My Grandma Tressie – Dad’s mother – would pass along her Agatha Christie paperbacks after she finished reading them. And she read them all.
I’m sure she read other things – I can’t know every possible thing she liked – but Agatha Christie is what I remember sharing with her. It was our thing. (That, and her Dell crossword puzzle books that came in the mail; she had a subscription.)
For me, it was Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys … then Edgar Allan Poe and, starting in high school, Stephen King. I devoured every one of them. There was even a lesser-known girl detective, Trixie Belden, whose adventures I followed during grade school and junior high. Good thing I had a county library and school libraries to feed my habit – my parents would have gone broke keeping me in books.
Mystery, horror and crime stories were not all I read, but they’re what I remember most. Then I became an adult and turned to nonfiction as my mainstay. Forsook the love of my childhood.
So I hadn’t read a good mystery in years – forgot how much I loved them, in fact – until Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.
My monthly reading group’s March meeting coincided with bestselling author Tom Franklin’s visit to Lyon College, where he was awarded the Leila Lenore Heasley Prize. (I wrote about that evening here.) Before the event, I had nabbed Crooked Letter from the county library rather than downloading it to my Kindle app … just in case I didn’t like it.
I needn’t have worried.
Franklin’s book – a mystery about two disappearances a quarter-century apart, and the man suspected in both crimes – isn’t so much a crime story, in my opinion, as it is a story about a friendship.
“When [the investigator] left, Larry lay amid his machines, thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from weather. But then a saw screams in and the tree topples and the circles are stricken by the sun and the sap glistens and the stump is laid open for the world to see.”
The friendship starts when the boys are in grade school and, despite an event that causes them to part ways when they’re young, they remain a part of each other, past, present and future.
Many mystery/horror/suspense novels are short on character development – relying on action to the detriment of the story – but that’s not the case here. Franklin weaves dialogue (inner and outer), plot, action and scenery to good effect.
A writer from the South and of the South, he may use kudzu as a metaphor once or twice too often, but, on balance, this is a tale that I enjoyed thoroughly – definitely one of those can’t-put-down kinds of books.
There is plenty of action, to be sure. This isn’t a romance novel – it’s a mystery story. Lovers of suspense won’t be disappointed.
But the inside-the-character’s-head writing is why I like it so much:
“Larry never accompanied her to the fabricated metal building they used, understanding it was easier for a congregation to accept the mother of an accused killer than the killer himself, but, hungry for God, he would abstain from food when she did. He found the first skipped meals the hardest, the hunger a hollow ache. The longer he went without eating, though, the second day, the third, the pain would subside from an ache to the memory of an ache and finally to only the memory of a memory. Until you ate you didn’t know how hungry you were, how empty you’d become. Wallace had shown him that being lonesome was its own fast, that after going unnourished for so long, even the foulest bite could remind your body how much it needed to eat. That you could be starving and not even know it.”
Yes, it’s a mystery novel.
But much more than that, it’s a book full of beautifully descriptive thoughts and scenes and characters. It’s a tale of two friends, one black, one white.
It’s a must-read.
Tomorrow: D is for debt-proof living.
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