no confession, but all eyes rested on Larry. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. He and Larry’s friendship was broken, and then Silas left.

Over twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned to town as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed, again. And now, two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

Questions for Discussion
1. The epigraph reveals the origins of the novel’s title. Why do you think Tom Franklin chose to use “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”? What significance does it hold for the story?

2. Describe the boys Larry and Silas were, and the men they became. What drew Larry and Silas together as children? What separated them? How did you feel about both characters?

3. What elements of Larry’s life set him apart from others? Could he have done anything to change people’s opinion of him? Would you call Larry a “loser’? What about Silas?

4. When Larry is shot at the beginning of the novel, he is sympathetic to his attacker. “Larry felt forgiveness for him because all monsters were misunderstood.” Does Larry consider himself to be a monster? Why? Why isn’t he bitter? Could you be as charitable if you were in his place? Why does he say all monsters are misunderstood? Do you think he feels the same way at the end of the novel?

5. During the attack, the shooter is wearing an old monster mask that Larry recognized. What did that mask symbolize for both the victim and his attacker?

6. Tom Franklin goes back and forth between past and present to tell his story. How are Larry and Silas prisoners of their childhoods? How can we break the past’s hold on us?

7. Describe Larry’s relationship with his father, Carl. How might things have been different if Larry knew the truth about his family sooner? Why did Carl force Larry and Silas to fight as boys? What impact did that fight have on their friendship? Do you think the outcome was Carl’s intent? How did Silas feel about Carl?

8. Talk about both boys’ relationships to their mothers. How did their mothers shape them? Were they good sons? What kind of people were their mothers? Why does Silas go to see Larry’s mother in the nursing home?

9. When Silas visits Mrs. Ott, he’s reminded of the past when he first arrived in the town with his mother, both of them coatless in the cold. “Sometimes he thought how Larry’s mother had given them coats but not a ride in her car. How what seemed liked kindness could be the opposite.” How was this behavior cruel? Can you think of other examples from the book where kindness and cruelty were combined?

10. Was Larry treated fairly by the community or the law? We’re supposed to be a nation of laws in which people are innocent until proven guilty.

11. Why did Silas remain silent when he could have helped Larry when they were teenagers? Why does he finally come forward with the truth? How might both their lives have been different if the truth were known?

12. When he was a little boy, Larry’s mother used to pray for God to send him a special friend, “one just for him.” Were her prayers answered?

13. After Silas, Larry considered Wallace Stringfellow to be his friend. What was the bond between Larry and Wallace? What attracted one to the other? Were they really friends? What is a friend?

14. As an adult, Larry also prayed to God. “Please forgive my sins, and send me some business. Give Momma a good day tomorrow or take her if it’s time. And help Wallace, God. Please.” What were Larry’s sins? Why did he pray for Wallace? What did Larry see in Wallace?

15. When Larry is in the hospital after the shooting, Silas goes to visit. “He wondered how broken Larry was by the events of his life, how damaged.” How would you answer Silas?

16. Was Larry broken? Was he damaged? What kept him from becoming the monster everyone believed he was? Silas, too, wonders about himself. “What’s missing out of you Silas?” Does he discover his missing self? How? Is Silas a better man for the knowledge? How does that insight affect Larry’s life?

17. Larry felt he was to blame for Wallace’s tragic choices. Do you think he was responsible at all? What about Silas? How much responsibility do we carry for others? For family? Friends? Strangers? How much responsibility does the community bear for the Wallace’s actions?

18. How does Larry react when Silas tells him the truth about their childhood? Can true friends overcome betrayal? How? Do you think they will be part of each other’s lives going forward?

19. Silas left Southern Mississippi then returned. Larry never left. Why did they make the decisions they did? What was it about their small town that drew and kept them there? How does place shape the novel? Could this have happened in any small town?

20. How is racism a part of the story? Use Larry and Silas’s experiences to support you response.

21. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is also a coming of age story. How did the characters come into themselves as the story progressed? What possibilities might the future hold for Larry and Silas?

22. At the novel’s end, Tom Franklin writes, “the land had a way of covering the wrongs of people.” What does he mean by this?

