Van Reid,
Cordelia Underwood, or,
The Marvelous Beginnings
of the Moosepath League

(Viking, 1998)

Three cheers for Van Reid's first novel Cordelia Underwood! This gentle, humorous and riveting adventure revolves around mysterious messages, buried treasure, secret intrigues and the formation of one of the most unusual social clubs: The Moosepath League.

When a capricious gust of wind blows Tobias Walton's hat from his head as he climbs up to the wharf in Portland, Maine, he little guesses that the merry breeze is about to launch him on a remarkable adventure. Rather, he is more concerned first with not toppling into the water when he overbalances while snaring his hat and second, with not pulling in the red-headed young woman who has rushed to his assistance. As it happens, a mysterious young man pulls her to safety -- and hence Mr. Walton -- before continuing on his way.

The young woman is 23-year-old Cordelia Underwood, down at the wharf with her parents to inquire after a sea chest belonging to her late uncle. The Underwoods part ways with Mr. Walton and claim the chest only to find out that Cordelia has inherited a piece of land up in the wilds of northern Maine. Nothing will do but that they set out to see the land, but before they leave, they have a 4th of July picnic to attend.

As it happens, Mr. Walton is also at the picnic as are the three singularly eccentric gentlemen Eagleton, Ephram and Thump who resolve to form a club -- although they don't know what it's for and it doesn't have a name. Present at the picnic to see Mrs. Roberto, an ascensionist in an "attractive suit of tights," they have encountered Mr. Walton and are quite taken with the genial man; they resolve that he should be chairman of their club, although they don't get around to telling him for quite some time. Finally, the young man from the wharf is at the picnic as well and seems more than taken with Cordelia.

From here, several plot threads take off as Mr. Walton, the Underwoods, and Eagleton, Ephram and Thump go their own ways, but these threads wind around each other and surprisingly enough, weave together into a coherent story. The narrative is embroidered with side stories, ruminations and adventures, making for a thoroughly engrossing read. Reid applies humor with a sure and gentle hand, whether during a tall tale told by one of the characters or a poker match.

The characters have enormous appeal, and while they are somewhat exaggerated, they are never shallow. Feisty Cordelia is fearless in the face of danger, and Tobias Walton, the central pivot to the novel, seems to attract friendly interest from nearly everyone, including a bear named Maude. Mr. Walton's clever "gentleman's gentleman" Sundry Moss keeps situations under control, including the feckless founding members of the Moosepath League at one point.

Cordelia Underwood is a refreshing read, sweet without being cloying, intelligent without being arch. The best news is that for Van Reid, it's only the beginning of the marvelous adventures of the Moosepath League!

To learn how to become a Friend of the Moosepath League, visit Reid's website.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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