Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Tom Franklin

Harper Perennial

304 pages

Larry Ott is a solitary figure.  Having lived in a small, southern town for his entire life, his reputation is tarnished and he is treated as a pariah.  As a teenager, Larry had been an outcast, so everyone was surprised when he was asked on a date by one of his female peers.  No one knows what happened to the girl, who disappeared while out with Larry.  From then on, the suspicions of the entire town lie with Larry, and everyone believes that he is guilty of the girl’s disappearance.

Now, years later, Larry lives by himself in the same town, and his old friend Silas “32” Jones is the constable of the town when another girl disappears.  Once again, Larry is caught in the middle of everyone’s suspicions.  32 is himself coming to terms with what happened years ago, and as the book wears on, his old relationship with Larry comes to light.  Added to all this complexity is the fact that 32 is black and Larry is white; not a seemingly big deal now, but decades ago in the south, their friendship was something that had to be more hidden.

I am a big mystery buff; literary mysteries are my weakness, and I expected this to be your run of the mill mystery about two missing girls.  In fact, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was anything but.  The character development was absolutely exquisite.  Both 32 and Larry, especially, were so intricately woven that I was immediately submerged into their world.  Larry became one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever encountered.  One scene was especially poignant for me.  The boys are teenagers, and Larry is dressed as a ghost for the local haunted house.  It seems as if his peers may have accepted him at this point, and he is part of the social scene, or so both he and I expected.

‘Anyway,’ he went on, ‘when Larry come out of the haunted house, we all just kind of pretended not to see him.  All of us.’

He told her how Larry stood in the floodlight for a long time.  Figuring it out.  The mask deflated under his arm.  Finally he turned and walked down the dirt road to the paved one.  He paused at the road in his whipping sheet and waited, as if a car was coming though none was, waited a long time, and still no car came.  Some of the seniors had forgotten him and were passing cigarettes and beer, but Silas watched as Larry finally crossed the road and walked into the parking lot.  He stopped there, too, and took off his sheet and looked over the cars, as if selecting one to buy.  He’d forgotten where he’d parked his mother’s Buick, that’s what he was doing now.  In case anybody glanced over and happened to notice him and yell, ‘Hey, look! It’s Larry! Come back! Join the party!’

My heart ached for Larry.  He is one of those characters that I expect will stay with me for a long time to come.  I just now realized that Franklin has written other novels prior to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and I am anxious to see if anyone has read them and, if so, how they compare to this one.

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Book Review: Bumped


Megan McCafferty

Balzer & Bray

336 pages

The year is 2036 and a widespread virus has made anyone over the age of 18 infertile.  Thus, the teenage population has the sole responsibility of reproducing for the rest of the population.  Many teenagers are under contract, with many perks promised once they deliver a child.  Melody is one such teen.  She has a very promising contract but has yet to get pregnant as the couple that contracted her haven’t settled on a male donor yet.

Meanwhile, Melody has just discovered that she has a twin.  Harmony has grown up on a religious compound, so the world she is used to is quite different from the one Melody inhabits.  She is visiting Melody in an attempt to convince her of her errant ways, but in turn, she is influenced by Melody’s environment.

My plot synopsis is paltry at best, but I think Bumped is best experienced when you have little knowledge of what to expect.  One element to be aware of though would be the slang involved in the text.  It was overwhelming to me for the first 30 pages or so, and I was skeptical as to whether I would be able to overcome that.  By the end, I had come to appreciate the vernacular and how it added to the climate of the story.  Just be forewarned though that it can be a little difficult to ingratiate yourself.

I have read other reviews that have an issue with the serious issue of teen pregnancy being somewhat glamorized and not seen with the gravity it demands.  I certainly see the argument of that line of thinking, and I am not sure where I fall on that continuum.  I can see how the novel could be seen as a bit distasteful but it is, after all, a work of fiction and in the end, my enjoyment of the novel wasn’t altered.

Bumped is the first book in a series, which is problematic to someone like me who ultimately enjoyed the book so much that I want to immediately get my hands on a copy of the second book in the series.  Bumped was just published last month so I am guessing we have a long wait. If you have any information on the second book, please let me know! I have tried to find more information, but have come up with nothing!

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Book Review: What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal

What was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal

Zoe Heller


258 pages

I’ve heard about this novel for ages, as it was shortlisted for the Booker a few years ago, but I never gave it a second glance until I read about it in Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree (which I gushed about here).

