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Bone Rattler: A Mystery of Colonial America Hardcover – December 28, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; First Edition edition (December 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593761856
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593761851
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,192,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Having already won an Edgar for his Inspector Shan series (The Skull Mantra, etc.), Pattison makes a strong bid for another with this outstanding mystery set in colonial America. Scottish prisoner Duncan McCallum, indentured to the Ramsey Company, is troubled by a series of mysterious deaths on the ship carrying him to the New World. When McCallum's close friend Adam Munroe and a professor who was to work as a tutor are added to the list of the dead, McCallum, who has extensive medical training, is enlisted by the captain to investigate. The shipboard mysteries remain unresolved when they arrive in New York, and McCallum's quest for the truth leads him to perilous encounters on both sides of the French and Indian War. Pattison's moving characters, intricate plot and masterful evocation of the time, including sensitive depictions of the effects of the European war on Native Americans, set this leagues beyond most historicals and augur well for future entries in this series. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"[M]oving characters, intricate plot and masterful evocation of the time." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

More About the Author

Eliot Pattison has been described as a "writer of faraway mysteries," a label which is particularly apt for someone whose travel and interests span such a broad spectrum. After reaching a million miles of global trekking, visiting every continent but Antarctica, Pattison stopped logging his miles and set his compass for the unknown. Today he avoids well-trodden paths whenever possible, in favor of wilderness, lesser known historical venues, and encounters with indigenous peoples.

An international lawyer by training, early in his career Pattison began writing on legal and business topics, producing several books and dozens of articles published on three continents. In the late 1990's he decided to combine his deep concerns for the people of Tibet with his interest in venturing into fiction by writing The Skull Mantra. Winning the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery--and listed as a finalist for best novel for the year in Dublin's prestigious IMPAC awards--The Skull Mantra launched the Inspector Shan series, which now includes Water Touching Stone, Bone Mountain, Beautiful Ghosts, The Prayer of the Dragon, Mandarin Gate, and the Soul of Fire. Both The Skull Mantra and Water Touching Stone were selected by for its annual list of ten best new mysteries. Water Touching Stone was selected by Booksense as the number one mystery of all time for readers' groups. Mandarin Gate was selected as one of the best mysteries of 2012 by Amazon, CNN and Publishers Weekly. The Inspector Shan series has been translated into over twenty languages around the world.

Pattison entered China for the first time within weeks of normalization of relations with the United States in 1980 and during his many return visits to China and neighboring countries developed the intense interest in the rich history and culture of the region that is reflected in these books. They have been characterized as creating a new "campaign thriller" genre for the way they weave significant social and political themes into their plots. Indeed, as soon as the novels were released they became popular black market items in China for the way they highlight issues long hidden by Beijing.

Pattison's longtime interest in another "faraway" place -the 18th century American wilderness and its woodland Indians-- led to the launch of his Bone Rattler series, which quickly won critical acclaim for its poignant presentation of Scottish outcasts and Indians during the upheaval of the French and Indian War. In Pattison's words, "this was an extraordinary time that bred the extraordinary people who gave birth to America," and the lessons offered by the human drama in that long-ago wilderness remain fresh and compelling today.

A former resident of Boston and Washington, Pattison resides on an 18th century farm in Pennsylvania with his wife, three children, and an ever-expanding menagerie of animals. For more information, visit:

