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Nothing More Dangerous


Nothing More Dangerous

It’s the summer of 1976, and while the rest of the country is getting ready to celebrate the bicentennial, young Boady Sanden is finishing up a forgettable year at St. Ignatius High School. When he’s not being chased by bullies like Jarvis Halcomb and his toadies, he’s being actively ignored by the rest of his classmates. This place is a lot more intimidating than his sweet country day school in Dry Creek. But bullies and boredom be damned. Boady is working on an escape plan to ditch small town Jessup, Missouri, when he’s 16 after he has saved up enough money.

Life has been bleak for Boady and his mom after his dad’s death due to a freak accident on a job site. His mother has retreated into herself, and between her job as an accountant for the local drywall company and keeping up the house, there’s little time left over for her teenage son. And since their town is so small and predominantly white, Boady has some naïve ideas about race: “What could be easier than dividing people up by color? Us and them. We’re white, they’re black, and that makes them different from us.” These uninformed notions will soon be put to the test in ways he never could have imagined.

"NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS masterfully combines a wistful coming-of-age tale with elements of suspense, as well as a story of racial tensions, all woven together to provide one satisfying novel."

But just when Boady thinks he’ll die of boredom, Lida Poe, a local woman who worked at the plastics factory, disappears without a trace, along with a substantial amount of money from the business: “It had been two weeks, and no one had seen hide nor hair of the woman. Personally, I didn’t find it hard to believe that someone had up and left Jessup; what baffled me was why more people didn’t do it.”

Most people in town assume that Ms. Poe embezzled from her employer and absconded with the money, but could there be a more sinister motive behind it? Boady’s sullen neighbor, Hoke Gardner, has a connection to the missing woman, although he never talks about her or the mysterious accident that left his arm immobile. But Hoke does divulge some news about their quiet street. They are getting new neighbors across the road. The Elgins, an African-American family, are moving to Jessup from Minneapolis because the father, Charles Elgin, works at the headquarters for the local plastics factory --- the factory that basically employs 95% of the town of Jessup and where Ms. Poe went missing from. He’s being sent from HQ to find out what happened to the money and, possibly, to Ms. Poe.

Accompanying Charles will be his wife, Jenna, and their teenage son, Thomas. Boady brightens a bit when he hears this news. With a new high school and his retiring nature, it’s been a while since he’s had a friend, and maybe this new kid could be just that. But before their friendship can be solidified, Jarvis and his crew attempt to sway Boady into keeping tabs on his new neighbors. It seems that Jarvis, his father, Cecil Halcomb, who also works at the plastics factory, and their cronies are members of CORPS, which stands for “Crusaders of Racial Purity & Strength,” an organization that they try to spin as patriotic but is just a white supremacist group. Jarvis tells Boady that he can sit with them in the cafeteria if he’ll spy on Mr. Elgin.

Cecil and a few of the other factory workers are worried that this whole disappearance/missing funds thing will be laid at their feet, and they all could be in danger of losing their jobs. It doesn’t take long for Jarvis to ramp up his requests, and he asks Boady to spray paint a racial slur and the symbol of CORPS on the side of the Elgins’ house. But by this time, Boady and Thomas are fast friends, and there is no way he’s going to do that for Jarvis. So he refuses and suffers the consequences for it --- a pretty sound beatdown --- but he will not relent.

As the friendship between Boady and Thomas grows, so does the friendship between their mothers. After so much sadness and isolation, it’s so wonderful to see his mother smile and laugh with Jenna, as it is for her to see her reclusive son laugh and joke with Thomas. When the boys decide to go camping in the nearby woods, they make a discovery that could blow the plastics factory scandal wide open, if only the authorities would believe them. As their small town soon becomes a powder keg of racial tensions, it becomes abundantly clear where everyone’s allegiances lie.

As he did in his debut, THE LIFE WE BURY, Allen Eskens draws readers in from the very first sentence and doesn’t let go until the breathtaking end. NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS masterfully combines a wistful coming-of-age tale with elements of suspense, as well as a story of racial tensions, all woven together to provide one satisfying novel. In his Author’s Note, Eskens thanks his daughter, Mikayla, for encouraging him to finish the book, which he started and abandoned 20 years ago. We, as gratified readers of fiction, should thank her as well.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on November 22, 2019

Nothing More Dangerous
by Allen Eskens

  • Publication Date: November 3, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316509736
  • ISBN-13: 9780316509732