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Don't Be Afraid of the Dork

Covered in dog hair, Obsessed with books, Wondering what it's all about. I suspect the answer is ice cream and the ocean.

Not book to restore your faith in mankind but still an engaging read

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin

Format: Audio CDs from Library
Narrated By: Kevin Kenerly
Original Publication Year: 2010
Genre(s): Mystery
Series: NA
Awards: Barry Award Nominee, Anthony Award Nominee, The Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger, Edgar Award Nominee

I have complicated feelings about the South. I am, arguably, a product of the South. I was born and raised in Richmond,Virginia and I say arguably because I know many folks nowadays don't consider Virginia part of The South. They have a point, as it is pretty Mid-Atlantic, and I personally don’t have much of an accent. But Virginia was the Capitol of the Confederacy and this legacy is everywhere – I have 10 ancestors that fought on behalf of the South in the Civil War. I was obsessed with the old plantation houses along the James River and even tried to decorate my teenage bedroom in that style. Much of the South’s legacy, however, is very ugly and it makes it difficult to really embrace this heritage or look at it with anything but profound disgust. Richmond is also pretty segregated though not on purpose. I doubt there is anyone, even nominally as I am, from the south, that does not have complicated feelings about their home place. This is where Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter steps in. It is a book that simultaneously captures the unique flavor of the South and makes sure that it is a place of which to be wary.

Twenty five years ago, 15 year old Larry, awkward and a little strange, took his neighbor on a date and she was never heard from again. Larry was never found guilty of her murder but his “weirdness” and the circumstances ensure that he is condemned and shunned by the community of Chabot, MS. Even though Larry knows he is not guilty he seems to feel that people’s hatred and contempt for him is justified. He has had only one friend in his life, Silas, now known as ‘32’, and their friendship ended in the ugliest possible way a year or so before the event that ruined Larry’s already difficult life. The book opens in present day, just as the investigation of a missing girl has begun with Larry as the prime suspect and 32 is one of the investigating officers as he is now constable of Chabot.

The book works on many levels: as a disturbing mystery, as a portrait of life in small-town South and as contemplation on the nature of men, friendship and family and it is woven together fairly effortlessly.

As I alluded to above this book shines in evoking a tangible image of an insular and poor small southern town. Chabot, MS seems without hope and so set in its rut that, with a couple of notable exceptions, even the most intelligent of its citizens don’t question old prejudices – if you’re different there is just not enough energy to try and expand the mind to include you. Franklin also subtly depicts how the nature of racial tensions shift as the book jumps from 25 years ago to the present day. There are all the complicated feelings of being from the South and how it can in some ways trap you.

My favorite part of the book is how Franklin uses his two characters to explore the question of courage. Larry is a heartbreaking character who, on the surface, is a weak man but who at his core is quite courageous while Silas, against all appearances, is the coward. The way people treat Larry is so abominable but also believable which makes it just that much sadder. Both characters are very engaging in different ways and I rooted for both of them to have their moments of revelation. By the end…Thank goodness!...a glimmer of hope has started to shine.

The present day mystery at the heart of the book is twisted and dark and it does involve some animal cruelty which I had to kind of “La La La” my way through because I can’t take that. If you’re looking for a straight mystery I don’t think this will disappoint though it includes so much more.

The narrator for the audio book has a great voice and portrayed all the characters, especially 32, really well.