Customer Reviews

I was lucky and got this as a free book, and even more lucky it was a great read.
Amazon Customer
I love reading good fictional books with solid historical research because it makes learning history easy and fun.
It was very hard to get into before that - too much action, too many characters with no background.
Penne Hatcher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 51 people found the following review helpful By thewordlover on March 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In BONE RATTLER, Pattison writes a brilliant suspense novel that includes insights about the founding of our country, as well as the spiritual nature of both Native Americans and the persecuted minorities like the Scots who fled to these shores for refuge, freedom and a new life. These disenfranchised people had to make up justice on the early frontier even though they did not speak the same language, share similar cultures or espouse the same religious views. How did this happen uniquely in pre-colonial America? The crimes in this mystery encompass people from several distinct cultures (Scottish, English, Huron, French, Iroquois, Dutch, German, Quaker, Jesuit etc). BONE RATTLER focuses on the heroism inherent in maintaining identity or culture in the face of great trials; the sacrifices made by the founders of our country; and also the question of what law and justice mean and how they can be developed and preserved. This novel truly is leagues beyond the average mystery! It is hard to imagine a subject more relevant in our contemporary world than how democracy can be created, and how disparate tribes and peoples can communicate with and get along with one another. To have woven all of this into a fasciating mystery is a triumph.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Robert Abidor on January 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Let me say it straight out-the first 20 pages are really tough. I had a hard time figuring out what was going on. But I forced myself to continue and it was worth the effort.
Pattison's brillant tale of mystery and muder set during the French & Indian Wars deserves your attention. At a time when American's struggle to understand the Muslim world, Pattison takes us back to another time of cultures crossing: Native American's versus European settlers. Here we face the Europeans trying to grasp the religion and religious symbols of the culture they cross-with deadly consequences.
Good and evil, man's mistreatment f his fellow man are simple story lines. But when you add the lost culture of the Native A merican's who inhabited the area north of New York City massive lessons can be learned. The significance of the geogrpahy, so close to the World Trade Centers, should not be lost on any reader.
I do not try to summatize the book. I leave that to others. But if you want a great read with lots to learn, pick up Bone Rattler!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cheryl A. Reynolds VINE VOICE on August 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
#1 Duncan McCallum mystery set in Colonial America, New York state of 1750's. Duncan is a Highland Scot, once training as a doctor, now an indentured servant to the Ramsey Company, plucked from prison (where he was put for supposedly aiding the Highland rebellion) to go to the new world. When the new tutor to the Ramsey children is murdered on board the ship heading to America, Duncan is bullied into taking his place. He does so fearfully, having received a mysterious warning from his friend Adam who died a few days previously, and also a posthumous warning from the tutor himself in the form of cryptic messages.

Once he gets to the new world, Duncan begins to see just what the Ramsey Company is up to--at odds with the military and the Native American tribes, Lord Ramsey seeks to turn his portion of the world into another kingdom where he has all the control and power, and sets various factions against one another to make it so.

This was a wonderful book, although I can say it won't be for everyone. There are a lot of mystical elements to it, especially featuring Native American spirituality as well as the myths and old religion of the Scottish Highlands intermingled. It's a thick, meaty, literary mystery with lots of lush prose and a tangled plot, many interesting characters.

While this is neither my favorite time or place historically, aside from a few slow spots where it seemed to take forever for things to move forward, I really enjoyed this mystery and look forward to the next one in the series.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By EddieLove on January 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
A Scots prisoner en route to America during the French & Indian War is asked to employ his medical training to investigate a killing onboard ship that continues as he encounters more violence in the colonies. I usually love historical thrillers, and this one started out well, but gets bogged down as the hero pores over the same clues again and again. There's admirable detail in the impassioned histories of the characters, and good insight into the period, but the proceedings are a bit exhausting, certainly overlong. (Plus, it's pretty obvious in this day and age that the native Americans are not going to be depicted as the bloody savages that they're talked about here for the first two-thirds, and these prejudices will be proved wrong. Which is all right and proper - but it does put the reader ahead of the curve suspense-wise)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. on July 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
The beginning pages of BONE RATTLER seem weakened by author Elliot Pattison's great strength: his encyclopedic knowledge of the setting and time. He tells us more than we need to know. "Bone Rattler" begins aboard ship with the misery of slaves, indentured servants, and common prisoners deported from European jails. There, the reader is shown the world of ships and shipping, pirates and "ships of the line", and the gruesome toll they take in human cargo.

The America of the 1750's was explosive for the new colonies, those who lived there and those who passed through looking to make a living. England was ever-present in this new territory as they had been in Great Britain where the Scots suffered the same indignities at their hands as did the Iroquois in the new world. As "Bone Rattler " opens, yet another battle flares between the French and English -- then, the hurly burly ignites a third ingredient: indigenous tribes.

It is aboard ship that we first meet the Scot, Duncan MacCullan, a physician and political renegade, who has been asked to solve a murder aboard ship, a crime that involves him throughout the book on land. Unquestionably, a sign of the author's total immersion, the travail of the voyage across the Atlantic might well have been enough for lesser sorts, but not so for Pattison, whose ship was so fully of cruelty, obnoxious illnesses, and putrid air below decks, that mere survival took on the quality of an extraordinary feat. Nor does Pattison stint on the history and anthropology of Native Americans with their varying spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, the hell of Europe's spies and double dealing are transplanted to the colonies where they bear again the same rotten fruit.
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