About the Book
Publisher: Counterpoint (July 23, 2013)
Despite the raging war between French and British, Scottish exile Duncan McCallum has begun to settle into a new life on the fringes of colonial America, traveling the woodlands with his companion Conawago, even joining the old Indian on his quest to find the last surviving members of his tribe. But the joy they feel on reaching the little settlement of Christian Indians is shattered when they find its residents ritually murdered. As terrible as the deaths may be, Conawago perceives something even darker and more alarming: he is convinced they are a sign of a terrible crisis in the spiritworld which he must resolve.
Walking in 18th century forests...
Historical Novel Society Review
1760, New York Colony: Exiled Scot Duncan McCallum seeks only to avoid the fighting between the French and English and accompany his mentor, Conawago, on a journey to find the last living members of Conawago’s Nipmuc tribe. However, Duncan’s find of a murdered Scot drowned in Lake Champlain and the discovery of slaughtered Christian Indians at Bethel Church send the pair on a different and more dangerous quest, one that will take Duncan into the bowels of the earth and to an island of ghosts peopled with fierce human enemies. Their mission will lead Duncan and Conawago deep into the heart of a conspiracy that stretches far back into the past as they attempt to save five lost children and the imperiled Iroquois confederacy.
Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
Edgar-winner Pattison combines action, period details, and a whodunit with ease in his impressive third mystery set in Colonial America (after 2010's Eye of the Raven). The French and Indian War is in its sixth year in 1760, and the American wilderness is full of armed men lusting to soak the land in blood for the sake of distant kings.?¯ Against this backdrop and the continued encroachment of the white man on the traditions and lands of the American Indian, Scottish exile Duncan McCallum is trying to help his Nipmuc friend, Conawago who's given up hope of ever seeing another member of his tribe reunite with a previously unknown relative. The quest gets off to an ominous start with McCallum's discovery of a dead soldier tied to a wheel at the bottom of a lake. As the bodies pile up, Pattison pays tribute to the conventions of the murder mystery without sacrificing excitement or a nuanced look at the final stage of the war between the British and the French for control of North America. Agent: Natasha Kern, Natasha Kern Literary Agency. (Aug.)
Booklist Starred Review
Third in the Bone Rattler series, this novel continues Highlander Duncan McCallum's American adventures after he and his friend Conawago discover the massacred remains of Christian Indians in a small settlement, and they attempt to rescue the few surviving children who have been abducted. Set during the French and Indian War, the story vividly depicts the wilderness landscape, the disparate Native Americans allied with the English army, the Highlanders hoping to start a new life, innocent settlers,missionaries, and spies. Every faction fights to retain a way of life that is foreign to the others, and McCallum somehow juggles them against each other, time and again thumbing his nose at torture,imprisonment, and death. Pattison twists a skein of plotlines and weaves Indian mysticism into a timecapsule portrait of America at a crossroads: a time of endings for some and the beginning of a revolution played out by cruel, compelling, and sometimes powerful people with warring visions. Themes of disillusionment and a vanishing way of life make this series in some ways similar to Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, though Pattison adds an element of psychological suspense comparable to Jean Zimmerman's The Orphanmaster (2012) and a degree of human complexity that suggests Sarah Donati's Wilderness novels.
Review: After Duncan McCallum and Conawago find the members of Bethel Church -- Christian Iroquois -- with their heads bashed in, and the local blacksmith and wheelwright, one of the last of the Nipmuc tribe, tortured to death, and the children of the community missing, the two friends set out to find the killer -- or killers - in Original Death, the third mystery in this series set in Colonial America by Eliot Pattison.
San Francisco Book Review (***** 5 Stars)
Scotsman Duncan McCallum immigrated to the New World to start a new life, but danger finds him even in America's most unsettled forests. The McCallum clan was wiped out in Scotland yet death and murder are not unique to Europe. As McCallum travels with his Indian companion Conawago to find the last members of his tribe, he steps into a deep and dark mystery that threatens to take his life at every turn. Massacred Indians, accusations and imprisonment by the British army eager to hang him, and a murderous Revelator who isn't afraid to torture and kill anyone who threatens his grand plans create an exciting, intricate, and fast-paced trip through early America. The fate of the Native American way of life is direly threatened and the survival of the tribes McCallum knows and love hangs on the line. The deeper his involvement becomes, the harder his ultimate choice becomes: Can he possibly choose between the Natives who have taken him in and his highland heritage?
