Silas Jones is a lone law enforcement officer in small town Mississippi. Twenty years ago a teenage girl disappeared on a date with Larry Ott, Silas’s one-time friend. Back then the law couldn’t prove Larry guilty, but the whole town has shunned him ever since. Now the town’s peace is broken when another young woman goes missing, and the town’s drug dealer is murdered. Larry is left fighting for his life with a bullet in his chest and the past’s hidden secrets come sharply into focus.
With the book having won the 2011 CWA Golden Dagger, I was expecting a straightforward crime novel. Instead Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a taut, gripping examination of loneliness, prejudice and secrets. Franklin creates a Mississippi that is as humid as it is vivid. His dialogue is uniformly excellent, with each character coming to life on the page. There is a lot packed into the 316 pages, but it’s tight and well handled and the story doesn’t slacken off at any point.
Despite the CWA sticker on the front (which was one of those irritating things that didn’t peel away easily – not good), the crimes aren’t the focus of the novel. Lesser writers would have perhaps dealt with the abductions with relish, going into a forensic level of detail. Franklin avoids this completely and the book is all the better for it. It’s the characters and their pasts that are the focus here. The character of Larry and the suffering he encounters throughout his life are so well realised, you can’t help but wonder at Franklin’s own upbringing. The Halloween scene in particular, is wonderfully heart rending (if such a thing can be classed as wonderful).
There are a couple of negatives. The ending is a little too saccharine for my liking. I would have preferred it to end a chapter or so earlier as it would have stayed true to the rest of the feel of the story. Also there are a couple of points in the story where you see the big reveal coming a mile off. However, rather than groaning out loud, Franklin’s build up is so good, by the time the events arrive, they almost feel natural. Natural enough to let them go, anyway.
Overall, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is an excellent book, a couple of plot niggles aside. The writing is excellent throughout and will warm you through the winter nights.