There are murders in this Mississippi melodrama, but pay them no mind; its core is the brief friendship of two boys, one black, one white.
Larry Ott has been ostracized by the small town of Chabot for 25 years. Back in 1982, the white high-school student took his neighbor Cindy Walker out on a date. She was never seen again. The town assumed Larry had killed her, so though no body was found, no charges brought, Larry was punished. When the time came for Larry, a mechanic, to inherit his father’s shop, he had no customers. He survived by selling off parcels of the family’s woods to the timber company. Now, in 2007, another disappearance: the daughter of the company owner. While we’re absorbing this, a masked intruder shoots Larry on his porch. He survives, thanks to quick thinking by his erstwhile friend Silas Jones, a black man and the town’s only cop. Silas has been having a busy day: finding the decomposing body of a local drug dealer (not heard of again), removing a rattlesnake from a mailbox. These dramas share space with frequent flashbacks to the childhood of Larry and Silas. The result is a sluggish story, a surprise after Franklin’s two hell-for-leather historicals (Smonk, 2006, etc.). Silas and his mother once lived in a hunting cabin in the Ott woods. Larry taught Silas how to hunt and fish until a racial slur ended their friendship. Turns out Silas was also involved in Cindy’s disappearance, though absolutely not as her killer. There’s no lack of mysteries here, and no lack of red flags either, but other mysteries—of character—go unexamined. Why hasn’t Larry, instead of living like a zombie all these years, just left town? And why has Silas, after bigger assignments elsewhere, returned home to a nothing job?
There’s little suspense in a novel that’s most notable for its heavy-handed treatment of race.