The first thing that struck me about this novel is how totally plausible the whole story is. In fact, I can't picture it happening any differently than is played out. That is probably the most amazing thing about this book. You will find yourself nodding at the truthful portrayal of human nature when placed in a situation that requires making a stand. Often taking an easy way out leads to life altering suffering.
Larry Ott, a very likable young man growing up in the 80's on a steady diet of Stephen King novels (sounds very familiar) is destined to be the whipping boy both within his family and in his community at large. He reads too much and doesn't fit in. His father rejects him, as do his schoolmates. Transferred to a school in which whites are by far the minority makes him even more an outcast. Until he meets Silas, a dirt poor African American child who lives with his mother in an old shack on Larry's father's land. These boys become friends in an area where friendships like this do not occur but rather than liberating them it is a matter to be kept secret, as are most other things in this community.
That is really what this book is all about. Secrets. Secrets that protect and those that enslave these characters.
In Larry's junior year of high school he takes a gorgeous girl from his high school out on a date. A date from which she never returns. Larry is blamed for her disappearance and the effect on him and his family is nothing short of devastating. He is the community pariah, while Silas (now called '32 after his jersey number) becomes a local baseball hero and later a popular constable. The boys, now men, have not spoken in decades.
Then, some 20 years later, another local girl goes missing and of course Larry is the prime suspect and the subject of a vicious attack, leaving him helpless in the ICU, hovering near death. As Larry is being set up for sacrifice as the designated scapegoat, Silas is his only hope for liberation.
I have rarely read a novel that went so deeply into characters as Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Masterfully written, the reader has a thorough understanding of the events and decisions that shaped these two men. Some situations were forced upon them; other situations were created by choices that they made. What is the price of carrying the badge of hero that you might not deserve? Why do some individuals seem to accept or even embrace a martyr's role?
Franklin takes his time in setting up the scene and giving us the back story. The writing style not only paints a vivid picture of the town and its inhabitants, but even captures the vernacular. You live in this town during the novel.
Then the story shifts to the present when Larry wakes up in the hospital and the novel takes off into an adrenalin charged race to the finish as the forces assemble around Larry to effect his final sacrifice. No reader will stop reading in the last quarter of the novel as Silas is committed to earn his heroic status at whatever the cost. No matter what secrets must be revealed.
Somebody please make this book into a move.