Say you had 450 thousand dollars of tax-free cash and the opportunity to start a new life. What would you do next? That’s the question Robert Elgin, the central character in Samuel Ligon’s novel Safe in Heaven Dead, forgot to ask himself. He put all his efforts into absconding with a secret slush fund and escaping from his troubled marriage without considering what he’d do afterward.
With Safe in Heaven Dead, Ligon moves a fantasy of financial independence and freedom from the realm of daydream into practical reality, a reality in which cash is suspect.
Think about this: Where do you stay if you can’t use your real I.D. or your credit cards? And where do you stash all that cash? And, without any obligations or responsibilities whatsoever, what do you do with 168 hours every week?
Elgin checks into a sleazy motel and watches TV. He carries the money around with him in a plastic trash bag. He finds a high-class escort service that (of course) accepts cash. He develops a relationship with Carla, a beautiful doctoral student — a relationship that eventually kills him, during the first sentence of page one: “Robert Elgin died on the street, knocked down pursuing a woman he thought he could not live without.”
Safe in Heaven Dead is Ligon’s debut novel, published by HarperCollins in 2003. But his writing is mature and innovative. The story moves in flexible, crystal clear circles. Ligon presents dialogue in a notably fresh form. The plot is supported by complex details written simply. And the narrative ripples with moral dilemmas sans advocacy.
Publisher’s Weekly said it best: "This debut novel instantly seizes and holds the imagination. Few readers will remain unconvinced by the agonizing questions that drive this story, and the tragedy with which the book begins and ends."
Autumn House Press recently published a collection of Ligon’s short stories: Drift and Swerve. They are vivid and intense.
Find out more about Samuel Ligon at his website: SamuelLigon.net