Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: Smooth as Makers Mark
Almost all of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is backstory; the novel is only bookended and punctuated with present action. For purposes of characterization, it works fine. Most of the backstory is devoted to characterization, and the characters are believable and highly sympathetic. If you’re the kind of reader who wants to know your characters deep down, you’ll love Crooked Letter Crooked Letter.
Structurally, there are a few key story questions that keep the reader wondering. What happened between the protagonist and his former friend that caused the present day rift?
The story is constructed with a blind spot—the identity of a young girl’s boyfriend on the night she was murdered. I’m calling it a blind spot because the author doesn’t make it a compelling story question, which I think shows admirable restraint. (Having the reader asking the wrong questions would have diluted the strength of the more compelling, literary, character-motivation based questions.) However, when Franklin fills that blind spot, he provides a great ah-huh! moment, and cements the reader’s trust in the all-sensing, all-knowing authority of the author. You’ll know you’re reading a master of the craft.
There is no doubt Franklin is a master. In spite of my gripes, which result from personal preference, I read the novel in two days and enjoyed it. I was a happy reader because I’m usually incapable of reading bestsellers because they so often compel me only to get out a red pen and edit them. This was not the case with Franklin. He’s smooth as Makers Mark.
My gripes have to do with structure. I anticipated the answer to every single story question. Every one. Franklin telegraphs everything and the result was that I read to have my suspicions confirmed, instead of to be surprised. I’m confident Franklin knew he was telegraphing, and that his higher purpose was to write an in depth character study, not a thriller/suspense. As a character study, you won’t find one finer. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will make you think, and it’ll make you feel. However, the novel probably won’t make you bite your nails.
My advice? If you want to see how an absolute master develops characters, then Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will deeply satisfy. Franklin is perfect at creating compelling characters and revealing their thoughts, emotions, and woes in a way that keeps the reader involved. I’m looking forward to reading Franklin’s other work, particularly Smonk and Hell at the Breech.