23. What did you take away from reading Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter?

About the Author
Tom Franklin is the author of Poachers: Stories, Hell at the Breech, and Smonk. Winner of a 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, he teaches in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program and lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, and their children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 1057 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

    Larry and Silas were best friends. That is until color got in the way. No Larry and Silas didn't mind that Larry was white and Silas was black, but it seemed that everyone else did. Larry was a loner. He had few friends, and definitely no girlfriends. He liked to read, read, read. Silas was very athletic and had plans to be a baseball star. Then one day Larry is asked by a neighbor girl if he will take her to the movies. It is to be his first date. His father not only loans him the car but gives him the money for the movie. But Cindy was using him to get out of the house and away from her abusive step-father. He does exactly as Cindy asks him. Why because she lies to him. When she disappears he keeps her secret and becomes the town outcast. He is accused of raping and murdering her eventhough no body was ever found. Now another girl has gone missing. Larry has become their prime suspect. Silas is back in town as the new constable and avoids Larry for his own reasons. It isn't until Larry is shot, the young girl's body found on Larry's land that Silas remembers how Larry was at one time his friend and it is time he prove Larry's innocense. This means he will have to stop lying to himself and to the people of Chabot.


    This book was an accurate view of the discord between blacks and whites in the late 1970's and 1980's. It is also an accurate look at how we sometimes judge people and if they don't stand up for themselves then they get lost among the lies. I felt so sorry for Larry throughout this story. However, I wasn't real sure about the killer's identity until the end. The ending was spectacular. The author didn't try one of those, "okay we solved this crime and brought to light this lie so now we can tie a bow on it and everyone can live happily ever after". The author created an ending that was very believable and maybe left an opening for another book. I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to share it with others.

    59 out of 70 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 13, 2010

    Haunting and Gripping.....Read this Book!

    I happened across this book just browsing the B&N website. I am glad I did. This book is gripping from the start. The characters are so well written and the story effortlessly woven from past to present. I could not put it down and read it in one day. Although not a "happy ending" kind of book, the end satisfies fully. I would recommend this book to any fan of multilayered mysteries and fast paced thrillers. I am looking into other Tom Franklin reads and anxiously awaiting what he pens next.

    30 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 23, 2011

    Highly recommended

    As a retired medical school professor I now have time to read all the fiction I wish and give each a star for my evaluation: 1 * for poor and 4 * for top score. Franklin's latest book is my first 4* this year (and will probably not give more than 3 or 4 for the year). His character development is excellent and his place setting description stellar--I speak as a resident Mississippian. He keeps the story moving without frenzy, but with completness. He speaks deeply into very moving and complex human characters whose emotions are obvious without psychobable. It would make a wonderful book club discussion. The language is clean. Most will thoroughly enjoy it.
    JLA1931

    26 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Beuatifully written, well-researched mystery / thriller that held me at tense-excited attention throughout!

    CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER, by Tom Franklin Reviewed by Hana Gabrielle Packard This story had me with the first sentence! This is a fine multi-layered and fast-moving thriller but also has so much more in the way of life-lessons and emotional complexity. The excellently described 1970's background of old town Mississippi with all its southern draw and great character, the story is narrated by Larry and Silas, alternating vantage points and flashback to present. Ostracized by classmates because he was different, a stutterer, glasses wearer, subject to bloody noses, "Scary Larry" grew up and somehow remained a gentle soul. Things got better for him when he became fast friends with Silas, an African American boy growing up with only his single Mom who worked most of the time in order to support them. The friendship ended when Larry had a "first date" with a girl who suddenly disappears. Being forever suspect, Larry was yet again an outcast, viewed by all as "crazy" for twenty years. Silas returns twenty years later after having gone to college and built his career to become the town Constable. These twenty years later another girl disappears and so the story continues as friendships reunite and questions eventually get answered. This is a beautifully written, well-researched mystery / thriller that held me at tense-excited attention throughout. I loved it!

    19 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    intriguing late twentieth century regional police procedural

    In Chabot, Mississippi, Larry the bookworm loner and Silas "32" Jones the super baseball star became friends in high school in spite of their personality differences and the fact that the former is white and the latter black. When Cindy asks Larry to take her to the movies, he is excited with his first date. However, instead of a movie, Cindy used Larry to escape from her abusive step-father. When she vanishes, everyone accuses Larry of murder and probably rape though no proof exists.

