About the Book
Publisher: Counterpoint (January 1, 2010)
With the aid of the Indian Shaman Conawago, Duncan McCallum has begun to heal from the massacre of his Highland clan by the British. But his new life is shattered when he and Conawago discover a dying Virginian officer nailed to an Indian shrine tree. To their horror, the authorities arrest Conawago and schedule his hanging. As Duncan begins a desperate search for the truth, he finds himself in a maelstrom of deception and violence. The year is 1760, and while the British army wishes to dismiss the killing as another casualty of its war with France, Duncan discovers a pattern of ritualistic murders that have less to do with the war than with provincial treaty negotiations and struggles between tribal factions. Ultimately he realizes that to find justice, he must brave the sprawling colonial capital of Philadelphia. There the answers are to be found in a tangle of Quakers, Christian Indians, and a scientist obsessed with the electrical experiments of the celebrated Dr. Franklin. With the tragic resolution in sight, Duncan understands the real mysteries underlying his quest lie in the hearts of natives who, like his Highland Scots, have glimpsed the end of their world approaching.
** EDITORS CHOICE ** In the second installment of his colonial mystery series, Edgar Award winner Pattison provides an absorbing tale firmly and effectively grounded in the history of early America. Traveling a wilderness road with his Indian comrade and mentor Conawago, Scots medic Duncan McCallum comes upon a grisly murder scene. Not only is the victim-a land surveyor-nailed to a tree, his heart has been replaced by a metal gear. Together the Scotsman and the Indian strive to solve the mystery of this and other identical murders that connect Virginia planters, a mulatto slave family seeking freedom, a French-born former Jesuit, Quakers, and Philadelphia grandees eager to expand their holdings in the Pennsylvania Territory.
The ritual killings coincide with the negotiation of a treaty between the natives and the land companies, with representatives from Virginia and Pennsylvania competing for advantage. A false confession by a respected Iroquois chief sends McCallum on a dangerous and enlightening investigation across the disputed territory. In Indian settlements along the way, he witnesses the upheaval and devastation imposed by European encroachment. By the time he and Conawago reach Philadelphia, where the outcome of both treaty and the murder trial will be simultaneously determined, his identity as a runaway bondsman imperils his life. For in that city he encounters the aristocratic and vengeful enemy who professes to hold his indenture.
Scientific advances in mechanics and electricity, and the ancient Indian traditions alternately aid and hamper McCallum's quest for truth, and he meets with widely divergent methods of justice. Their divergent methods of justice are also factors. Throughout the novel Pattinson superbly builds tension and explores a period of shifting and uncertain alliances and loyalties. A thoroughly gripping read.
--Margaret Barr, Historical Novel Society
EYE OF THE RAVEN, by Eliot Pattison Publisher: Counterpoint ISBN-10: 1582435669
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
With a keen eye and calmly rendered detail, Pattison deftly pulls the reader into the American Colonies through the investigation of Scottish Highlander Duncan McCallum after several surveyors disappear while recording boundaries for the expansion of the colonies. Accompanied by his Native American mentor, Conawago, Duncan seeks to uncover a serial murderer while avoiding his own capture as a fugitive from a powerful man who claims him as an indentured servant.
Duncan, a medically trained man with a penchant for speaking his mind and distressing his social betters, has learned many of the native ways, leading him to feel more comfortable in the forest than in the towns which attempt to replicate European life. Some Iroquois choose to move into the towns with easily accessible rum while others fiercely hold onto their nature-based traditions, blurring lines and increasing unease on all sides as alliances attempt to keep peace with Indians, British and the French while improving the lot of each.
While on the Warrior Path, Duncan and Conawago find a trail of bodies meshed with trees and metal to send a mystifying message. After tribal leader Skanawati turns himself into colonial authorities in spite of his innocence, Duncan and Conawago race to find the real killer before Skanawati's public hanging occurs.
Meanwhile, delegations from all parties converge to negotiate a new treaty and the murders threaten to derail the meetings. Adding to the mix is a desperate group of slaves with their own paradoxical link to some of the esteemed members of society and an austere but imminently fair Quaker magistrate who will do anything to uphold his beliefs.
Pattison, acclaimed for previous novels such as the excellent The Skull Mantra and The Bone Rattler, reveals the complex negotiations between the well-known British and French governments but also the Iroquois tribes regarding the land and resources in the Pennsylvania region. He wisely chooses not to create caricatures of any nationality, but instead shows the difficulties the wise leaders of each group have in maneuvering through the greed and baser instincts found everywhere.
In Eye of the Raven, Pattison's newly released sequel to Bone Rattler, the year is 1760 -- and the most powerful art within the colonies is that of the surveyor, whose pins and lines mark off wealth for landholders and claimants. Although Duncan McCallum is following, studying with, and attempting to protect his friend Conawago (a shaman caught in the New World equivalent of a clan war), his ignorance of the powers and histories around him make him helpless. At first his investigation is part survival strategy, part desperate effort to free his friend. It soon tangles in ritualistic murders that seem obviously connected to the shamanistic beliefs of the Iroquois natives.
The darkness and despair that ensue turn this tale into pre-Colonial "noir." McCallum's detective work will stumble against many big issues: Is it right to "save" the Natives through Christianity, or does this simply transplant Hell from the Old World to the New? What is the price of wealth? How can McCallum investigate the results when his own exiled and anti-establishment nature has already made him a target?
Pattison provides a compelling tale worth reading slowly. If you're not a fan of historical mysteries in general, this may be the one that walks you across the gap of time and pattern. It's both a fast-paced detection thriller and a wildly promising exploration of what a lonely man can become, if he chooses his few friends wisely.
