2 out of 4 stars
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Mountain Dew Trilogy II: Cheat River Gang unfolds in the environs of Cheat Mountain, West Virginia, during the time of the Prohibition. Revenue man Tom Bell is working undercover. He finds employment with the mountaineer Lige Burton, cutting timber for mine props with fellow-worker Jim Debassius, an Indian. His real job is with the federal government, and his mission is to track the Cheat River Gang, manufacturers of mountain dew. (Long before the soda was created, mountain dew pertained to illegal alcohol, usually rum or whiskey. It was also called moonshine.)Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads.
-John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
As Tom gets to know the Burton family and the rest of the mountaineers, he is increasingly won over by their way of life. He relishes the beauty of the mountains, the sincerity of relationships, the simplicity of their traditions, and the thrill of hunting. More importantly, he is inexorably drawn by the beauty and charm of Jane Burton, daughter of his boss. Tom feels guilty about hiding the truth from her and lying to her family. Will Tom choose to abandon his mission and stay with his beloved, or will he wield the long arm of the law?
If you want to go back in time and explore Cheat Mountain, hunt for wild game with an Indian and his exciting bag of tricks, and be privy to a gentle budding romance, read this book. If you are one who craves fast and furious action and twists and turns galore, this book may not be a good fit.
Harold H. Milton (born 1913, died 1997) wrote this trilogy and many other books way before he received his GED in 1993 when he was 79. He was never able to publish them in his lifetime. His niece Janice Blanton, whom he adopted when she was five, started publishing his works in 2017 as a token of her love and gratefulness. Despite his lack of formal education, Harold loved to write; he started writing in his twenties, and this trilogy was one of his earlier pieces. His character Jane was inspired by his wife Jane Romeo, a native West Virginian.
The language is that of the 1920’s, the dialogue is “mountain speak,” and the setting is faithful to the truth as relayed to Harold by his mountaineer friends. Despite the old-fashioned style, the book is an easy read. (However, do watch out for regional terms like “purty” for “pretty” and “shore” for “sure”!) Harold does not lack for words to describe the grandeur of the mountains and natural wonders of West Virginia - the magnificent trees, the sparkling streams, the majestic sounds of forest animals. Such fascinating imagery is this book’s selling point.
However, hardly anything happens by way of the plot. Many of the scenes are everyday events at home – meals, mundane conversations, playful ribbing, and household chores. The conflicts are mostly in Tom’s mind as he vacillates between revealing his true identity and keeping his mission secret.
The book doesn’t give a background of how the story started, so the reader is left to guess. It is fortunate that I got to read a review of the first book, so I was able to find my bearings. It may be good to include a paragraph or two about the first installment. This book itself ends abruptly, although the denouement isn’t unsatisfactory at all. The reader would want to follow the story to the final book.
The book includes a lot of pictures of the Milton family. While the story has nothing to do with them, except that Jane Burton was inspired by Jane Milton, it is fascinating to see pictures of the past. There is a need to choose only the better ones, though, as sixty pictures are too many to hold the readers’ attention, and may in fact, get annoying. The pictures themselves are randomly arranged, without a clear organization to them. Some are even duplicates.
I don’t think the original manuscript was subjected to any editing, for multiple errors abound. Homophones like assent, accent, and ascent are interchanged. Punctuation marks are many times misused. “Its’,” a non-existent word, appears regularly. There are many misspellings, misused words, and subject-verb disagreements.
The book is one continuous piece of text; there are no chapters. While I did not find this a problem, inserting chapter breaks may be beneficial for an easier reading flow, especially if a reader has to put down the book for a while. These breaks will give the readers pause to reflect on the past events and anticipation for what is to come.
As it is, the book merits 2 out of 4 stars from me. I’d like to see a thorough editing of the text, a more creative use of selected pictures, and cleverly placed chapter breaks. Then, the book may likely climb to a perfect 4 for nature lovers and those who believe that love can move mountains.
Mountain Dew Trilogy II: Cheat River Gang
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