John Fox Jr.’s Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come was on the 1903 and 1904 bestseller list. His The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was on the lists in 1908 and 1909. By 1913, readers were ready for a new novel by the popular author.
Fox obliged with The Heart of the Hills.
The story concerns two pairs of cousins, one pair bred from the the feuding Hawns and Honeycutts of the Cumberland Mountains, the other carrying the more genteel bloodline of the Blue Grass. Fox repeatedly drags the cousins up the mountains and back down so they and readers can see the vast difference between the two cultures.
That’s about all readers see.
The characters are rudely drawn, the plot so disjointed it reads like Fox dropped the manuscript and failed to get the pages back in the right order before publication.
The story is padded out with long passages about Kentucky politics, the importance of education for the development of the frontier, and the disastrous impact tobacco had on the state’s environment and economy.
A Hoosier Chronicle has something for lovers of practically every novel genre except science fiction. Amazingly, Meridith Nicholson manages to blend romance, politics, mystery, philosophy, and history without compromising characterization.
Yale-educated Dan Harwood hand-delivers a letter to a math professor, which prompts the professor to take his granddaughter off to Indianapolis while he tries to raise money to send her to college.
The professor doesn’t know who Sylvia’s father was or if her parents were legally married. His friend “Aunt Sally” Owens, a feisty, rich old widow, says Sylvia is so promising that her background is no matter. She writes a check for Sylvia’s college expenses.
While Sylvia studies at Wellesley, Dan reports for The Courier and studies law. In his work he meets Morton Bassett, a rising state politician married to Aunt Sally’s neice. Though Bassett is rumored to be unscrupulous, Dan genuinely likes him.
When Morton offers him a job, Dan takes it. He thinks his moral principles enough to keep him from being co-opted if Bassett’s reputations turns out to be founded on fact.
Nicholon sets up the plot carefully. He makes all the things that you expect to happen, happen in surprising ways.
Dan is not as quick at unraveling Sylvia’s mysterious past as a shrewd lawyer should be, and the ending is too neat to be believable, yet not one of the 600+ pages of this novel is dull. Nicholson will keep you entertained and give you some ideas to chew on after you’ve finished reading.