Tag Archives: Crooked Letter Crooked Letter

Lunchbox offbase on Edgar picks this year

The Mystery Writers of America has announced the Edgar Award winners!  And unlike last year, where my taste totally reflected the taste of the judges… we are not in synch.  In fact, 180 degrees difference.

I picked Tana French’s Faithful Place for Best Novel.  MWA picked Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist.   I placed this one… dead last in the running.  Augh.  A revisit of my review reveals that I still agree with my comments.   Hamilton is a great author – I’ve loved his previous series – and The Lock Artist was very creative and a fun read, but I didn’t find it to be my preference.

Similarly, for Best First Novel, my pick was Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston.  MWA’s choice: Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva.  Again, this book was at the bottom of my list.  I looked back over my review.  Yep, still agree with it.  The book has sheer verve going for it, but it’s not as edgy as I prefer.

Bottom line:  If you haven’t read all the nominees, do so!  They’re all excellent and well worth your time.  You can’t go wrong with the established authors nominated for Best Novel, including Tana French, Harlen Coben, Tom Franklin, Timothy Hallinan and Laura Lippman.

For the debut novels, you may find that Rogue Island is your favorite, or perhaps the humor and quirky characterizations of David Gordon’s The Serialist will float your boat.  All five nominees are an opportunity to expand your “must read” list.

My final take on being so wrong?  No biggie.  It’s like the Oscars.  “Predict the Oscars” contests reward those critics who are best are predicting what nominees will be selected by the Oscar voters.  I am more like the critics who pen “who should win” columns.  But even with that perspective, this undertaking is all very subjective! Still, it’s terrifically fun, so 2012 will find me doing the same thing.  Maybe I’ll even go to the ceremony!

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The final contender: Crooked Letter Crooked Letter

Like this year’s nominees Steve Hamilton, Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman,  and Tana French, Tom Franklin is a previous Edgar winner, for his short story, Poachers (in 1999).  In fact, the only MWA Best Novel- nominated author who hasn’t been blessed in the past is Timothy Hallinan.  The Queen of Patpong is his first nomination.

So needless to say, the competition has been fierce.  There isn’t a boring book in the bunch.   Crooked Letter Crooked Letter, the final contender, offers a story that is much more than it first appears.  Franklin introduces us to two key characters:  Larry Ott, who serves as a kind of caretaker for both his family home and the family business – he’s a mechanic – and police constable Silas “32” Jones.   The men have intertwining lives back through their childhood friendship, even though the athletically talented Silas went away to college and the city for many years.

And – ta da! – this is the sixth nominee out of six that that hinges on a past crime. I’m afraid this fact is going to affect how I read any mystery, thriller, or suspense novel from now on… constantly looking for how the past is going to pop up in the present.   Eerily enough, the book I’m writing now features an 18-year-old crime.  (Cue spooky music.)

But back to Crooked Letter Crooked Letter.  The book opens with a look at Larry Ott’s life today.  Tom Franklin’s prose is beautiful, giving the reader terrific insight into the character while simply describing what he does that day.  The intro has a great sting at the end – coming into the home he has lived in his whole life, Larry is shot in the chest.  Talk about starting off with a bang.

Meanwhile, his childhood friend Silas has been investigating the possible abduction of a missing local teen – the popular daughter of the town’s richest man.  Some in town think that Larry is the most likely suspect, as the case is reminiscent of a similar girl gone missing 25 years ago – missing from a date with Larry.  His only date, ever.

The story shifts between present day and the past, and as the book progresses it becomes clear that Larry and Silas are even more intertwined than first revealed, as the reader begins to suspect that Larry’s dad and Silas’ mom know each other better than they should.  And, in fact, white Larry and black Silas are half-brothers.

Even more shocking, Silas is the only one who knows for a fact that Larry couldn’t have killed flirtatious Cindy Walker 25 years ago, because her “date” with Larry had, in fact, been cover for a forbidden rendezvous with Silas.  Over the course of the story, Silas comes to grips with the true impact of his teenage selfishness.

Things to love about this book:  Beautiful prose, strongly evocative of time and place; well-developed, three-dimensional characters; skillful interweaving of the past and present so it doesn’t feel like Franklin is “cheating” by withholding information; surprises throughout.

Not as strong:  Some readers might find the ending too upbeat, with its emphasis on Silas’ efforts to make amends.   I liked it – but it did make a difference when it comes to the rankings.

When comparing Crooked Letter Crooked Letter to the other nominees, it definitely came in higher than The Queen of Patpong.  Better than I’d Know You Anywhere?  Better than Faithful Place?  The final ranking came down to complexity of the story, the characters, and sheer satisfaction.  Dark as it was, with a glimmer of hope for the future, Faithful Place takes the #1 spot.

Here are the Final Lunchbox rankings for the 2011 Edgar for Best Novel:

  1. Faithful Place Tana French
  2. Crooked Letter Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin
  3. I’d Know You Anywhere – Laura Lippman
  4. The Queen of Patpong – Timothy Hallinan
  5. Caught – Harlan Coben
  6. The Lock Artist – Steve Hamilton

I’ll be moving on to Best First Novel in my next series of reviews and rankings!