Review – The Tilted World by Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly

The Tilted World Proof CoverI was quite lucky to receive the opportunity to read this one which is not actually out for release until October however I was given the privilege after Sophie Orme of Mantle Books (Pan Macmillan) tweeted out the simple question;

“So who fancies a proof copy of Gold Dagger winner Tom Franklin’s latest incredible book #TheTiltedWorld?”

“Aye alright,” I responded and it arrived in the post a wee while later.  How exciting, a proof copy.  Fun fact?  I’d never heard of Tom Franklin or his poet wife Beth Ann Fennelly before this and so I felt a little guilty that more die hard fans may have missed out.

Heather was in Texas at the time visiting family and so during one trans-atlantic Skype call I began reading the prologue to her.  The book is based during the great Mississippi Flood of 1927, an event I felt ashamed to admit I’d never heard of until I read the authors’ notes that state I was not alone as this great flood that killed so many and reshaped the south of North America forever is widely forgotten by most, even in America.

We open with Dixie Clay, a beautiful name I might say, who is a young woman with a secret.  While the whole town of Hobnob, which sits on a bend in the great river, knows her to be married to a bootlegger, what they don’t know is who’s really cooking the moonshine.  Dixie Clay makes the finest Whiskey on Earth (of course this is fiction, we Scots make the finest whiskey on Earth!) though never touches it.  She married into this game and after losing her first child is finding herself stuck in a marriage she entered without really knowing her husband.

Enter Ingersol and his partner Ham, two revenuer agents investigating the disappearance of two other revenuer agents before them.  Reports had come that they’d found a big still, one that would have them in the papers for busting.  But on the new agents’ way, they’ve run across a murder scene with a crying baby who needs a new home and Ingersol hasn’t the heart to leave him with an orphanage.  The story of Dixie Clay and Ingersol intertwine as the investigation develops but also expands under the constant fear that the levee holding the monster of a river away will burst or as it seems more likely, be sabotaged to save New Orleans.  The constant threat of a great flood sweeping away the town, leaves Ingersol and Ham also volunteering as guards on the levee and ultimately causing their investigation to become three fold.  Who killed the previous agents if they were indeed murdered?  Who’s cooking the moonshine and also, who’s planning to blow the levee?

The story is gripping, I couldn’t help taking this book with me everywhere.  I could tell Heather would be upset that I wasn’t going to wait for her to continue reading over Skype or when she got home but screw Heather!  (I’m going to regret typing that).  I was reading this on bus, on lunch break and on summer leave.  It went to Barcelona with me, it got a little soggy and sandy on the beach and after I found myself submerged not in the Mediterranean but the story, I came back with a very bad sun burn which I blame entirely on this book and which I appreciate the irony considering it never really stops raining throughout the story.  I’m still peeling, damn you Franklin!

I really felt for both the main characters; Ingersol the orphan come jazz guitarist come soldier come prohibition agent.  His story was complex and it was great learning his background story which really shows how his decisions in Hobnob are influenced by his past.  Dixie Clay who left to marry her husband so young, rushing into what she thought would be a perfect world with a cute guy, making the mistake so many of us made, I know I did, when we are young, naive and in love.  People don’t turn out to be who you thought they were when you fell in love with them.

It is brilliant to see the two characters stories intertwine and with the background stories of their lives so well told, it felt so natural to understand their thoughts and decisions.  In all, very well constructed characters that I wasn’t forced to get to know at the very beginning of the book either, I grew to know them as the story progressed, much like I would a friend.

One thing I found amazing was how well researched the book was, it wasn’t just a matter of the characters saying or interacting with things in the right language of the time or that the right house hold items and instruments and scenery were described; it was the fact that the narrative itself was written as if so by a person of that time, as if the writing itself was done in 1927 with absolutely no knowledge that I would be reading this so far in the future.  It was all so natural.  Even the narrative style seemed to change depending on which character the scene was about so that it read almost as if that character were telling the story in the third person which helped to understand their thoughts and feelings.

When the action started to build up, did it build!  Without giving too much away, when Ingersol starts putting the whole thing together and time is running out, I simply could not put this book down.  I’m anti-social at the best of times but the world was shut out for the last eight or so chapters as I was hooked.  To see the drama of this book turn suddenly into an apocalypse as the levee finally breaks (that’s in the blur so don’t scream spoiler!) it’s like the whole book is transformed.  I think in many ways this feels almost like two maybe three best seller books in one story.  Am I praising this book too much?  Then I shall calm myself.

I highly recommend this book, it’s available from the 1st of October 2013 so not long now.  Tom Franklin and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly have done a marvellous job on this and I’m looking forward to seeking out Franklin’s previous award winner Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.  Thank you yet again to Sophie Orme, @sophiemorme on Twitter for sending me a copy early, it has been easily one of my favourite reads this year.

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