Thursday, December 19, 2019

Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens

First Sentence:  I was fifteen the day I learned that Ms. Lida Poe had gone missing.

Set in the 1970s, Eskens gifts his readers with a story that deals with a mystery, bigotry, and a young man growing up in an environment that makes him decide who and what he believes and for what he stands

It is so nice to read a book whose story starts on the first page and continues straight on through; no prologue and a single Point of View.  Beginning with relating a memory, Eskins' voice as a true storyteller is apparent—"I knew that President Ford has his hands full trying to beat out an actor named Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but what any of that had to do with the price of a turnip down at the IGA--I couldn't tell you."

Eskens creates a sense of time without giving you a specific date and he creates a sense of place through some of the most evocative descriptions one will find—"…Soon I found myself sitting in the crux of my favorite oak tree, watching the afternoon sun ripple across the surface of Dixon's pond, the smell of mud and water in my nose, the feel of tree bark under my bare feet." His humor is subtle; it slides in without one really noticing—"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.

The characters, both good and bad, are real and recognizable—"Hoke wore his sixty plus years like an old book. ... Sitting close to him, you could see the loose ends of a past that Hoke never talked about."

The descriptions of Brodie's life as a teen are wonderfully representative of life in a rural area have a timelessness about them, yet we are also reminded of the bigotry that is pervasive in many such areas--"I mean, there's no reason there ain't no black quarterbacks playing pro football.  They can run as fast and block and stuff, but they ain't as smart as whites.  That don't make 'em bad people.  They're just different. ... I think that if a black man sets his mind to it, he can be just as good as a white man."   There is also the pressure to conform and the way hatred and racism spreads--"You put enough like-minded idiots in a room, and pretty soon their backward way of thinking starts to take on an air of legitimacy."  

One wants the book to be perfect, and it nearly is.  But not quite.  There are a couple of unfortunate and completely unnecessary portents.  There are coincidences which make one shake one's head believing the author could have done better.  There is a rather predictable wounding of our hero that feels as though the author watched one too many detective shows.  Fortunately, one can forgive those weaknesses in contrast to the story of Hoke, his pain, and how he met Brodie, and how impactful is the story overall.

"Nothing More Dangerous" is a story of friendship, bigotry, violence, fate, and redemption.  It is also a beautiful story which touches one's heart.  

      Mystery-Brodie Sanden-Missouri-1976/Contemp
      Eskens, Allen - Standalone
      Mulholland Books - Nov 2019


  1. It sounds as though this has a really strong sense of place and time, and that adds so much to a story, I think. The writing style as you've shared it is really appealing, too. For me, those things and character development can often make up for the things an author doesn't quite get right...

    1. Those are definitely things for which I look when I read. If they are well done, I can forgive a weaker plot.