Publisher/Format:William Morrow (2010), Hardcover, 288 pages
Characters: Larry Ott, Silas Jones (aka "32")
Subject: murder, lost opportunities, poverty
Setting: rural Mississippi
Genre: police procedural, Southern fiction
Source: Early Reviewers program, LibraryThing.com
Remember when we learned to spell "Mississippi" in grade school. EM eye-- crooked letter crooked letter, eye-- crooked letter, etc etc.?? This one gives us Mississippi in all its crookedness. I've read a lot of 'southern' fiction this year, so I have something to compare when I say up front that the strong sense of place I look for in this genre is definitely here. I've read more than a few mystery/detective fiction books this year, and my requirements for those include strong characters and a plot that keeps me turning the pages. Franklin has given us all of these in this 5 star book.
Set in the rural dirt-poor Mississippi of the 1970's as school desegregation was getting into full swing, and the Civil Rights movement was reaching fruition, Franklin evokes the racial tension and cultural baggage that made small town life in the south so problematic. He adds poverty, alcoholism, spouse abuse, and brain breaking hopelessness to characters who are striving to get through one day at a time. The descriptions of the setting and the life of both poor blacks and whites are as realistic as any I've read in months.
The two main characters grew up together, sharing some secrets (and keeping others private) that return to haunt them as adults. And here is where Franklin shines. He takes the individual stories of each--one black, one white--and carefully strings us along in reconstructing their pasts to arrive at a resolution that is shocking, stunning, poignant, and ultimately more hopeful than the story line would dare allow the reader to be. His mastery of dialogue is exceptional.
I won't do a spoiler on the story which centers around the two estranged friends: one who was suspected (but never arrested or convicted) in the disappearance of a high school girl twenty years ago, and is again under suspicion in connection with another recently missing girl, and the other who is now the town constable who must investigate the happenings. I will say that this is destined to be one of better books of 2010. It will not disappoint anyone looking for a strong contemporary police story written in exceptional prose. It has all three: good plot, good scenes, great characters.