The story is set in rural Mississippi where two boys- Silas, sports-minded and black, and Larry, bookish, introverted and white- become friends. The former is brought up by his mother, while the latter belongs to an only child in a lower middle class family. When, as teenagers, a white girl disappears, suspicion falls on Larry which, though he isn't charged with the crime, turns him into the town outcast. Meanwhile Silas moves away and comes back as the town's only law-enforcement officer. Then another girl disappears and, though years later, suspicion once again falls on Larry.
What some readers might not be so sure about here is the portrayal, now something of a cliche, that another bookish introvert is tagged as a potential killer. But Franklin plays with that cliche to great effect, while, at the same time, making sure no one is one-dimensional, much less completely innocent.
Not only does the narrative, shifting from present to past and back again, never veer from its goal, but there are any number of poetic passages, like the following:
"When he left, Larry amid his machines, thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over the old but 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."
I don't know what it is about southern writers, but I seem to be reading more of them than ever: not just the likes of Franklin and Brown but William Gay and Tim Gautreaux, not to mention my recent foray into the world of Peter Taylor. But read Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. You won't regret it.