    Two decades later, Silas is a local constable and Larry the mechanic remains the pariah. When Larry is shot, the Rutherford girl's body is found on his property. With memories of missing Cindy still lingering and the circumstantial evidence of the current homicide in spite of his bullet wound, Larry is more than just the prime suspect. Silas, who has avoided his former friend since coming home, knows he owes Larry his best effort on proving the outsider is innocent.

    This is an intriguing late twentieth century regional police procedural with a couple of strong late realistic twists. The story line is a character driven thriller; mostly by Larry who fails to confront the whisper campaign that has condemned him in Chabot. With a strong look at race relations in small town Mississippi in the 1970s and 1980s, readers will enjoy the strong saga of Larry and Silas.

    Harriet Klausner

    17 out of 27 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Underwhelming

    I am so disappointed in the buyers are Barnes & Noble who selected Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter as their fall B&N Recommends Title. These are the same people who chose such incredible titles such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Thirteenth Tale. Let me assure you that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is nowhere near the caliber of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

    Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter gets a bit predictable. Okay, it gets a lot predictable. And that is when I started to check out. I knew "whodunit" and was not surprised when it was revealed. The only thing that remotely held my interest was the relationship between Silas & Larry. It was a unique relationship discouraged by both sets of parents. But they were just boys and they both just wanted someone to pal around with. But even their relationship became predictable in the chapters set in the present.

    15 out of 33 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 8, 2011

    This is why I love to read.

    This book stands out as one of the best books I've read in a long time.
    Fantastic, held my interest, kept me guessing and I didn't want to put it down.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2011

    Wonderful book

    So well written, a great, sad, bittersweet story. Just so enjoyable, you will not be disappointed.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 21, 2010

    Wonderful read!

    After the first few pages, I could not put this book down. Franklin is
    a master writer and I enjoyed this so much more than the last 3 Grisham books. The story is unique and not predictable. The title is a bit
    confusing, so I was glad to find the explanation by the author. I would definitely read other books by this author. I would recommend this book to most anyone who likes adventure, intrigue and good
    literature. I love the tender characters!!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not for Christians

    This book is not worth reading. Defiitely not for today's Christian. Has cursing ehich is a turn off. I did not like nor would I recommend.

    7 out of 53 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 8, 2011

    Sticks with you

    Tom Franklin's book reminds me of the classics written many years ago. The story turns the pages for you and the plot leaves you guessing throughout.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 16, 2010

    Great Rainy Day Read

    Franklin does a great job of capturing and holding the reader's attention with this twisting tale of crime, friendship and commentary on society's tendency to play judge. Bonus: it is an easy read. Took me not even two afternoons to get through the whole story. Only complaint: it was a bit too predictable to solve the "who dunnit?" element. Overall, a great story with plenty of action.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2012

    Great puzzle

    Friendship, murder, and family tree

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    AN UNFORGETTABLE NOVEL, ONE THAT RESONATES WITH TRUTH OF PLACE AND CHARACTER

    "The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house." With the first sentence it's clear that CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER will be a humdinger of a thriller. What it takes two or three pages to realize is that not only is it a first-rate thriller, but also a beautiful, trenchant observation of rural Mississippi some 30 years ago. Tom Franklin's Southern dialogue is pinpoint perfection, his scenes painterly, bringing to our mind's eye Chabot, a small decaying town and its inhabitants, so vivid it is as if we were seeing everything and everyone in wide screen color.

    Yet it is the story that holds us as it is told through the eyes of Larry and Silas, alternating between the days of their youth and adulthood. As a boy Larry is a loner, ostracized and bullied by his classmates because all he does is read (Stephen King and other horror stories), belittled by his father, Carl, whom Larry understood to like "most everyone except him. From an early bout of stuttering, through a sickly, asthmatic childhood, through hay fever and allergies, frequent bloody noses, glasses he kept breaking, he'd inched into the shambling, stoop-shouldered pudginess of the dead uncles on his mother's side." Called "Scary Larry" by schoolmates he was not a pretty picture, yet he remained a gentle soul.

