Saddened — but not shocked.
That’s how Nancy Allen, longtime Missouri Ozarks resident, felt when she read recent stories depicting southwest Missouri as a haven for hate groups.
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Since the April 13 shootings at Kansas City area Jewish-affiliated facilities left three area residents dead, some journalists have made much of the environment that produced the suspect, a self-avowed white supremacist from Aurora.
“I was mortified and distressed,” Allen said. “But not surprised.”
Allen, who teaches law at Missouri State University in Springfield, has made her fiction debut with “The Code of the Hills: An Ozarks Mystery.”
The novel details the adventures of Elsie Arnold, a prosecutor in fictional Barton, Mo., tasked with investigating a man accused of abusing his three daughters.
Allen knows the territory. A 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia law school, she joined the Greene County (Springfield) prosecutor’s office in 1981. Arriving as the office’s only female attorney, she ultimately tried more than 30 jury trails, including murder and sexual offenses.
The “Code,” Allen said, refers to the belief that a man is allowed to do what he wants with his land and family without outside interference. This code, she added, accommodates hostility to outsiders, suspicion of government interference and resistance to change.
“Those are some of the reasons why we remain a one-dimensional community while the rest of the country has changed,” Allen said.
“My family has lived in the Ozarks since the 1880s, and I would never live anywhere else. But just because I love the Ozarks doesn’t mean that I am blind to the shortcomings of this area, which has not embraced diversity.”
Allen was heartened, however, to read how the mayor of Marionville, Missouri, resigned after making comments sympathetic to the shooting suspect’s beliefs. At a town meeting, fellow residents had made clear their disapproval.
“That is absolutely a healthy sign,” Allen said.
One question: After so many years of real-life courtroom drama, why write fiction?
“In the legal thriller you have the opportunity to shine a light on the court system for readers you would not otherwise reach,” Allen said.
Beyond that, Allen said, she loves a genre heroine who is human. So many, she said, seem too good to be true.
“They eat salad and, for stress relief, go running,” she said.
“When it is time to eat, my flawed antihero goes to Sonic and, for stress relief, runs to the nearest bar.”