And so I did.
In a town in rural Mississippi a girl has gone missing. It seems this exactly mirrors an event some 25 years ago when another girl, Cindy Walker, also went missing. The man who was suspected of abducting and probably murdering this girl was Larry Ott, at the time aged sixteen. But he was never tried, for lack of any real evidence aside from the fact that he was the last person to see her alive. The town has tried him in their own minds though, found him guilty and ostracised him for all these years.
It seems fairly obvious to one and all that once again Larry Ott has abducted a young girl. One of the town policemen is Silas Jones. He and Larry Ott were childhood friends back at the time Cindy disappeared, an unusual thing then as Larry is white and Silas black. It was at the time when the schools were being desegregated and the school had mainly black kids with a few white. Larry was not popular, not really because of his colour but because he was different, a reader of Stephen King novels, not particularly sporty, a bit awkward, and so on.
In the present day, a man comes to Larry's house and shoots him, leaving him for dead. But he doesn't die: he lies in hospital in a coma. Silas, who has not himself been friends with Larry since boyhood sets about investigating the shooting, soon realising that it ties in with the recent girl's disappearance and the one twenty five years ago. The whole situation is difficult, complicatd by the guilt Silas feels at not contacting or helping his former friend. But perhaps he can now start to put things right? Easier said than done with so many secrets and unknowns still to be discovered...
What surprised me, when I realised it, is that of the almost fifty books I've read since the start of the year, three of the very best are the three I've read so far for this Southern Lit. challenge. Now why's that? It's odd. I can't decide whether it turns out this subject of the history of black Americans is something which fascinates me so much that any book about it can't fail. *Or* the standard of writing by southern authors or authors who tackle the subject is particularly high. I just don't know. All I can say is that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is an amazing, fantastic book.
It's not at all a sensationalised book. It doesn't scream hysterically from the rooftops how terrible things were twenty five years ago, it just tells you in its own quiet way that there was ingrained prejudice and that things happened which shouldn't have. But there is another story, that of a white boy, loved by his mother but otherwise not wanted by anyone, even his own father, and who people mentally tried and convicted even though there was no evidence that he'd done anything. People can be devastatingly cruel... people of all colours and creeds.
I loved the fact that the story was told from two different points of view. Larry's sad life was heart-breaking, Silas was more complicated, it was quite clear he had things he didn't want to think about and was being driven by guilt. The story is also told in flash-backs. I'm not a huge fan of that style of writing but it works superbly here and doesn't half give the reader a history lesson! It reminded me a bit of Kathryn Stockett's The Help, another book where you're told matter-of-factly about a very unpleasant period of history and the author gives the reader credit for having the intelligence to draw conclusions for her or himself without whacking you around the head with sensational facts.
This is a crime book but it's almost as though the crime takes a back seat to the retelling of the history of the lives of the two main characters. It's always there in the background, the reason the story is being told, and yes I wanted to know what had happened to the two girls. But I was much more interested in the human story being recounted and I'm sure this is why this book worked so well for me. I'm not surprised Pat, my husband, and youngest daughter liked the book so much. It was clever, humorous, informative, absorbing, heart-breaking. Loved it to bits and am sure it will make my top ten for this year.