New Maine Times Book Review: Moss Farm

Posted Wednesday, November 14, 2012 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: Moss Farm
By Van Reid.
Moosepath Press, 2012.
276 pages, $14.00.
ISBN 978-1-4675-0382-2.
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
    American poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) once said:  “I have always been of the mind that in a democracy manners are the only effective weapons against the Bowie knife.”  And it is a good thing that the members of the Moosepath League are well-armed with good manners, witty repartee, and hearty appetites, for none of them would ever carry a weapon like a knife, a blackjack, or a pistol.
    The Moosepath League is a fictional Portland social club (men only), the whimsical creation of Edgecomb author Van Reid, a clever writer whose sense of humor, vivid, imagination, subtlety, and surprising plots have produced hilarious and delightfully complex novels involving this erstwhile club of middle-aged, bewhiskered, over-stuffed, and well-dressed bachelor gentlemen.  The league’s accurate motto is “Tolerance, Curiosity, Humor.”
    MOSS FARM is the sixth book in Reid’s Moosepath League series of funny Victorian melodramas featuring the league’s five members, men who through pratfalls, missteps, and innocent fumbling, find themselves rescuing damsels in distress, solving thorny romantic problems, and thwarting the nefarious schemes of petty thugs and criminal masterminds.  And they do all that in the most polite and gentlemanly fashion.
    In this latest adventure, in 1896 the league’s leader, Mr. Tobias Walton, “a man of leisure (or at least a man not of labor)” and his companion, Mr. Sundry Moss, are off on a visit to the Moss family farm in Edgecomb where they will untangle three befuddled romances and teach a valuable lesson to an insufferable old coot.  The scenes here are hilarious as two old codgers vie for the attention of the town’s elderly postmistress.  Mr. Walton may be a confirmed bachelor, but he does know a thing or two about romance and how it should gracefully and successfully be pursued.
    Meanwhile, the other three members of the league, Messrs. Ephram, Eagleton, and Thump, when not suffering from a “victual-induced miasma,” become unwittingly involved in a case of mistaken identity that leads them from one comic situation to another.  One day in Deering Park in Portland they recover a misplaced letter addressed to a fellow named Walter, but they have a cascading series of problems in trying to return the letter either to the young woman who lost it or to the mysterious unknown Walter.  Curiously, it seems that neither wants to be found.
    The more they pursue the right and gentlemanly course of action, the more they become wrapped up in a strange case involving a confused and distressed father, the charmingly dotty (and surprisingly lucid) elderly Aunt Actonia Mint who sees things that are not there (or are they?), a smart detective with some helpful skills, a snarky spy, and a dastardly scheme run by a couple of inept thieves.
    All through this comic opera, nobody thinks to open the letter to see what it says, perhaps something useful, because that would be an ungentlemanly act, prying into private correspondence.  However, when the letter is finally opened and read, everything everyone thought they knew about what was going on, turns out to be wrong.  And Aunt Actonia Mint reveals herself to be a lot more savvy than anyone believed.  Maybe she won’t go to the nuthouse after all.
    This is an enchanting farce, populated with wonderfully odd, irascible, and captivating characters, all smartly tied together by Reid’s elegant prose and snappy dialogue.  This carefully woven plot proves that “people will consider something mysterious and unclear much longer than they will what is plain and readily understood – or what seems to be.”
    Pay close attention to the ending of this story – and you will see the foreshadowing of what may come next.
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