A Punctual Paymaster

By Dan Groat

            I enjoyed every page of this book from start to finish. The writing is clear, and its suspense held my interest throughout the book. The characters, whites and blacks, are portrayed well, not superficially. We understand them and their motives. We empathize with them and like them. The exceptions are several white bigots, who we also understand, but do not like.

This book goes deeper than what most people imagine about the conflicts between whites and blacks. It focuses on the human element, how people felt, how two people one white and one black worked together to do something that is right. This happened twice in the book, generations apart. Groat’s artistry can be seen in the quotes I inserted below.

The book begins in 1939 and ends in 2010. We are introduced to a black man of strong but warm character, a man called “cousins” because when he came to town he called everyone “cousin” until he got to know them and called them by name. “Everything he (Cousin) said and did seemed to express a penetrating emotion from a spot deeper than most people could find. Cousin was a marvel to his people, and for those who ever noticed or cared or knew about him on the north side, he was a mystery and an irritation.” He was highly respected in his community. His descendants remembered him after his mysterious death. “Every time we talked, I went away knowing more of what a man should be.” “No one sat in cousin’s rocker.” The philosophy of Cousin and his descendants and the book as a whole is personal responsibility. “The world doesn’t work right unless people do for themselves.” “Government, I would hope limited government, is necessary. But it all starts with the individual.” The book shows how this philosophy was carried out in dramatic fashions in two generations.

In 1939, the small town of Delphi, Missouri, was run by an old personable but strong-willed white man who came to the US from Greece. “Nikkos Thanos imposed (justice) on his town. He knew that peace was a necessary part of the success of his business.” He started as a poor man and became a multi-millionaire. Whites lived in north Delphi and blacks in the south. “The town of Delphi had both spoken and unspoken boundaries, both visible and invisible demarcations. The spoken and visible were the most prominent separations, but the least powerful. The limits that carried real weight and produced real fear were always silent and unseen.” The blacks were very poor and mistreated, but Dan Groat shows us how they watched out for each other, helped one another, and were able to have a reasonably good life in south Delphi.

The blacks were haunted by the memory of what whites had done to their parents and ancestors, the brutal murders, hangings, burning people alive. For decades Cousin was visited at night “by flames and demons. He knew why they came, but he didn’t want them anymore.”

Cousin and his descendant TJ do things and have things done to them that are mysterious and the last part of this warm book describes how his descendants, one white and one black, who feel like brothers, try to unravel the mysteries and set them right.