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Bone Rattler: A Mystery of Colonial America Hardcover – December 28, 2007
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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.)
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I wish the book had started earlier – before the characters were on the ship. That Duncan, the main character, spends so much time confused doesn’t mean that we should necessarily replicate his condition. As a mystery, the book does leave something to be desired. But it’s such an enjoyable and immersive reading experience, I found it easy to forgive the sometimes confusing and slow plot.
Cons- The mysteries Dominate the narrative to the exclusion of characterization and clarity. The reader is faced with seemingly millions of artifacts and phrases that are clues but incomprehensible through most of the extensive narrative, until finally the protagonist begins to understand their meaning and hence the reader as well.
The book is quite confusing. Perhaps a greater emphasis on developing Duncan's character, knowledge and background and a deeper characterization of some of the other main characters, and perhaps fewer 'clues' ...or sequential clues, might help the reader follow what's happening. Of course one theme is Duncan's inability to understand the clues...as he's new to the New World colonies and all their elements and cultures. Unfortunately both the reader and Duncan must very patiently wade through the bulk of events getting very little clearer about what is happening. All is made clear at the end ..fyi,..I am a Melville scholar and have a PhD. in nineteenth-century American literature so I'm used to long complex narratives.
The protagonist is a hard-luck Scot made a criminal and prisoner on flimsy evidence by the evil, greedy British of the colonial era - he is shoved aboard a convict ship heading for the New World where he faces a life of indentured slavery in a plantation, except by luck of his background - training as a physician - and a mysterious murder aboard the ship - thrusts him into the role of a Sherlock Holmes kind of guy.
Our hero Duncan McCallum faces hardships aplenty, and is confronted with mind-bending mysteries to solve as the plot plays out against a background of life aboard a miserable ship, and then in the wild, harsh and dangerous American colonies.
The complexity of the plot makes it obvious that Mr. Pattison is an extremely skilled writer who creates vivid characters we care about, and makes the reader feel what it might have been really like to live in this dangerous, but exciting era of carving out a new life in a New World.
For me, the flow of the story is too often slowed down by some rather tedious and mind-numbing dialog, and a sort of overly rigorous attention to minute detail which I found frustrating - and at times - the characters act in ways that seem purely illogical. So it gets three stars from me, instead of four or five - yet I would eagerly recommend this high quality piece of literature to anyone.