Bone Rattler, by Eliot Pattison

As a bookseller, I read a lot of books.  Many of them leave me disappointed.  Some are really good — good enough for me to spend a few minutes writing about them and good enough to put in the hands of my customers with a personal recommendation.  Then there are the rare gems, utterly satisfying, thought-provoking, and transporting the way a really good book should be, the ones I read just for my own pleasure.

The Bone Rattler by Eliot Pattison (author of the Inspector Shan series set in Tibet), falls into that third special category.  It is a dark and winding mystery set in the 18th Century during the years of the French and Indian War, and centers around an exiled Scotsman named Duncan McCallum who is sent to the American colonies as a prisoner for the crime of sheltering an elderly uncle fleeing from the English law.  As a series of murders terrorizes the prisoners and crew aboard the ship that carries McCallum to his new life, he is drawn into the conflict by a complex set of circumstances.  The danger heightens as he arrives in the New World, and McCallum is pulled into a maelstrom of violence and intrigue as he races to unravel the mystery that threatens to destroy not only himself, but many of the people around him.

Duncan McCallum is a wonderful protagonist, tormented and compassionate, intelligent and stalwart; the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a vicious conflict driven by greed and misunderstanding.

Pattison has drawn his history expertly; shedding light on little known details of the relationship between the Native American tribes of Virginia and the Scotsmen brought as soldiers or indentured servants to serve the English government and colonists.

In some ways, The Bone Rattler reminded me of the late Dorothy Dunnett’s writing, complex and vivid, adding a dimension of understanding to my dim knowledge of a time and place in which my own ancestors played an important role.  Can’t wait to read Cry of the Raven, the next installment in Duncan McCallum’s adventures!


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