Bone Rattler

Published June 5, 2011 by myliteraryleanings

Bone Rattler by Eliot Pattison-

Overview from www.bn.com:

In a novel rich in historical detail,acclaimed author Eliot Pattison reconsiders the founding of America and explores how disenfranchised people of any age and place struggle to find justice, how conflicting cultures can be reconciled through compassion and tolerance, and ultimately how the natural world has its own morality.

Aboard a British convict ship bound for the New World, protagonist Duncan McCallum witnesses a series of murders and apparent suicides among his fellow Scottish prisoners. A strange trail of clues leads Duncan into the New World and eventually thrusts him into the bloody maw of the French and Indian War. Duncan is indentured to the British Lord Ramsey, whose estate in the uncharted New York woodlands is a Heart of Darkness where multiple warring factions are
engaged in physical, psychological, and spiritual battle.

Exploring a frontier world shrouded in danger and defying death in a wilderness populated by European settlers, Indian shamans, and mysterious scalping parties, Duncan, the exiled chief of his near-extinct Scottish clan, finds that sometimes justice cannot be reached unless the cultures and spirits of those involved are appeased.

My Review:

This book is another one of Barnes and Noble’s free e-book offerings though only temporarily, unlike the book I reviewed last week.  Part of their “Free Friday” collection, I downloaded though the cover art spooked me a little.  Even after I had pushed the “download for free” option but before I confirmed the choice on my nook, I had second thoughts so I went back and read the overview above.  The overview eased some of my concerns when I discovered that the book was historical fiction (one of my favorite genres) and of course that Barnes and Noble was offering it for free.  I was a little skeptical about the time period, since I had often thought of the 1700’s as rather boring, and I wondered how the mystery part of it was going to work out.

The year is September 1759.  The opening starts with the main character, Duncan McCallum, a Scottish convict aboard a ship headed for the British colony of New York, faced with some strange happenings as he and his shipmates, most of them fellow prisoners, near the American coast.  Firstly, there are two mysterious Scottish deaths that occur aboard the ship, one of which is ruled as a suicide, an explanation which Duncan cannot accept given his fondness for the two men involved and his certainty that neither man would have killed himself.  The second is the near suicide of one of the few women aboard who the men refer to as “the banshee.”  When Duncan intervenes to save her life, this strange incident is ruled as an accident by the officials of the Ramsey Company as well as the army personnel aboard.

Both Lieutenant Woolford of the British army, the ship’s captain and the good Reverend Arnold coerce Duncan into using his medical knowledge, being a doctor in everything but name, to solve the mysteries of the two men’s deaths which to satisfy Lord Ramsey, the head of the company, and other legal authorities in the New World.  Also as the most well-educated man now on board, they force Duncan to take the place of one of the Scots, a man called Evering, as the future tutor for Lord Ramsey’s children.

Duncan has little time and not much help in his investigation.  He learns that the danger is far from over.  He is nearly hit by an Indian arrow right after he gets off the boat.  In order to avoid Evering’s fate, Duncan must discover who murdered the man so that he won’t have to share the poor tutor’s fate.

After being arrested and then released on his first day in the New World, Duncan discovers however that his life there is no better than it was on the ship.

“The New World was sham after all.  The oppressors and aristocrats of the Old World had found their way across the Atlantic.” (page 137- e-book)

Conflicts with Lord Ramsey begin soon after he arrives when his patron disagrees that his friend, Mr. Lister is innocent of the murders.  On top of that Duncan discovers that the men who died and those he thought knew kept many secrets.  They were by no means ordinary scholars, prisoners, or Scotsmen.

Through it all Duncan struggles most of all to keep his promise to Mr. Lister, who sacrifices himself for Duncan more than once, to become clan chief to him and Duncan’s own brother Jaime as well as the other Scots who are being blamed for the killings.

As he struggles to peel back the layers to this mystery, he must also remain true to himself and the memories of his friends.  He decides the only way to do this is “to die as the last chief to the McCallum clan.” It is in the dying that he eventually finds himself free to live again and to solve the mystery.

I have to say that I loved this book and am happy to report that the author has made a believer out of me- meaning that he convinced me that this time period has some interesting characteristics.  I was wrong to say that it was boring when there is so much here to recommend it.  The relationships between the Indians and the Scots are fascinating.  I am amazed how many similarities they have to one another that I never noticed before.  Because of my discoveries from this novel I might be more likely to read historical fiction from this time period in the future.  Also I think I will try to purchase the next book in this series, when I have the money.  I am very much looking forward to reading it.

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