Exile, Apprentice, Crime Investigator: Duncan McCallum Returns in EYE OF THE RAVEN, by Eliot Pattison
It's the plaint of the child isolated on the playground, the adult alone and ashamed about it: Nobody else is like me. Nobody understands.
For the exile, it can be reality. I think of the first "Lost Boy of the Sudan" taking refuge in snowy Vermont, and the first Nepalese to travel here at the invitation of an American climbing buddy. I think of Chinese exile Shan Tao Yun in Tibet, struggling to protect the remaining lamas in the mountains while accepting abuse for being obvious Chinese -- and a number-tattooed prisoner of the local gulag system, liable to be returned to his cell whenever the occupying powers aren't getting enough satisfaction from watching him squirm.
Inspector Shan's story began with THE SKULL MANTRA, for which Eliot Pattison won an Edgar award. The exiled police investigator has continued to struggle in further books, most recently THE LORD OF DEATH (2009). Pattison, as author of such an anti-occupation series, can no longer visit friends in Tibet; if seen with him, people find themselves arrested.
Two years ago, Pattison started another series, set in pre-Colonial America: BONE RATTLER. Duncan McCallum, last survivor of a Scottish Highlands clan, emerged from English imprisonment via a ship to the colonies. Grief for his lost family and home shadow his life; peril stalks him in the form of a sadistic overlord who claims to own him via indenture; and yet his medical training in Edinburgh drives him to seek answers as if every twist of action in front of him had its roots in a specific failure of the flesh, and a remedy could be sought.
In Pattison's newly released sequel to BONE RATTLER, the year is 1760 -- and the most powerful art within the colonies is that of the surveyor, whose pins and lines mark off wealth for landholders and claimants. Although Duncan McCallum is following, studying with, and attempting to protect his friend Conawago (a shaman caught in the New World equivalent of a clan war), his ignorance of the powers and histories around him make him helpless. Conawago survives threats from another tribal clan, but in an act of mercy toward a dying European, is captured and labeled a killer. McCallum's protests are based in being able to see many "Natives" as wise and honorable people. Unfortunately, many settlers choose not to look that way at the people whose homes they are taking, with violence and craft.
Although Major Latchford would prefer to kill or imprison McCallum with Conawago, the medical skills being offered win the Highlander a limited freedom -- to treat wounded soldiers. McCallum desperately argues for negotiations that maintain "relations" with the tribes, but the major can make better progress by holding to the accusation of murder. Who was the dying man over whom Conawago had stooped near a significant trail? "The captain? Winston Burke? Commander of the militia? Second son of the greatest landowner in the valley of the Shenandoah. His father is a member of the House of Burgesses. We will have a hanging a get on with the work of war," Latchford declared in a matter-of-fact tone. He aimed the pistol at Duncan and pulled the trigger, sneering as Duncan flinched at the spark of the empty weapon.
Duncan's investigation begins as an effort to free his friend. It soon tangles in ritualistic murders that seem obviously connected to the shamanistic beliefs of the Iroquois natives. Although Duncan has absorbed enough from Conawago to be sure this is a fraudulent pattern, he lacks power and allies. Soon he perceives that it's the treaty status, the land lines, the power network around him that's trembling with threat from the murders. Yet all this is nearly meaningless to the shaman, who might otherwise call together allies in some way. Duncan, last of his kind, wants to lead but can't communicate across the cultural barrier; Conawago, driven by commitment to an obscure quest, declines to take a leadership role. It's the kind of situation where sadists and murderers thrive, in the crevices of lust and desire.
The darkness and despair that enfold McCallum repeatedly turn this tale into a form of pre-Colonial "noir," much as the favorite American Thanksgiving myth is now being turned inside out to reveal the losses and threats that Native Americans suffered from the 1500s onward. Pattison isn't riding a cause here -- no revisionist mantle over his shoulders -- but he paints the dark determined Calvinist spirituality side by side with the Iroqois, so that Duncan recalls word that his grandfather would repeat from the Ninetieth Psalm: "We spend our years as a tale that is told."
Repeatedly, the Highlander terms of survival overlap those of the tribes of the Colonies. At one point, Conawago sends Duncan into the darkness to play on the Highland pipes, ragged though they've become: Conawago knew well the solitary communion Duncan now needed as he unpacked the bundle wrapped in tattered muslin. With slow, reverent motions he laid the intricately crafted pieces in a pool of moonlight before assembling them. The first test of a reed brought a reply from a whippoorwill. ... "Never mind that we will never see the Highlands again," an exiled countryman had said to him the year before. "Your clan is all those under the boot of the world."
There are deep questions at stake here, and McCallum's detective work will stumble against many of them. Is it right to "save" the Natives through Christianity, or does this simply transplant Hell from the Old World to the New? What is the price of wealth? How can an exile intervene in what the people of power are doing to those who fail to grasp the evil designs forming around them?
Pattison spins and weaves a dense and intricate fabric of imagination, history, loss, grief, loyalty, and survival. McCallum's investigations may yet provide hope for Conawago and for Duncan himself. But what about the others whose lives are being risked without their knowledge?
Examining a rarely portrayed period through magnifying lenses and the language of belief and ritual, Pattison provides a compelling tale worth reading slowly. But the plot is so tight, the characters so emotionally at risk, that it's hard to slow down. I've read it twice now, and I still get carried away in the intensity. Here's a new form of historical mystery -- as irresistible as a thunderstorm.
--Posted by Beth Kanell, Review Kingdom Books From Dave Kanell in Vermont
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