Nearly thirty years ago in southeast Mississippi, a high school girl doesn’t return home after going to the drive-in with the quiet neighborhood boy down the road, Larry Ott.
Life is never the same again for him-he’s now the town pariah.
Silas Jones, an African-American boy who was Larry’s friend for one brief summer when they were teenagers, returned to the area two years previous to serve as town constable.
Now another girl is missing and old wounds and secrets are about to come to the surface in this can’t-put-it-down mystery novel.
This is the author’s fourth book; he teaches in the University of Mississippi’s master’s of fine arts program and resides in Oxford.
The book’s title comes from the singing chant children repeat as they recall how to correctly spell the name of the Magnolia state, the “crooked letter” being the letter S: “M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I.”
Franklin draws his characters intricately and realistically.
Readers will feel they come to know Larry, the mild-mannered auto mechanic who takes care of his mother’s chickens; Silas, the ex-sports player turned police officer now known simply by his baseball jersey number, 32; and Angie, an EMT and 32’s current girlfriend.
The author describes her through 32’s eyes as: “...a pretty, light-skinned girl, petite, slightly pigeon-toed. She sniffled, too, from bad sinuses, and weird as it was, he found it cute.”
Flashbacks fill in the details of how an unlikely friendship grew between Larry and Silas, who had moved to the area from Chicago with his single mom, Alice.
It’s interesting to see the characters as both young teens that accept what the adults around them tell them and the men they have grown into now.
While the focus is on the current missing girl-a college co-ed and daughter of the county’s wealthiest citizen—an essential portion of the novel traces the intertwining lives of Larry and Silas.
School integration is going on during the first parts of the novel, and Franklin gives readers a glimpse of how the young teenage Silas and Larry cope with this issue. Readers of a certain age will enjoy the various pop culture aspects mentioned.
Since the book’s location is down South, the characters’ dialogue often reflects the dialect, though it’s not difficult to follow.
This is an adult fiction book so the text does reflect this in occasional language and situations.
The story is wrapped in wonderful language, such as this line describing Larry at the end of a usual day: “turning on the television at the right times and smiling with the laugh tracks, eating his McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken to what the networks presented him and then sitting on his front porch as the day bled out of the trees across the field and night settled in, each different, each the same.”
Robin Farrell Edmunds is a Manhattan resident.