The main character of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, Larry Ott, is an absolute victim.
Larry’s character is quickly established as a friendless teenager. Time and time again he turns up at school or to a gathering of his peers like a hopeful puppy and each time he is treated unkindly or humiliated.
Everyone on this planet will have experienced bullying, or at the very least, a time when they were unpopular. A stage when they were picked on and laughed at and sneered at by the people who they wanted to be friends with. Sometimes there might have been a reason, maybe they smelled funny, or wore the wrong clothes, or sometimes there might have been no reason at all.
The root of Larry’s problem is his father, who is a pig of a man. He belittles and undermines Larry, and his behaviour makes Larry an unconfident child who becomes a victim, constantly attracting bullying treatment.
Larry is not a bad kid, but not suprisingly, he lacks courage. He eventually makes a friend out of Silas, a poor black boy who has recently moved into a shack on Larry’s father’s property with his mother. Larry is white, and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is set in a time and place where white and black boys were not friends. Despite his poverty, Silas is clever and brave and popular, everything Larry is not.
Somehow, miraculously, Larry eventually scores a date to take a girl on a date to the drive in. The girl doesn’t make it home after their date and Larry is suspected of her murder. Her body is never found and the murder is never proven.
As an adult, Larry continues to live in his parent’s house, working as a mechanic in his father’s business long after his father has died and his mother has gone to a nursing home. By early middle age, Larry still doesn’t have a friend in the whole of the world. He is shunned by the townspople, tormented by local teenagers and is the first suspect every time a crime is committed in the community. Reading is Larry’s only real pleasure.
Silas left town after the girl’s disappearance. He eventually returns to town as a constable. Silas is still the opposite of Larry, happy and successful in his work, with a loving girlfriend and a community who value him.
When another teenage girl goes missing, Larry is suspected. When Larry is found in a puddle of blood in his own house after being shot, no one knows if he tried to shoot himself or if some one else has tried to murder him.
Most of the present day action in the book takes place while Larry is in a coma following the shooting. Woven through this part of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter are a number of crimes, which Silas, through a combination of luck and good management, solves. I’ll leave you wondering if Silas is able to solve the mysteries of the two missing girls, either in a way that will incriminate or absolve Larry of the crimes, but will reassure you that this book has a clear resolution which ties up all of the loose ends.