At the recent Southern Festival of Books, I had a chance to hear from several authors to whom I've been introduced through the Lemuria First Editions Club. I joined several years ago, and each month, almost like magic, a new signed first edition shows up on my doorstep. At the festival, I heard from Sonny Brewer, Rick Bragg, Lee Smith, and Brad Watson. At two different sessions, I heard from Tom Franklin, a name I recognized, having read Hell at the Breech, a story of murder and attempts at justice in 1898 Alabama. I also realized his novel Smonk still sits in my "to read" stack.
Franklin's latest novel Crooked Letter Crooked Letter (a reference, as any young spelling student knows, to the mnemonic device for spelling Mississippi) has been getting lots of attention since its release. It was among a short list of suggestions of fall reading on the Today show last week, in fact.
With all the books discussed at the festival, this was one of the novels I bought, only to find another signed copy--from Lemuria--at my door when I returned home. A sign? Perhaps.
This time Franklin sets his novel in the last twentieth century and present day. He follows two protagonists, Scary Larry, accused of murder as a teenager and suspected again, and Silas, the town's one policeman, a black man, who at one time had lived with his mother in a cabin on Larry's family's property and had for a short time befriended Larry.
Silas, normally relegated to directing traffic when the plant shift changes, begins to follow hunches and finds victims of murder or attempted murder--real police work. When Larry is found near death and bleeding from what many believe is a self-inflicted gunshot, Silas reenters his life.
Franklin shared a person incident from his teenager years that inspired a critical incident in Larry's life during a breakfast session in which he and three other writers discussed, among other things, how they handle elements of their stories drawn from people they know, people who might recognize themselves. His sharp wit and sense of humor--and my earlier enjoyment of his previous novel--led me to the book table as soon as the session ended. Now that I've read one copy and shared the other, I'm ready to add Crooked Letter Crooked Letter to my list for those who ask for reading suggestions.
Note of trivia: On this season's ticket for the Alabama-Mississippi state game, the printers omitted one of the humpbacks.