Tales from America's past
A roundup review of four new fictional takes on the 18th and 19th centuries, from the French and Indian War to the trial of Henry Ward Beecher in 1872.
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The Bone Rattler: A Mystery of Colonial America, by Eliot Pattison (Counterpoint)Skip to next paragraph
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The French and Indian War (1754-1759) is often passed over by history teachers, in their rush to tackle the Revolution. Here, Edgar-winning writer Eliot Pattison tries to redress that wrong by wrapping history up in a mystery/James Fenimore Cooper tale. Duncan McCallum, exiled lord of a nearly extinct clan, is being transported to the New World on a prison ship to work for the mysterious Ramsey Company. During the voyage, a tutor is murdered, and McCallum is assigned to take over his job and pin the murder on a convenient prisoner. Unwilling to betray a fellow Scot, McCallum is determined to find the real killer – a job that becomes more vital as more murders occur once they hit dry land, and more problematic, since the mystery seems to swirl around tyrannical Lord Ramsey's oldest daughter. Pattison makes some interesting comparisons between the Iroquois and the Scots, and the frontier he evokes is a hazardous one. Taking a page from Cooper's book, Pattison makes his Iroquois so noble, even in the face of gross treachery, they could join Disney's "Pocahontas" in a chorus of "Colors of the Wind." Grade: B-
Screenwriter Lerner uncovers some fascinating "secrets" about Allan Pinkerton, owner of the first detective agency in the US. Pinkerton was a staunch abolitionist who ran guns to John Brown and whose home served as a station on the Underground Railroad. And in 1860, he and his agents, including his lover Mrs. Warne, foiled a plot to assassinate President Lincoln. While the history is terrific, the characters in "Pinkerton's Secret" feel either anachronistic or thin as a worn-out T-shirt. And Lerner makes the fatal mistake of writing the rescue of Lincoln at two removes: by having Pinkerton quote Warne's journal in his memoir. Also, since this keeps coming up in fictional "memoirs": If your character is writing to their offspring, please do not include detailed descriptions of the parent's sex life. The child does not want to read it. Guaranteed. Grade: C
[Editor's note: The original version misspelled Eliot Pattison's name.]