Pattison brings history alive in a colorful, factually accurate, and thrilling way. Once you step into this mysterious Colonial world, you'll instantly be swept into a river of intrigue, multi-faceted characters, and life and death choices that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Crime didn't begin in America, but if you believe the circumstances in "Original Death," set in pre-Colonial America, murder certainly got off to a strong start in the New World. In the region made familiar by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, a lot of killing took place on mostly impromptu battlefields from Albany, N.Y., to the Canadian border and beyond.
In the days of the French and Indian War, as depicted by Eliot Pattison, a fine line existed between war and murder. As the novel opens, the ritual slaughter of nearly a dozen Christian Indians becomes a wartime cause celebre. The main character, exiled Scottish Highlander Duncan McCallum, is blamed by the occupying British forces for the crime. McCallum and his Indian comrade Conawago set out to find the real killer. They elude the British and face off against Indian rivals, the main one being a European-educated near-lunatic Mingo warrior known as The Revelator. If this were a movie, we'd marvel at the set decoration that splendidly evokes the period. The excellent prose narrative goes right to the matter in question, the state of the (pre-Colonial) human heart.
Historical Novels Info Review
Original Death is the third in a mystery series set in Colonial America during the French and Indian Wars. Although the tensions that will lead to the Revolutionary War seethe below the story's surface, they remain secondary to the tragedy of the Iroquois Confederacy, formed to promote peaceful relations among the tribes, and, especially, to the tragedy of the Nipmuc tribe, depopulated by war and disease after the arrival of white settlers. Many of the few remaining Nipmucs settled in "praying towns" founded by Puritans to convert natives to Christianity.
Duncan McCallum is a medically trained Highland Scot who
arrived in America on a convict ship and is still painfully haunted by the massacre
of his clan. His experiences give him more in common with natives like his
Nipmuc friend Conawago than with the English, his clan's persecutors. When
Conawago, who fears he may be the last surviving member of his tribe,
receives a message from another survivor, his nephew Towantha, Duncan joins Conawago
in traveling to the village where Towantha has settled. There, they find a
scene of slaughter. Ill fortune makes Duncan a suspect in the killing of a
Scottish soldier. Worse fortune makes him a prisoner of a tribe
of Hurons whose way of life revolves around torturing their enemies. Perhaps uniquely in mystery fiction, McCallum's motive for tracking down the real killers is to restore harmony in the spiritual world - on which the temporal world's battered harmony may depend.
Original Death is filled with hair-raising danger, desperate escapes, and the bravery of men and women willing to sacrifice themselves for their loved ones, their communities and spiritual values. The novel is also filled with well researched historical detail. Readers who are not experts in Colonial New England and its native tribes will learn some history from this novel. (2013; 358 pages, including a historical Timeline and an Author's Note about the history behind the novel)
Unmasked Persona's Reviews
One reason why I like this series is because it reminds me so much of the classic Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper. Another reason is because protagonist Duncan McCallum was exiled to America on suspicion of being a Jacobite. I have a sentimental attachment to Jacobites that goes back to when I was a wee child enthralled with Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. For more of my observations on Jacobites see my March 2013 post Playing Red Rover With William Wallace.
Yet the best reason to like a mystery is a plot with unexpected twists. Original Death definitely delivers plot twists. When the revelation of whodunit finally came, I could honestly say that I didn't expect it.
The characterization was excellent. The anguish of Duncan's Native American companion Conawago over the village massacre that he and Duncan encounter was quite moving as was Duncan's inner conflict precipitated by this mystery. There were also some wonderful side characters such as Hetty the Irish seer, Kassawaya the Oneida warrior woman and the real historical personage, Colonel William Johnson. I was grateful for Pattison's recommendation of a biography of William Johnson in his author's note. I will want to read White Savage by Fintan O'Toole and probably review it on this blog.
There were also some instances of lyrical prose which lend extra power to this novel. For example when Duncan is reflecting on the Native American perspective he says to himself that "The settlements, the armies, the endless flow of farmers were like rot in the root of their world." As a poet myself, I was pleased by the alliteration.
I can recommend this novel to fans of historical mysteries and of the Sara Donati novels that take place in the same period and were also inspired by the Leatherstocking Tales. I would say that I recommend it to fans of the bestselling Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon as well except that Outlander fans seem to prefer gargantuan tomes with too little plot to justify their length. Eliot Pattison's books are never over written. He certainly deserves a wider audience for his work.
Trapped in the raging war between French and British, Scottish exile Duncan McCallum must find the answer to terrible murders occurring among the tribes and Scottish troops. As he pieces together the puzzle of violence and deception he realizes that it is not only the lives of Duncan and his friends that hang in the balance, but the very survival of the tribes themselves. With this third entry in his Bone Rattler series, award-winning mystery writer Pattison has penned a compelling, fast-paced drama marked by memorable characters and stark insights into the forces that shaped America's early history.
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