"The Treasure of Moonlight Ridge," the third in the Moonlight Ridge series, is set in December, in the days before Christmas.
The first, “Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge,” was set in summer. The second, “The Witches,” is set in autumn.
The fourth, I presume, will be in the spring.
The action all takes place in the 1950s in and around fictional Eden, Alabama, which author Ramey Channell tells us is based on Leeds, and on Moonlight Ridge, the mountain just east of Eden.
(In this novel, being “east of Eden” is not a bad thing. Bible readers may recall that in Genesis, Cain, after killing his brother Abel, is forced to move out to the Land of Nod, east of Eden. John Steinbeck used the title for his novel as a signal of the terrible, dangerous rivalry between the Trask brothers, a parallel to Cain and Abel.)
Channell, right from the start, has organized an ensemble cast. They’re younger, but remind one of Carolyn Haines’ bunch in the Bones books. Each character contributes a different skill.
Lily Clair Nash, a fourth-grader, is the protagonist and narrator of these tales. Her constant companion is her first cousin, Willie T. Nock, a rather thick boy. He’s liable to be impetuous and get them into trouble.
Her friend, Lolly Bishop, whose father is the mayor, is a little wealthier, better dressed and more sophisticated.
The kids have parents, who realize only late in the proceedings that there is something afoot. The kids are free to roam: Be home in time for supper!
Lily has a pet dog, Witch Boy, another constant companion.
There is also their African-American buddy, Studebaker Freeman, who had planned to go to medical school in Nashville, but had to serve as a medic in World War II. Studebaker has some post-traumatic stress disorder as well as some medical skill.
Off on the mountain are three African-American women, weird ladies, possessed of arcane skills including possibly bringing back the dead. They add a touch of mystery and magic.
My favorite character is perhaps Erskine Batson. Batson went off to college for one year and hated it. Upon his return to Eden, he was made the town garbage collector — garbage is collected on Saturdays – and the fourth-grade teacher.
Batson, actually very bright, is a walking vocabulary lesson who never uses a simple word if a long word can be found. When he is late collecting the garbage is exclaims, “I’m derelict in my duties. I feel somewhat remiss.”
And later: there are “ruffians perchance still marauding around the countryside….”
Sometimes the language jokes are bilingual. Batson says it is not time to call in the gendarmes. Willie T. asks: “What in the Sam Hill is a John darm?”
Sometimes the comic misunderstandings are all in English. Lily’s parents are at the church at the “hanging of the greens.” The kids wonder what the Green family did to deserve that!
Lily C. and Willie T. are thus always increasing their word power and we know that pays.
The plot here is bloodless, but amusing.
A man clad in only undershorts shows up on Lily’s back porch, in a blizzard, nearly frozen, having escaped the kidnappers holding him for ransom. This fellow turns out to be Neon Leon, the king of rock 'n' roll — in other words, Elvis. Late in the novel, he sings.
There is an encoded secret message that we are taught to decode, a treasure map, thrills and chases involving the evil kidnappers.
The Moonlight Ridge plots have a kind of dreamy quality about them. Even when things go really wrong, it is impossible to believe that adventures will result in maiming or death.
It’s like when Ricky Nelson accidentally gets two dates to the prom — Oh my! How will he ever get out of this predicament!
Channell’s books evoke a simpler time, without cellphones and fentanyl. It is not clear who the intended reader is but I am sure Channell means to exclude no one.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.
“The Treasure of Moonlight Ridge”
Author: Ramey Channell
Publisher: St. Leonard’s Field
Price: $12.95 (Paper)
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Kids in novel have adventures in 1950s small-town Alabama | DON NOBLE