Set in Jessup, Mo., in 1976, this tepid coming-of-age story, with a mystery element, from Edgar-finalist Eskens (The Life We Bury) centers on the relationship between Boady Sanden, an unhappy 15-year-old white boy, and Thomas Elgin, a black boy his own age who moves in with his family next door. Boady and Thomas hit it off after some initial awkwardness when Boady thoughtlessly uses the N-word. The boys’ unremarkable escapades include encounters with the opposite sex. Meanwhile, Lida Poe, an African-American woman who worked in the purchasing department of Jessup’s largest employer, a plastics producer, goes missing. Rumors circulate that Lida was involved in some financial chicanery and Thomas’s father was brought in from Minnesota to try to straighten the business out. Eventually, Boady and Thomas run across a corpse and start playing detectives themselves. The action builds to a climax heavy on clichés. This is no To Kill a Mockingbird. Hopefully, Eskens will return to form next time. Agent: Amy Cloughley, Kimberley Cameron & Assoc. (Nov.)
"A stunning small-town mystery.... Eskens clearly has an affinity for clever boys like Boady and Thomas; but he also has lovely visions of the mighty trees and secret swimming holes that make them long for summer and mysteries to solve."—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
"Nothing More Dangerous works well as a mystery, a dissection of hatred and racial prejudice, and a coming-of-age novel. . . . Eskens gracefully moves the novel through the little moments that help to shape people and see the world with a different attitude."—Oline H. Cogdill, Associated Press
"The story is gripping. . . . The characters are intriguing. . . . Eskens weaves a fine mystery that involves layers of racial introspection. . . . Eskens tells us in an author's note that he started this book in 1991 and kept putting it away, never quite feeling it was ready. He can proudly pronounce it ready now."—Ginny Greene, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Allen Eskens hits it out of the park with his new novel.... More relevant than ever in this divided country... This is a story of hope through an act of love.... It would be a fine supplementary text for high schoolers, especially the discussions of prejudice and where it comes from."—Mary Ann Grossman, Pioneer Press
"Mystery Pick of the Month: This powerful, unforgettable crime novel is a coming-of-age book to rival some of the best, such as William Kent Krueger's Ordinary Grace or Larry Watson's Montana 1948.... This timely stand-alone is a must-read for followers of the best in crime fiction."—Library Journal (starred review)
"Allen Eskens doesn't just tap into the experience of growing up in a rural Southern town; Nothing More Dangerous dissects the inner life of a teen forced to confront prejudice and persecution.... Eskens has the skill to make readers cry... and then cheer."—Shelf Awareness
"Magnificent... Nothing More Dangerous is the next best thing to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.... Setting, plot, and characterization are masterfully woven together to create a tapestry of a small town as a tinderbox of prejudice, fear, friendship, and dark secrets." —New York Journal of Books
"Eskens does an excellent job of weaving [the] disparate threads together into a fine blend of mystery and coming-of-age novel. The setting is spot-on, the characters are empathetic and well realized, and the plot is clever and compelling, building suspense until a harrowing denouement reveals all."—Booklist
"Both heartwarming and hard-nosed, Nothing More Dangerous is a coming-of-age page-turner that probes the dark heart of small towns and the resilient strength that keeps families together."—Thomas Mullen, author of Darktown
In 1976, Boady Sanden is 15 when African American bookkeeper Lida Poe goes missing from Jessup, MO. Lida worked at Ryke Manufacturing, the largest employer in Jessup. When she disappeared, so did a large sum of money. White teen Boady is more concerned with surviving his first year of high school. A trio of seniors, led by Jarvis Halcomb, plan to pick on the only black girl in school, but Boady trips them up. The Halcombs don't forget, so when Boady befriends Thomas, the son of his new black neighbors, both boys become targets. In a summer of terror, a small group of men from the CORPS (Crusaders of Racial Purity and Strength), led by the Halcombs, set their sights on the families on Boady's country road. VERDICT This powerful, unforgettable crime novel is a coming-of-age book to rival some of the best, such as William Kent Krueger's Ordinary Grace or Larry Watson's Montana 1948. While Eskens's books are not part of a series, his readers will recognize Boady as an adult character in two of his earlier books, including the award-winning The Life We Bury. This timely stand-alone is a must-read for followers of the best in crime fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 4/22/19.]—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN
Eskens' latest novel is a warmhearted story of a white teenager's awakening to the racial tensions that run through his Missouri town in 1976.
Years before he'll become a successful attorney (The Shadows We Hide, 2018, etc.), Boady Sanden struggles to navigate all the usual high school ordeals in small-town Jessup, including boring subjects and bullying by the likes of all-state wrestler and prom king Jarvis Halcomb. In Boady's case, these everyday problems are aggravated by his outsider status as a non-Catholic freshman at St. Ignatius High School, his home life with his widowed, introverted mother, Emma, and, most recently, the arrival of some new neighbors, the Elgins. Charles Elgin is definitely an improvement on indolent Cecil Halcomb, Jarvis' father, whom he replaces as manager of the local manufacturing plant after bookkeeper Lida Poe disappears with more than $100,000 of the plant's money. Jenna Elgin is excellent company for Emma Sanden, whom she helps draw out of her shell. And after a comically unfortunate first encounter, Boady quickly takes to their son, Thomas, who's exactly his age. But the Elgins, like Lida Poe, are African American, and the combination of an unsolved embezzlement, good old boy Cecil's displacement by an outsider, and the town's incipient racism works slowly but inexorably to put Boady, recruited by the Crusaders of Racial Purity and Strength, under pressure to betray his new friendship. Declining to join the racists but repeatedly running away rather than refusing their demands point blank, Boady must navigate a perilous route to supporting his community and claiming his own adult identity.
Perfect for readers who wish To Kill a Mockingbird had been presented from a slightly older, male point of view.