“On Kingdom Mountain,” by Howard Frank Mosher; Houghton Mifflin publishing; 276 pages; $24
Jane Hubbell Kinneson, the owner and lone resident of Kingdom Mountain, communes daily with “my dear people,” a family of wooden figures she has carved from native basswood.
She’s quick to blast away with Lady Justice, her late father’s .54 caliber rifle, at both four-legged and two-legged intruders.
Whenever she takes her Model A to town, she drives straight down the middle of the road, never faster or slower than 15 miles an hour, no matter who is honking.
She is rewriting Henry David Thoreau, whom she finds hopelessly wordy, and revising the King James Bible, which she considers utter nonsense.
And at 50 years of age, Lady Jane is up for any adventure, including walking on the wing of a biplane.
This formidable woman is the heroine of “On Kingdom Mountain,” the latest novel by Howard Frank Mosher. She is just the sort of quirky, fiercely independent character that Mark Twain excelled at creating, but he’s long dead. Thank goodness we have Mosher to pick up where the master left off.
With his first nine books, including the exquisite “Waiting for Teddy Williams” (2004), Mosher has established himself as one of our finest storytellers.
The new novel unfolds in 1930 in a remote area of northern Vermont that resembles the state’s Northwest Kingdom, where Mosher has lived much of his adult life.
As the story begins, the leaders of Kingdom Common, the town at the base of Jane’s mountain, are planning to build a new road in the hope of attracting tourists. The intended path cuts right across the mountain that Jane, like her father before her, has vowed to protect.
As the battle for the mountain ensues, a biplane with the words “Henry Satterfield’s Flying Circus, Rainmaking and Pyrotechnic Services” crash-lands in a frozen lake on Jane’s property, and the dubious Mr. Satterfield enters her life.
Satterfield is the grandson of a Confederate officer who led a raid on Kingdom Common’s bank in 1864 and fled over the mountain toward Canada with bags of gold coins. According to local legend, the gold was secreted somewhere on Jane’s property. A riddle passed down to Satterfield by his grandfather might be the key to finding it.
Satterfield, who has barnstormed all over the world, and Jane, who has rarely ventured from her mountain, form an unlikely alliance to find the gold and stop the road. In the end, they find more than they bargained for in each other.
Mosher tells his story in a charming, homespun style:
“Miss Jane jacked a .54 caliber shell into the chamber of her father’s rifle and rested the stock on the observation deck railing. Had he not been holding on to the same railing for dear life, Henry would have clapped both hands over his ears. As it was, he let go with one hand and covered one ear when she touched off her first round. Across the river, a hammerhead construction mule – an intemperate animal named Sal who, the evening before, had tripped across the bridge while Henry was bathing in the river and chased him, buck-naked except for his white hat, all the way up to the home place – dropped down stone dead. ‘Now we’re talking,’ Henry’s granddaddy said in the rainmaker’s head.”‘
This superbly written novel is at once a whimsical love story, a lament for the wild lands that have been lost and an unflinching examination of the American national character.