July 15, 2007

BOOKS: On Kingdom Mountain, Howard Frank Mosher (2007)

Like all of Mosher's novels, this one is set in Kingdom County, a fictionalized version of northeastern Vermont (in reality, that corner of the state is known as "the Northeast Kingdom.") This one is set in 1930, on Kingdom Mountain, which straddles the Vermont-Quebec border.

The sole resident of the mountain is Miss Jane Hubbell Kinnison, who is celebrating her 50th birthday with a little ice fishing when a biplane makes a crash landing on the mountain. The plane is piloted by Henry Sattermill, a Texan who has come in search of treasure. Near the end of the Civil War, a group of Confederate soldiers robbed the Kingdom Common bank and headed out over the mountain to Canada; they were never seen again, and local legend has it that the stolen gold is still hidden on the mountain. Miss Jane, being a gracious and hospitable woman, takes Henry in and offers him what help she can in solving his grandfather's riddle, which he believes will lead him to the gold.

But Miss Jane has problems of her own. The town and the state want to build a two-lane highway over Kingdom Mountain to connect Vermont and Canada, and she is determined to stop the highway at any cost. She is something of a proto-environmentalist, and believes that the road will do great damage to the mountain's ecosystem and unique forms of life.

On Kingdom Mountain is a rollicking story, with some marvelous set pieces and a pair of likable characters in Miss Jane and Henry. There is something reminiscent of Twain in Mosher's determined eccentrics and his understanding of small-town politics, and his writing is filled with great humor and warmth for his characters.

I'm a big fan of Mosher; I think he's a terribly underrated writer. This is one of his best books, an absolute charmer, and recommended wholeheartedly.

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