Outlandish Shenanigans

CORDELIA UNDERWOOD: OR THE MARVELOUS BEGINNINGS OF THE MOOSEPATH LEAGUE

By Van Reid

Viking

480 pp., $24.95

Nothing passes idle hours in lazy summer days better than an old-fashioned tall tale. Whatever the season, readers will enjoy Van Reid's debut novel, "Cordelia Underwood," and its collection of eccentric Yankees who parachute from hot-air balloons and traipse about the coast of northern Maine in search of treasure.

In July 1896, young Cordelia Underwood comes into a surprising inheritance from her sea captain uncle. The air of mystery heightens when it's discovered that the sailor who delivers an old chest from her Uncle Basil is not the man he claims to be.

Meanwhile, Tobias Walton, a jolly and somewhat sentimental older gentleman, has returned to Portland after years of travel to sell his family home. Mr. Walton crosses paths with Cordelia on the dock, after a near duck into the sea, and a friendship develops. Walton serves as a sage adviser in helping the Underwoods unravel their mystery.

Entangled adventures ensue involving outlandish Mainefolk - sea-weathered smugglers, hapless dandies, damsels in distress, and a runaway circus bear named Maude. A minor mishap involving long underwear and a moose reunites the central characters, earning The Moosepath League its name.

Like the early stories of Charles Dickens, "Cordelia Underwood" first appeared in weekly newspaper installments. But further comparisons between Reid and Dickens would be a stretch. "Cordelia Underwood" reads as a series of small yarns, and at times the stories within the story are more interesting than the main plot.

The names of real Maine towns give this folklore a plausible setting as the caper wends its way northward. Reid's story offers a lemonade-at-the-fair freshness that will delight readers of all ages.

* Kendra Nordin is a freelance writer in Boston.

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