I’ve been calling Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter ‘the bloggers book’ because it ended up on my reading list simply because of the quality of the reviews by fellow crime fiction reviewers. The fact that the book won the CWA Gold Dagger Award this year had completely passed me by and it wasn’t until I read rave reviews by Maxine at Petrona and Bernadette at Reactions to Readingand at crimesquad.com that I bought it. I have a chequered history when it come to books that everyone has raved about as so often I have unreasonably high expectations (I am still waiting to find the ultimate crime novel). Meanwhile, Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog published a less than glowing review and my interest was really piqued. I don’t normally start my reviews with a precis of other blogger’s opinions. But this book divided the critics so decisively I think I should say upfront that I definitely read it with a more critical eye than I would otherwise have done.
The first thing that struck me was that it is a very well written book. There is a beauty in excellent writing that seems to pull the reader into the narrative and I was drawn to the story of Larry Ott and Silas Jones, childhood friends whose lives take different paths. In essence, the book is a story of the entwining of the two men’s lives with the backdrop of the mysterious disappearance of two teenage girls decades apart.
Secondly the setting of the story is wonderful. I love descriptions of the deep American south and this book is no exception with its passages evoking a unique countryside of rattlesnakes and deserted barns, dusty roads and small town entertainment. The book also works well as a social history of the area. The passages dealing with the underlying racism prevalent as the boys were growing up are lightly written with small vignettes to expose the small indignities that the black population had to endure.
There were some small things around plotting that I found irritating. Given the focus on the relationship between the two men, I felt that the murders of the young women got lost. I have mixed feelings about this because I prefer in crime fiction for the victim to remain at the forefront of the narrative. Although the second murder is resolved satisfactorily, the murder of the teenage Cindy twenty-five years earlier seems to be left deliberately vague. This lack of resolution is all the more strange as there is a strong redemptive element to the narrative where the fractured relationship between the two men begins to heal.
It’s ultimately a sad tale and I find it interesting that this sadness, so far from the tone of other US crime writing that I have recently read, has been so widely praised. I suspect the book is a truly one-off and will stay with me for some time.