Eye of the Raven
A Duncan McCallum Mystery by Eliot Pattison
Review: Set in 1760 in the Pennsylvania wilderness, Scotsman Duncan McCallum and his friend Conawago, a Nipmuc shaman, are traveling down the ancient Warriors Path when they come upon a man, who they later learn is from Virginia, mortally wounded, his hand nailed to a tree, in Eye of the Raven, the second mystery in this series by Eliot Pattison.
As the pair begins to administer aid, they're attacked by the man's comrades, who accuse Conawago of the brutal crime. The Virginian, a man named Winston Burke, dies, and Duncan and Conawago are taken to a nearby settlement, where the Nipmuc is to be tried and executed. Duncan's pleas that he is innocent go unheard, and Conawago is within minutes of being convicted when another Indian, Skanawati of the Onondaga, enters the camp and confesses. Duncan is sure Skanawati is not the killer, and is equally unsure why he is confessing. He and Conawago set out to prove his innocence, and quickly learn that Burke is only the most recent of several deaths, most of whom were surveyors, not directly related to any conflict between the Europeans or the local tribes.
Eye of the Raven is a tautly plotted, beautifully written mystery set in Colonial America. Those with some knowledge of this historical period will no doubt appreciate the meticulous detail with which the author interweaves fact and fiction. A helpful "author's note" at the end should probably be read first, to help set the stage for the story. Conawago, however, also provides a brief overview, while discussing the murder with his friends:
We could sit until nightfall and not list all those with complaints against boundary markers and surveyors. Elsewhere the British and French may fight each other because their kings hate each other. But here they fight over the rights to land. When the French leave, the war over land will continue, just fought in different ways. Half a dozen companies already compete for these territories, subject to few laws and fewer lawmen. The Virginians compete with the Pennsylvanians, and both oppose the Connecticut and New York companies. The Pennsylvania Susquehanna company despises the Philadelphia Land Company. The smaller tribes subjugated by the Iroquois resent them for selling their lands, where they traditionally lived. The Susquehannocks, the Conoy, the Shawnee, the Nanticokes, the Delawares consider the transfer of these lands to be invalid. More than a few Iroquois resent the handful of chiefs who sign away possession. There are many possible killers, but surely only one effect. Killing the surveyors defeats the Virginia land claims.
Despite the potential for confusion, it's rather straightforward to follow as the author keeps the focus on the crime and its resolution, all the while providing historical background for context.
As well as Eye of the Raven is written, it is also an elegantly crafted mystery. Duncan observes that Burke wasn't killed by a tomahawk chop to his leg or even the nail in his hand; rather the fatal wound was made with his own knife, which was used to sever an artery in his wounded leg. And he was found with a piece of copper in his mouth and a clock gear embedded in his chest. Duncan is also puzzled by the victim, location and timing: "Why this particular Virginian, why this particular day, … why this particular tree?" A strange and perplexing enigma, to be sure, only one of the many remarkable facets to this outstanding novel.
Acknowledgment: Counterpoint Press provided an ARC of Eye of the Raven for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Lord of Death
Soho Crime (Hardcover), June 2009
ISBN-13: 9781569475799; ISBN-10: 1569475792
Ashes of the Earth
Counterpoint (Hardcover), April 2011
ISBN-13: 9781582436449; ISBN-10: 1582436444
Location(s) referenced in Eye of the Raven: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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Eye of the Raven by Eliot Pattison — A Duncan McCallum Mystery
Publication Date: December 2009
List Price: $26.00
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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