Blood of the Oak


Publisher: Counterpoint (March, 2016)

The fourth entry in the Bone Rattler series advances the protagonist Duncan McCallum to 1765 and into the throes of the Stamp Tax dissent, which marked the beginning of organized resistance to English rule. Duncan follows ritualistic murders that are strangely connected to both the theft of an Iroquois artifact and a series of murders and kidnappings in the network of secret runners supporting the nascent committees of correspondence-which are engaged in the first organized political dissent across colonial borders. He encounters a powerful conspiracy of highly placed English aristocrats who are bent on crushing all dissent, is captured by its agents, and sent into slavery in Virginia beside the kidnapped runners. Inspired by an aged native American slave and new African friends Duncan decides not just to escape but to turn their own intrigue against the London lords.

Included in the novel’s cast of characters are figures from our history who have their own destinies to fulfill in the next decade, including Benjamin Franklin (writing from London), Samuel Adams, the early Pennsylvania rebel James Smith, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and, very briefly, a soft spoken militia officer named Washington.


Our history books too often create the impression that American independence was abruptly born with the crack of a Lexington musket in April 1775. Their truncated perspective suggests that colonists woke up one morning and decided to cast off the yoke of oppression, launching a new nation. The truth is that the United States rose out of a long, deeply complex struggle featuring a stunningly diverse cast of characters who gradually recognized they had become something other than European. It may have been geographic quests that brought Europeans to America but it was thousands of journeys of self-discovery in the 17th and 18th centuries that gave rise to our country.

These are the journeys I seek to reflect in the chronicles of Duncan McCallum, the tragic, exhilarating, joyful, very human tales of Scottish rebels, woodland natives, wilderness missionaries, hardscrabble farmers, soldier adventurers, and the other outcasts, exiles and original thinkers who inhabited the colonies. Such tales may escape the sterile pen of the historian, but they are often the most meaningful way for us to connect with our past. These people were living in an extraordinary time, when geographic, economic and social boundaries were crumbling just as science and self-expression had begun to blossom, and many lived extraordinary lives.


“In 1765, with the French and Indian War behind him, Duncan McCallum is at peace in the New World, until he is drawn into the burgeoning unrest presaging the American Revolution. After a sacred Iroquois mask is stolen and McCallum finds his close friend, Captain Patrick Woolford, grievously wounded beside the murdered and mutilated body of Woolford’s Oneida sergeant, he’s urged by Woolford to find 19 men who are doomed to die. The quest takes highlander McCallum (an indentured servant to Sarah Ramsey, the woman he loves) south to Virginia. Along the way, he encounters more ritualistic murders before being enslaved at a plantation illegally confiscated by his nemesis, Lord Ramsey, Sarah’s father, who has vowed to kill him. The passage of the Stamp Act has led to tempestuous times in America, and Pattison captures that mood in this intriguing novel, which blends Native American mysticism, African American religion, and the loyalties of European settlers, all united in their desire for freedom. The fourth in Pattison’s Bone Rattler series (after Original Death, 2013) combines well-drawn fictional and historical personages in a vivid portrayal of a pivotal year in American history. Historical mystery at its best.”                         — Michele Leber, Starred Booklist Review

“In Colonial America, a Scottish exile stumbles onto a conspiracy of killers in a most unlikely place. In the spring of 1765, Duncan McCallum is enjoying a beautiful day and looking forward to returning home and seeing his beloved Sarah when he’s summoned by Iroquois elder mother Adanahoe, who’s on her deathbed. She warns of a vision she’s had of Duncan and his Nipmuc Indian friend Conawago suffering grave wounds and asks his help in finding the mysterious man who kidnapped and killed her grandson Siyenca. There turn out to be many more deaths or disappearances, a contagion to which the Iroquois apply a spiritual meaning. Duncan learns that there are political implications as well. He examines the bullets used to kill Red Jacob and finds them pure and advanced, not from frontier weapons. An inflammatory speech he reads in a newspaper leads to an attempt to rescue some captured Iroquois, hearing more accounts of barbarous torture, and learning of a horrible plot involving British opponents of the nascent American independence movement. The fourth installment in Pattison’s Bone Rattler series is another complexly plotted historical mystery written in a baroque style highly suggestive of the period and unblinking in its portrayal of American history’s dark lessons.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In 1765, the French and Indian War is over, but the American colonies are not at peace, as shown in Edgar-winner Pattison’s superior fourth mystery featuring Scottish ex-pat Duncan McCallum (after 2013’s Original Death). The Native Americans who inhabit the forests of New York have dubbed McCallum the Death Speaker for his ability to use his medical training to determine how people died. That skill is all too useful when Red Jacob, an Oneida who served with English frontier rangers, is murdered by someone who almost claimed the life of his superior, Duncan’s friend, Capt. Patrick Woolford. Theirs is not the last blood shed. Duncan soon finds himself on the trail of ruthless killers who are targeting messengers working for some secret committees in different cities, whose leaders include Benjamin Franklin. Pattison does a brilliant job of showing how political events at this time paved the way for the start of the Revolutionary War.” —Publishers Weekly

“This is both a mystery story (who is killing the runners?) and a historical novel of the early American Revolution. The fourth entry in the Bone Rattler series, this stand-alone novel is fast-paced with loads of action and suspense. Duncan McCallum and the supporting cast are well-formed and credible for the time period, and they provide an excellent backdrop to this exciting era of American history. Well-researched, the novel presents aspects of the early colonial experience that are little discussed outside the Northeast. I highly recommend this novel and look forward to future books from this author.” –Historical Novel Society Magazine

“Pattison masterfully weaves the history of immigrant settlers, co-existence of Natives and settlers, and incursion of colonialist greed that spoils the promised land of North America. A shared experience of failure in the Old World gives rise to a determination that succeeds in the New World. The greatest thing we can expect from historical novels like Blood of the Oak is to learn something while being entertained. The style, done properly, is a reincarnation of the hearthstone legends and campfire tales of old. Pattison succeeds.” –Internet Review of Books

Eliot Pattison

“The best of historical novels allow us to commit our entire spirit to understanding another world that was once our own.”

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