    Each night when his mother prayed with him at bedtime she asked for a friend for Larry, someone just for him. And then then an unlikely friend appeared - Silas, an African-American son of a poor single mother who worked two jobs. Their friendship was brief, just a few months, ending when Larry had his first date. He took a girl to a drive-in movie, and she apparently disappeared. Of course, Larry is seen as her abductor, perhaps a murderer. But, no body is found. Larry simply exists in a lonely state, an outcast, seen by all as a crazy man for over 20 years.

    After that length of time Silas returns to Chabot as a constable. He is aware that Larry comes to the garage he runs every day, although there are never any customers. Silas ignores him until the night a monster visited Larry's house and said, "Ever body knows what you did."

    Silas is now forced to remember what he has tried so hard to forget.

    This is a story of friendship reclaimed, atonement, and the devastation wrought by bigotry. Tom Franklin has crafted an unforgettable novel, one that resonates with truth of place and character. CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER will not be forgotten.

    - Gail Cooke

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2010

    Must Read!!!

    I only bought this book because it was recommended. I absolutely loved it! I am normally a Nora Roberts/Danielle Steel fan...but this book was really great! I am hoping his other reads are just as good!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2012

    Excellent! Couldn't put it down.

    I agree with comparison with To kill a mockingbird.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2012

    An Ok Read

    This book was a challenge to get into. In the beggining of the book it was hard to keep track of who was who, and to know in what year it happened. But about 1/4 of the way through the book everything clicked! Turned out to be a great read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    SPLENDID NARRATION OF A BRILLIANT BOOK

    Long a member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Kevin Kenerly has apeared in a good number of their productions filling varied and challenging roles. We can only hope he turns much of his time to voice performances because his narration of this title is spot-on, especially in recreating the accents found in rural Mississippi. He reads distinctly and with definition whether it be the voice of a frightened boy or the slurred threats of a drunken man. Outstanding listening!

    "The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house." With the first sentence it's clear that CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER will be a humdinger of a thriller. What it takes two or three pages to realize is that not only is it a first-rate thriller, but also a beautiful, trenchant observation of rural Mississippi some 30 years ago. Tom Franklin's Southern dialogue is pinpoint perfection, his scenes painterly bringing to our mind's eye Chabot, a small decaying town and its inhabitants, so vivid it is as if we were seeing everything and everyone in wide screen color.

    Yet it is the story that holds us as it is told through the eyes of Larry and Silas, alternating between the days of their youth and adulthood. As a boy Larry is already a loner, ostracized and bullied by his classmates because all he does is read (Stephen King and other horror stories), belittled by his father, Carl, whom Larry understood to like "most everyone except him. From an early bout of stuttering, through a sickly, asthmatic childhood, through hay fever and allergies, frequent bloody noses, glasses he kept breaking, he'd inched into the shambling, stoop-shouldered pudginess of the dead uncles on his mother's side." Called "Scary Larry" by schoolmates he was not a pretty picture, yet he remained a gentle soul.

    Each night when his mother prayed with him at bedtime she asked for a friend for Larry, someone just for him. And then then an unlikely friend appeared - Silas, an African-American son of a poor single mother who worked two jobs. Their friendship was brief, just a few months, ending when Larry had his first date. He took a girl to a drive-in movie, and she apparently disappeared. Of course, Larry is seen as her abductor, perhaps a murderer. But, no body is found. Larry simply exists in a lonely state, an outcast, seen by all as a crazy man for over 20 years.

    After that length of time Silas returns to Chabot as a constable. He is aware that Larry comes to the garage he runs every day, although there are never any customers. Silas ignores him until the night a monster visited Larry's house and said, "Ever body knows what you did."

    Silas is now forced to remember what he has tried so hard to forget.

    This is a story of friendship reclaimed, atonement, and the devastation wrought by bigotry. Tom Franklin has crafted an unforgettable novel, one that that resonates with truth of place and character. CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER will not be forgotten.

    - Gail Cooke

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 12, 2012

    Recommend

    Was intense in some ways, but mostly just a great story. Not a lot of 4 letter words, which was refreshing. Recommend to all.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Depressing!

    This book was so depresssing I couldn't finish it. I was looking for a mystery and what I got was a sad, pathetic story about one of the characters. If you want to read about bullying, isolation, loneliness and ostracization, then this is the book for you. Otherwise, don't bother. What a waste of money!

    3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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