Thursday, March 3, 2016

Eliot Pattison's Latest, Blood of the Oak, Excellent Historical Novel Just Out!

"The old ones have many names, some of
which may never be spoken outside the
secret societies. But at campfires he is
called Blooddancer, or sometimes the
Trickster...And he has a rattle with four
claws attached to it, which has always
been kept on his altar--his
ceremonial weapon."
The forest embraced him as another of its wild creatures, sending its steadying power into each long stride. Duncan McCallum had learned the ways of forest running from his tribal friends but he had never experienced its deep joys until he had begun his own solitary treks among the farms and settlements of the frontier. There were roads, more and more of them stretching out from the Hudson, but he preferred the ancient trails of the tribes. With his pack on his shoulder and his long rifle in one hand, Duncan glided along the old Mohawk path with the carefree of a young stag, oblivious to the troubles of the world of men...
He had been visiting the northernmost of the Edentown dependencies, a farm built around a promising orchard, when he had been summoned by a mesage from the Iroquois. Adanahoe, mother of all the tribes, lay dying and had asked for him. Duncan had assumed the gentle old woman had sought him for his medicines but as she greeted him from her bed of furs, she had dismissed the healers from her lodbe and accounted there was something far more important than easing her discomfort.
"The embers burn low, Duncan," she had confessed to him, meaning the centuries-old Council fire that bound the tribes of the Iroquis confederation, "but as long as the spirits watch over us I will not fear." The frail old woman, who more than anyone embodied the heart of the Haudensaunee, the Iroquois people had asked Duncan to carry her into the sacred lodge, the structure at the town's highest point where the masks of Iroquois ritual were kept. He had cradled her like a child in his arms pausing at the doorway to let one of the protecting shamans cleanse them with fragrant cedar smoke before stepping inside. He had been in the lodge once before, so knew to brace himself for the distorted, grotesque masks that hung on the walls, each above altars that held offerings...The spirits that inhabited the masks were beloved and protected by the Iroquois, each responsible for one of the critical elements of tribal life. Insisting on being lowered to her feet, Adanhoe hobbled along the altars, leaningt heavily on Duncan's arm. As they walked. Duncan recognized the maize spirit, the squash spirit, the healing spirit, the fire spirit.
"He was here in the night when my grandson Siyenca and I replenished the lamps," the matriarch explained in a mournful tone. "At dawn he was gone. And my grandson too." She scubbed at a tear. "They brought Siyena's body to me at noon that day. He was found floating in the river ten miles south of here, with this in his hand." She opened her palm to show Duncan a large bear claw sewn into a piece of black-and-white fur. "He wears a necklace of claws and bones."
Duncan realized she was no longer speaking of her dead grandson. "May I know his name?"
..."It was taboo for Siyenca to be in here without one of us, but he must have seen the thieves. They hit him when he tried to stop them. He had a cut on his head. Then he followed to take back old Blooddancer and the thieves drowned him for it.
She turned and clamped her hands on Duncan's shoulders. Her voice was hoarse but urgent. "I had a dream. You and Conawago appear limping out of a fog, scarred and battered, nearly dead, as if from a great battle, but you bring Blooddancer back to us. Our people will drift apart without the old anchors. Siyenca will never have peace on the other side." Her eyes were full of moisture. "I will be gone before you return, my son, but I will linger by my body until he is safely home."

Blood of the Oak:
A Mystery of Revolutionary America
By Eliot Pattison

ARC Actually Read...
Encompassing a mystery into a historical early America novel was something that immediately drew my attention. I have long sympathized with what was done to our Native Americans and this novel certainly adds support to the reality that existed at that time. With a different approach, Pattison takes us first into the mystery--an important Iroquois mask has been stolen--and Duncan McCallum, the main character, is asked to find and bring it back. Based on that search, he is quickly drawn into actions that are taking place which ultimately leads to the Revolutionary War...

McCallum is a serious man who has an education in medical sciences, but, in today's language, we might also call him Bones...a forensics scientist. He is known there in 1765 as The Death Speaker since he has often helped them understand how people have died.

McCallum has been called in by the dying mother of the Iroquois tribes, who dreamed of his help, and had called him in to find the mask and bring it home--and also find who had murdered her grandson. But almost immediately, Duncan meets trouble on the trail--or better said, the aftermath of it...

