Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens: A review

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

It often seems that we are afflicted with an epidemic of sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity in our public life these days, but Allen Eskens reminds us that this is not a recent development. The ignorance/stupidity movement has deep roots in our society.

He takes us back to 1976, to the little town of Jessup, Missouri and shows us life there through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Boady Sanden. Boady is a freshman in high school and has been enrolled by his mother in St. Ignatius High School, the local private Catholic school. He left behind all of his friends in the public school he had attended and he is an outcast in the new school. He is either ignored or bullied by the St. Ignatius kids.

Boady lives with his widowed mother (his father died in an accident when he was five years old) who works as bookkeeper for a drywall hanging company. They live next door to a mysterious man named Hoke who moved in about ten years before. Even living next door to him for ten years they know little about his history but he is a kind and intelligent man who serves as a kind of surrogate father to Boady, teaching him skills that he needs in life and also gently guiding him on an ethical path.

Boady and his mother and Hoke are all white and the community where they live is rife with racial hatred against black people. Jessup even has its own group of wannabe Ku Klux Klanners called CORPS (Crusaders of Racial Purity and Strength). When an African-American woman named Lida Poe who was the bookkeeper for the area's biggest employer disappears along with about one hundred and eighty thousand dollars of the company's money, the stage is set for conflict and suspicion. Moreover, when the Minneapolis headquarters of the company sends an African-American manager to sort things out at the Jessup factory, the CORPS faction is outraged.

The new manager moves with his family to Jessup and into a newly renovated Victorian house just next door to Boady and Hoke. It turns out that the family consists of parents and a son just Boady's age and, although the two boys get off to a shaky start, they soon bond as friends and become inseparable, sharing adventures in the woods adjacent to their homes. Their relationship had a To Kill a Mockingbird vibe for me with Hoke as a stand-in for Atticus Finch. (We finally learn that Hoke was a defense attorney in his previous life.)

On one of their adventures in the woods, the boys make the gruesome discovery of a body buried under a log. Lida Poe had not left town with embezzled money after all. 

The story then becomes a murder mystery, which the local sheriff, an ambiguous character - is he a good guy or a bad guy? - seems not too eager to investigate. The reasons for that may have something to do with the fact that he is related to some of the CORPS members.

This is essentially a coming of age story with very relatable characters as the protagonists. It is well-written with the plot and the motives for certain characters' actions revealed slowly over time. The plot is constructed in such a way to keep the reader's interest and to keep those pages turning. It was a pleasurable reading experience. I had not read any of Allen Eskens' books before, but the man can write. My only complaint is that the plot did seem a bit derivative, but it tells an important story and reminds us of the truth of that quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

Comments

  1. This sounds good. I agree. stupidity and irrationally is nothing new. Though sometimes it is hard to see, a strong case could be made that it was worse in the past.

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    1. I would certainly agree that irrational racial hatred was worse or at least more evident in the past. Maybe it has been reduced or maybe some have just gotten better at hiding it.

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  2. Sounds like a very sobering reminder of a time in America that has still not been totally expunged. I can think of prominent people for whom that quote was crafted,

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    1. The quote could apply to many public (and, of course, not so public) figures. Some seem downright proud of their ignorance.

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  3. I think I have heard of this author but not read anything by him. Sounds like I should check him out.

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    1. Based on this book, I would say he's definitely worth exploring.

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  4. Awesome review!! I love how you share the summary of the novels you read without giving too much away, but inspiring me with enough information to want to read the book.

    I have never heard of Allen Eskens before. I will add his novel to my reading wishlist.

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    1. I don't think I had heard of Eskens before either, or if I had, it didn't register. But he has had several books out and based on this one, I think I will take a look at the others.

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    2. Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens is the deal of the day on Audible, so am going to download it based on your review.

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    3. I hope you enjoy it and I think you will. Eskens is a very good writer.

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  5. What with the virus and all, I'm looking for escapist reads at the moment. Cheers

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    1. Well, we all need to escape every now and then.

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  6. Excellent review, Dorothy! I may check it out at some point. For some reason, the plot gave me a Watchmen (miniseries) vibe, because of the semi-KKK angle and the sheriff with questionable loyalties. Have you seen Watchmen?

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    1. I have not seen it although I've heard many good things about it. We may watch it at some point.

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