Nothing mysterious happens to Boady Sanden in Jessup, Missouri, and he wants out. He's a high school freshman living with his dog and his struggling mom, ten years after his dad's accidental death. He knows he shouldn't leave them, but he's saving to do just that. Then, along with the 1976 Presidential politics of Ford running against Reagan, he reads the name Lida Poe in the local newspaper during a dull Current Events class. He's drawn to the story of this black woman who disappeared from Jessup, where race matters far too much, and for the wrong reasons. They say Lida Poe stole a lot of money from her company and ran. Boady doesn't understand any of it yet. He doesn't even recognize the ingrained racism that comes naturally from his own mouth, but his instinct to protect a classmate from racist bullying draws him into a new world. New neighbors and a new understanding of a very familiar man next door leads to a year of growing up quickly. This is a strong mystery, written with a straightforward style in a teenage voice that I found totally believable and very enjoyable. It's an important take on racial hatred, as a young man starts to see the disturbing truth all around him. Powerful and satisfying.
— Tim McCarthy
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 fifteen 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.
Best Book of the Year: Florida Sun-Sentinel and Library Journal
Finalist for the Minnesota Book Award
About the Author
He now lives with his wife, Joely, in out-state Minnesota where he has been a practicing criminal defense attorney for twenty-five years.
"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