by Howard Frank Mosher
© 1989 Dell Publishing
Reviewed by: Sarah Kourkoulis

Set in northeastern Vermont in 1952, this novel by Howard Frank Mosher chronicles the summer of Jim Kinneson’s thirteenth year and the events that conspired to change a small town.

It begins when the town church hires a new minister who arrives in town with his teenage son. In this community, newcomers are seldom seen, and rarely welcomed. But despite the dark color of his skin, the new minister, Reverand Andrews, is embraced by almost everyone. He likewise embraces his new life, and works diligently to know the people and their history, which seems to be as much alive as the present. Over the next few months, he does make a few enemies, but as he himself said, “I don’t completely trust a chap who doesn’t have any enemies.” Yet what he brushes off as normal becomes almost deadly when someone is found murdered, and the Reverand is the only suspect. What follows becomes a twisting tale of local lore and suspicions.

A Stranger in the Kingdom is reminiscent of books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Peyton Place, and like them, it deals with the hearts of men in a seemingly innocent and good town. We meet nearly everyone in the town of Kingdom Common, from the local outlaws, to the judge and to the busybody that most folks try to avoid. We see their weaknesses and strengths through young Jim’s eyes. We hear the petty arguments between his father and his older brother, and watch his mother care for her family. This is compelling stuff, if only because we know people like this! Mosher has created a community of unique and familiar individuals, and their interaction is wonderful.

The first two-thirds of this book was a good read, enjoyable, but not earth-shattering. However, once the courtroom scenes began, it was almost impossible to put down. After having lived with these characters, to watch how they act and behave in the climax, was well worth the wait. Mosher has given plenty of town and personal background, and on that foundation the end of the book is built. What was wonderful was that although terrible things were done and secrets were revealed, this story does not end in despair, but in hope that over time, things will and can be improved. Most importantly, love and trust triumphed over hate and deceit, because only true Love can ever completely change the heart of man.

Copyright 2014