Ashes of the Earth
Review: Set some 30 or so years after an apocalyptic world-wide event that wiped out most of human civilization, Hadrian Boone — the founder of a colony of survivors known as Carthage, located south of one of the lesser Great Lakes in the US — gets involved in a murder investigation that leads to deeper intrigue in Ashes of the Earth, the potential first in a series of futuristic mysteries by Eliot Pattison.
Two men are dead. One is a scout assigned to search for salvage to be reused or repurposed, who has been stabbed with a sword honed down into the size of a knife. The other is Jonah Beck, Hadrian's mentor and the colony's most brilliant mind, responsible for many of the inventions that allowed its people to survive, who is found hanging from a library rafter. One is clearly a murder that the colony's governor, Lucas Buchanan, wants covered up. The other is presumably a suicide, a situation Buchanan wants closed and forgotten as soon as possible. Hadrian, once Buchanan's closest associate in forming and governing Carthage, has been ostracized and lives on the margin of society, but is still the person Buchanan goes to when he needs help. But Hadrian doesn't believe Jonah killed himself, but was in fact murdered … and who left clues behind as to who might be responsible. In Hadrian's quest to identify Jonah's killer, he soon discovers a network of spies and criminals, whose ulterior motives may not only jeopardize Hadrian's life, but all of Carthage.
Ashes of the Earth is far more about character and setting than murder mystery plot. The author depicts a bleak existence following a nuclear/biological cataclysm that has decimated the population, leaving only small pockets of civilization and little in the way of "modern" technology. It's a strange new world, in which paper is scarce, most pre-event books and artwork are banned, and children are not taught about the past. This sets up a conflict not only between those fighting for their respective vision of the future — regardless of age — but also between those born post-event and those who lived pre-event. Readers of Pattison's Shan Tao Yun series will immediately recognize the similarities between the former Chinese police inspector living in Tibet and Hadrian Boone. Indeed, there is not much difference between Carthage's governor Lucas Buchanan and any Chinese person of authority in the Shan Tao Yun mysteries. In this regard, Ashes of the Earth is something of a disappointment, that Pattison merely transports Shan and company 50 years into the future, setting them in the challenging environment of post-apocalyptic upstate western New York rather than the challenging environment of modern Tibet, and doesn't do much more in terms of character development.
To be sure, the mystery plot is intricate and well-developed — "[Hadrian] was no closer to understanding the murder of Jonah. His old friend was as much an enigma in death as he had been in life. Every path led only to more questions and greater danger, and the truth seemed less and less important to all the other players in the strange, treacherous game" — but it also seems clear about half-way through where it is headed and it's a little frustrating that not more is made of it past this point. The storyline certainly isn't of the caliber of the Shan mysteries, or even the author's other series set in Colonial America featuring ranger scout Duncan McCallum. This comparison won't be a problem for new readers, who may embrace Ashes of the Earth as a superior novel of suspense — which, unquestionably, it is, especially relative to the vast majority of mystery fiction published today — but, unfair though it may be to compare, it is simply not on the same level as the author's other works.
It is not clear if Ashes of the Earth is a stand-alone or the first of a series, but the door is left open at the end for a sequel.
Acknowledgment: Julia Drake Public Relations provided a copy of Ashes of the Earth for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Eye of the Raven
Counterpoint (Hardcover), December 2009
ISBN-13: 9781582435664; ISBN-10: 1582435669
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), November 2012
ISBN-13: 9780312656041; ISBN-10: 0312656041
Location(s) referenced in Ashes of the Earth: New York State
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Ashes of the Earth by Eliot Pattison — A Hadrian Boone Mystery
Publication Date: April 2011
List Price: $26.00
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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