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Walking to Gatlinburg    by Howard Frank Mosher order for
Walking to Gatlinburg
by Howard Frank Mosher
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Shaye Areheart, 2010 (2010)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Howard Frank Mosher's Walking to Gatlinburg is a most unusual historical, whose allegorical nature reminded me somewhat of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen. Mosher tells us that the 'Kinnesons of Kingdom Mountain had always been great readers' and that 'Years later Morgan Kinneson would conclude that it was probably reading that had gotten him and his brother, Pilgrim, into trouble in the first place.'

In 1864, seventeen-year-old Morgan Kinneson embarks on a quest from his home in Kingdom County, Vermont to find his brother Pilgrim, a physician who had gone missing from the Union army in Pennsylvania. Morgan's family have long 'operated the northernmost station in Vermont's Underground Railroad' and he plans to leave after escorting elderly escaped slave Jesse Moses to Canada. But after Morgan leaves Jesse in a cabin to hunt a moose, the old man is murdered by 'the worst dregs that the conflict between the states had produced.'

As Morgan continues south seeking signs of Pilgrim, he's pursued by these vicious war criminals - who include 'a slave killer, a child murderer, an unfrocked minister, and a disbarred army doctor' (the latter practiced vivisection on the wounded) - who want a mysterious rune stone that Jesse secretly slipped to Morgan before they parted. As he travels through these war-torn lands, Morgan has strange adventures and collects odd companions along the way - including an elephant, a goose girl named Birdcall, and a lovely escaped slave named Slidell Collateral Dinwiddie.

Morgan Kinneson loses his deadly pursuers one by one, with the help of a gun named Lady Justice, but at a cost. When he finally finds what he sought in the Smoke Mountains, the last of his pursuers finds him. And Morgan trades Lady Justice for a different kind of justice. Walking to Gatlinburg is a quirky and engrossing adventure that also looks hard at war, at retribution, and at forgiveness.

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