"Murderer!" The boy was on his feet now,
coiling as though for another assault.
Duncan ignored the knife in his hand. "I know
this man," he said in surprise. "I sat with him
once at the fire of the Great Council. His name
was Red Jacob, of the Oneida people."
The boy halted. His hand was shaking.
"There are words to be said," Duncan
continued in a level voice. "We should catch
a snake or a bird so it can carry word to his
family on the other side."
Bodies were being left all over the area. As Duncan started accumulating information, from studying the bodies of those killed, some severely mutilated, he learned that many of them were Runners, Messengers, that were taking important information from one post to another. All in secret.

Much of what he and others found was in code. Finally, he discovered that Ben Franklin was somehow involved. Later, he learned that 19 men had disappeared...

Duncan lived in a small community where Sarah, the leader, worked to ensure that the community was open to anybody that needed help. Duncan and Sarah cared about each other, but sometimes disagreed on what each of them needed to do. Duncan's closest friend Conawago also lived in the community. But when he learned of the loss of the mask, he felt sure that Duncan was merely the messenger from the Mother...that it was he,  Conawago, who was to find the Blooddancer. One of the things I have admired most about Native Americans, is their closeness to nature and to its spirits. There is always a mystical component that accompanies their worship that I find intriguing and so it was normal to accept that Conawago spent much time in prayer and talk. 
Charles M. Russell

There is one other individual who becomes a traveling partner for Duncan. Found at the first site where bodies had been mutilated, Duncan had heard someone singing... The child was taken along with Duncan to his home community where he soon was to learn, because that child was screaming not to be touched for a bath...that the boy Duncan thought he was was really a girl...
Near the bottom of the hollow a boy leaned against a log. He was Iroquois, but his words were French. "non je n'irai plus au bois, Non je n'irai plus seulette." in a tiny, frightened voice. The words seized Duncan, loosing a flood of painful images. His father the Scottish rebel hanging on a British gibbet. His mother and sisters raped and killed by British soldiers. Even after so many years the haunting scenes still seized him like this, descending like an abrupt storm...It was a melody of Duncan's youth, one often sung by a French chambermaid in his Dutch boarding school, where he had heard of his family's destruction. No, I'll not go into the woods again. No, I'll not alone be going... Sometimes he would wake up shouting at their campfires and he would sit like a lost child as Conawago kept vigil with him, singing calming songs of the tribes...

The messages, as they were able to slowly figure out,  resulted in learning what was happening and, in particular, was the beginning talk about charging taxes from American settlers... As they traveled, they found more and more deaths, sometimes at a settlement which was one of the posts for the Runners.

At the last one, Duncan sadly told of the owners' daughter having been killed back in his own community. And it was at that point, that her father joined the small group traveling. All had various reasons...The father wanted to find the man who had killed his daughter. The Iroquois felt it was his duty to find the Blooddancer mask and bring it back--and, of course, to ride with his friend. Duncan found that he seemed to be traveling for all of these reasons...and more!

But all signs seemed to be that they must go to Galilee...

Anybody who faces the reality of that early period should know and be prepared for bloody scenes, but the mutilation does get graphic and what they find when they reach Galilee....and the Angel Gabriel, among others, will haunt you...On the other hand, the writing is almost the feel of a literary tale that keeps moving ahead, sharing stories of those who had come to America to find a home and freedom. Some came because of the oppression of their home countries...Yet, those same countries felt the new citizens of America should share their wealth with kings and other officials... 

The author writes in the Preface:
In hindsight the rise of American independence may seem inevitable but the drama of the 1760s stage was not about colonists conceiving a bold new form of government, it was about discovering what it meant to be American. A deep sense of freedom had already become instinctive in American, especially on the frontier, but it took the heat of new repressions to forge that instinct into a new identify.

Pattison presents a time period in our history that, perhaps, not many know much about. Many, like Duncan, still had some vestige of loyalty but as he took the bloody trail that he had been called to follow, learned of the people  who were already formulating and carrying secret plans from across the waters, and saw the dead bodies that followed the same trail he was on, his mind and heart had to change. But in what way?

Reading a historical novel such as Blood of the Oak is hard for me to read. In most ways, this could very well be considered a True Crime--the specifics may be fictional, but the story itself is very true. Once you start this book, you can not stop reading until you finish. It is a magnificent tale that every American should read--to learn of the bonding that was taking place at that time while other individuals continued to seek nothing but power and money. Perhaps we can better understand today's world...or better yet, consider that bond of those who were different--Native Americans and Former Citizens of various European and other countries who somehow by what they went through, became, first, Americans...

Highly recommended! It is not only memorable...but inspirational in many ways...


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:

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