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by Patrick Bone
Overmountain Press, Silver Dagger Mysteries, February 2002
153 pages
ISBN: 1570721750

What do you get when you mix history, mystery, and good old-fashioned science fiction in the same book? Nothing less than a rip-roaring adventure for young adults if the author is storyteller extraordinaire Patrick Bone. Following up on the success of Melungeon Winter, Bone once again takes readers to the Appalachian Mountain countryside of the 1950s where ancient folk legends compete with sci-fi movies in the "Scariest Story" category of childhood memories.

For the young people of North Carolina's Transylvania County, it's simply no contest. The legend of Devil's Mountain is as old as the hill itself, a tale that even grownups take seriously on nights when a full moon shines. These back-country folk know the land of their birth. They know that when the night sky's silvery orb is at its brightest, kids who venture up on Devil's Mountain simply vanish like shooting stars, leaving no trace for the bloodhounds to follow. If any child dares to doubt the story, all they have to do is visit Momma Opalona, the old black storyteller who lives down in the cove past Robert E. Lee Grade School.

When high school newcomer John Croshaw declares his intention to visit the mountain, classmates Chess Cumberland and Hannah Jane Goins go to Momma Oplalona for advice. What she tells them is enough to scare most folks away from Devil's Mountain, but Hannah has a crush on John, and Chess has a crush on Hannah. Where John Croshaw goes, the other two will undoubtedly follow. Several nights later, with a hunter's moon riding high in the sky, the three adventurers set out to climb the mountain. It doesn't take long before they realize they're in trouble. Someone is stalking them, and the only path to safety lies up the steep hillside. The trio becomes separated, and when Chess next lays eyes on Hannah, she's been captured by strange figures wearing long black robes. Oddly enough, John Croshaw seems to be their friend. Accompanying the figures are dozens of children, all of them quietly obedient to their cloaked leaders. Chess miraculously escapes capture, but once home again, no one will believe his story.

With John and Hannah missing, the sheriff sends Chess to the North Carolina Reformatory in hopes that a stay in prison will make him change his story. Weeks drag by, but Chess refuses to confess to harming the two missing teens. His only friend in the reformatory is Gary Wayne, a young man imprisoned on a false accusation. When Gary decides to escape, Chess agrees to go with him. Chess is determined to find Hannah, and he knows that the only way to do that is to return to Devil's Mountain. His discovery that John Croshaw is alive and stalking him only adds to his resolve. Before he can save his friend, though, Chess has some growing up to do. He accomplishes that with the help of Owen P. Duffy and Owen's granddaughter, Julie. The Duffies are mountain dwellers who welcome Chess and Wayne into their home after they escape from jail. The two boys work for Owen, and only leave when the old man dies. With no family left for either of them, Julie and Wayne accompany Chess on his fateful journey back to Devil's Mountain.

Patrick Bone has taken the ingredients of every youngster's fantasy and brewed a tale of friendship and loyalty refined by the fires of adversity. He's enriched this concoction by adding a dollop of history to the mix, describing life in Appalachia as it was some fifty years ago. Young readers will experience the hill country from the perspective of those who lived there at a time when the poor and uneducated had few opportunities or rights under the law. They will also view the beauty of the mountains and the simplicity of a lifestyle dependent on the bounty of the land. Bone shares none of this background in a heavy-handed way. Like any good storyteller, he relies on adventure to draw in his readers, and in this case, the adventure is as imaginative as they come. The sci-fi aspect of the story may seem humorous to adults, but any 12-year-old who's seen "ET" will think twice before dismissing the thought of aliens invading Earth. This is a great read for boys and girls alike, and highly recommended by this reviewer.

Reviewed by Mary V. Welk, March 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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