I am writing this review as someone who grew up in Mississippi, who learned the "crooked letter" song as a child, who moved away but then came home again.
Somehow, Franklin managed to make this fictional town in Mississippi as much of a character in the book as the people who supposedly lived there. He was able to harness those intangible elements of everyday life here and make them intimately recognizable to those of us who know what to look for. I could almost feel the humidity of the summer here dripping off the pages.
I always wonder how books like this will look to those who don't live in Mississippi, and especially to those who have never been here. But this is a book that is about so much more than race. It is a book about memory, regret, forgiveness, and redemption. It is a story about loneliness, friendship, and finding your true family.
There were elements of the plot that were not much of a surprise, but there was so much more that was meaningful in many other ways. This is a haunting but easy read and one that I would gladly recommend.
I finished this book a few minutes ago and am already bereft that it isnt there for me to return to this afternoon. I typically prefer a linear story - or thought I did. I guess any writer can do that; but it takes a true master to so successfully weave the present into the past into the present as Tom Franklin has done here. The result is as intricately beautiful as a French braid. I'm going to have to track down which book actually won the Edgar Award for Best Novel (for which this book was nominated). It is difficult to imagine there was a better one in 2010 - or just about any other year in recent literary history. I have one bookcase (in a home lined with bookshelves on all three floors) where I keep "my classics" -- Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is already there.
This is the first book I've read by Tom Franklin, and was intrigued enough to look for more. This is a mystery involving a series of murders in the present day, which brings back recollections of a long-past murder suspect (a white man), and his nearly forgotten friendship with the black man who is now the police constable.
Being a northern-raised Yankee, I felt a little out of my element with the rural Mississippi setting, and felt like the flashbacks to 1980 could have been 1950 for the backward racist element, but I suppose a little culture-shock might be good for some of us. The plot was well-done, and the book as a whole was one I can highly recommend.
I could not put this book down. It is every bit as wonderful as all the reviews say it is. It cannot be labeled by genre, as it is more than a murder mystery. It is also a beautiful, sad and poignant story about friendship, racism, isolation and loneliness. It is beautifully written literary fiction, with a terrific cast of characters and a vivid sense of place. Very highly recommend.
I understand why this book has received high praise - it is well written and deals with "heavy" issues. It's a fairly quick read and kept my interest. It is one of those books you appreciate having read, but it is not a cheery story and I can't picture wanting to re-read.