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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

Points North: The Final Word on Kingdom County

Irasburg, Vermont - Home of Howard Frank Mosher, inspiration for the small towns in Kingdom County

Jim and Charlie Kinneson are getting on in years. But Charlie, now 80, can still lift and carry the Old Town canoe on his shoulders alone. Brother Jim, ten years his junior, admits to himself that he doesn’t think he could do the same as he follows Charlie down to the stream, lugging the packs, paddles and fly rods.

Yes, of course, Jim and Charlie catch brook trout on the streams and bogs near their family camp. They always do in Howard Frank Mosher’s stories. In this scene in Points North, Mosher's latest and last book, we learn that they are both using Orvis Battenkill rods (gifted to them by their grandfather upon graduation from college) with floating line and a Royal Coachman wet fly. Fly-fishing is an important part of the mystique Mosher creates in his novels and short stories set in the fictional Kingdom County in northeastern Vermont.

I first met Jim and Charlie in A Stranger in the Kingdom, when Jim was a teenager helping his dad, the publisher of the local newspaper. In that award-winning novel set in the 1950s, Charlie was a freshly minted lawyer defending a black minister who was dubiously accused of murder. Later, in God’s Kingdom, Jim and Charlie are a few years older and the colorful family story continues, with many new characters and a few who appear in Mosher’s other stories.

Appropriately, in Points North, Mosher ties up the loose ends from the many threads in his previous books, which focus on the extended Kinneson clan during their long history in Kingdom County. Published in January 2018, a year after his death from cancer, this final collection of loosely related tales is vintage Mosher, the master storyteller. He knew this was his last book, so he was careful to satisfy his readers by providing closure on unfinished business, while bringing his narrative and key characters up to the present.

Points North even has a story about wind turbines being constructed near a Kinneson relative’s farm and local reactions to this significant change in the landscape.

By now, many of the backbone tales and characters are familiar, reappearing as sub-plots or remembrances that are ever-present in smalltown life. Everyone’s story is linked with someone else’s. Old grudges and family history become the basis for conflict in this close-knit community that Mosher builds his stories upon.

One intriguing character who appears in several books is Dr. Pliny Templeton, a runaway slave who befriended a Kinneson ancestor during the Civil War. Pliny later earned a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary and moved to Kingdom County where he founded Kingdom Academy. In many stories, Pliny is not an actual character, but his skeleton, with one missing hand and a bullet hole in the back of the skull, hangs in the school to honor its founder. Pliny's legacy and the mystery of the bullet hole play a significant role in the major storyline. Points North skillfully fills in the missing details and intrigue about Pliny with which Mosher has tantalized his readers for years in other books, including God’s Kingdom.

On a side note, I learned separately that the Reverend Dr. Templeton is based loosely on Alexander Twilight, the first African American to earn a college degree in the U.S.- from Middlebury in 1823- who went on to build a school in Brownington, VT, smack in the middle of the Northeast Kingdom. As with many of Mosher’s better yarns, historical nuggets like this have spurred the writer’s imagination.

I won’t spoil the fun for Mosher fans (or future Mosher fans). There is so much to love and be grateful for in Points North. OK, one small spoiler, we learn who Jim Kinneson marries. Now go back and read the other books to find out why this is important!

It's sad to think this is Howard’s last work. I’ll always be grateful that he was kind enough to read and review The Confluence. I wish I could have shaken his hand and cast a fly with him in Kingdom County when I was on the Storied Waters adventure.

Fortunately for me, I have seven more of his books to read, so he'll continue to entertain me for some time. Hopefully, this summer I'll get back up to Vermont to explore further the rivers that inspired the Kingdom River in his unforgettable stories.

Rest in peace, Howard.

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