The book is written by an elderly schoolteacher named Barbara who has befriended, and is caring for, a middleaged woman named Bathsheba “Sheba” Hart.  Sheba had started teaching pottery at the same school where Barbara had taught for many years and after only a few months, she began a torrid love affair with a fifteen year old student.  Sheba has a husband and two children and she is completely cognizant of the trouble she would be in were the affair discovered, but she throws caution to the wind, and beforre she knows it, she is in over her head.

The relationship between Sheba and the student, (Steven) Connolly is so realistically unbelievable.  Sheba’s behavior is hard to grasp; she is completely sucked in by the affair, and it is hard to understand what could be so attractive about a fifteen year old boy.  But I believed it.  I couldn’t fathom her conduct but I could certainly sympathize with her, which I didn’t anticipate when the book began.

I was very impressed with Heller’s knack for character development.  She really nailed it, and due to that, I was invested in the novel.  Barbara, the protagonist, especially impressed me.  I wouldn’t normally be so interested in a spinster woman with a touch of bitterness.  Barbara is unable to form any meaningful relationships, and she tends to be more of a loner.  Her attitude tends to be too forceful and polarizing, but once she forges a relationship with Sheba, she is able to find an outlet for her loneliness.

Last week, I suggested this book as the next choice for my real life bookclub.  I think it will offer a great forum for discussion and I am anxious to see what the reception will be.  I downloaded a sample of The Believers for my kindle; the plot doesn’t interest me as much but if it is even a fraction as good as Notes on a Scandal, i am sure I will enjoy it.

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Book Review: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

Kate Summerscale

Walker & Company

384 pages

Crime detecting is in its infancy, and Jack Whicher is one of the detective inspectors for Scotland’s Yard.  Somewhat of a rogue, he is in his prime and has a real knack for uncovering even the smallest clues and details.  Then a crime takes place that changes the course of his career forever.

Road Hill House is the estate of the Kent family.  Mr Kent is a factory inspector with a new, younger (pregnant) wife.  They have two young children, as well as Mr Kent’s four older children from his first marriage, who live in the home as well.  Add to that numerous servants and you have quite a full house.

I somehow went into this book not realizing who was going to be slain, so I will keep that a secret, despite the fact that it happens early on and is pretty easy to deduce before it happens.  The house had obviously not been broken into, so it becomes evident that someone in the home had committed the crime.  The local police and townspeople have one theory as to who is the killer, and then Mr Whicher is called in.  After surveying the scene and taking statements from members of the household, he becomes confident that he has discovered the murderer.  Unfortunately, no one is buying his theory, and eventually he is ostracized for his determination.  His career never recovers, and the glory days he once knew are over.

I love books like this–fictionalized true crime.  Add the fact that it is a Victorian era crime and you have me completely hooked.  I loved this book.  I wasn’t sure what to believe, and Whicher didn’t have me sold.  Crime solving is so different these days, with modern technology and forensics, so the case Whicher was building didn’t seem strong enough.  Obviously back then, you were going more on circumstantial evidence, as that is all there was.  Possibly I just didn’t want to believe that his suspect could be guilty either–if you’ve read the book, I think you know what I mean.  Who could do such a thing?

I wish there were more books out there like The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.  If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it as much as I did?

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Book Review: The Report

The Report

Jessica Francis Kane

Graywolf Press

256 pages

The year is 1943 and England is in the throes of WWII.  The residents of Bethnal Green are rushing to the nearest bomb shelter when tragedy strikes; at the entrance, a mob scene results in the death of 173 people.  The sadly ironic part is that the retaliatory bombs that were expected that night from the Germans never came.

Laurence Dunne was contracted by the government to investigate the disaster.  People are anxious for answers, and many of them are mourning the deaths of family and friends.  Tilly, one of the central characters of the book, is a young girl both mourning the death of her small sister as well as trying to come to grips with what happened that night.  She becomes a central focus of the investigation and Laurie Dunne’s probe into what happened that night.

I admit, the only reason I read this book is because it was highly recommended by other book bloggers.  Otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have given it any consideration.  What I enjoyed the most about The Report was how it portrayed a little known historical tragedy and interlaced it with human emotion.  I appreciated what Kane was trying to do, and I became very invested in Dunne’s investigation and his final report.  One would think that an investigative report would be cut and dry; you search out the facts and present them as the truth.  What Dunne discovered was there were so many aspects to what happened that night, and perhaps the truth would only cause more heartbreak and sorrow.

The reputation of The Report is well deserved.  It is a tightly woven historical novel that is engrossing from beginning to end.

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I purchased this book for my Kindle.