Nothing More Dangerous is the first stand alone novel from Allen Eskens, one of my favorite authors out there right now! This novel is off of his usual path of crime fiction but it did not disappoint.
In a small Southern town where loyalty to family and to “your people” carries the weight of a sacred oath, defying those unspoken rules can be a deadly proposition.
After 15 years of growing up in the Ozark hills with his widowed mother, high-school freshman Boady Sanden is beyond ready to move on. He dreams of glass towers and cityscapes, driven by his desire to be anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri. The new kid at St. Ignatius High School, if he isn’t being pushed around, he is being completely ignored. Even his beloved woods, his playground as a child and his sanctuary as he grew older, seem to be closing in on him, suffocating him.
Then Thomas Elgin moves in across the road, and Boady’s life begins to twist and turn. Coming to know the Elgins – a black family settling into a community where notions of “us” and “them” carry the weight of history – forces Boady to rethink his understanding of the world he’s taken for granted. Secrets hidden in plain sight begin to unfold: the mother who wraps herself in the loss of her husband, the neighbor who carries the wounds of a mysterious past that he holds close, the quiet boss who is fighting his own hidden battle.
But the biggest secret of all is the disappearance of Lida Poe, the African-American woman who keeps the books at the local plastics factory. Word has it that Ms. Poe left town, along with a hundred thousand dollars of company money. Although Boady has never met the missing woman, he discovers that the threads of her life are woven into the deepest fabric of his world.
As the mystery of her fate plays out, Boady begins to see the stark lines of race and class that both bind and divide this small town – and he will be forced to choose sides.
This book is really something special. I have heard it being compared to the likes of To Kill A Mockingbird and I completely agree! The racial tension was palpable and also really eye opening. It’s a reminder that it’s not enough to just treat others with respect and kindness: you have to stand up when you see someone being wronged as well.
This wasn’t a fast, roaring mystery/thriller, but more of a slowly building tension that made the last third of the book fly by! And the pace really matched the setting and characters of 1970’s southern Missouri. It made it feel more realistic and heartfelt. The reader is able to really grow to love the characters and understand their choices. Part coming of age story, part mystery, part racial injustice story, Nothing More Dangerous is a book I highly recommend to just about anyone.