Freedom's Ghost: A Mystery of the American Revolution

Image of Freedom's Ghost: A Mystery of the American Revolution (Bone Rattler)
Release Date: 
October 24, 2023
Counterpoint Press
Reviewed by: 

“Pattison offers once again . . . a fierce suspense that depends on love and loyalty, as well as cunning and intelligence, within the overall historical results we think we all understand.”

Eliot Pattison’s Mystery of the American Revolution series has moved steadily along, as Scottish immigrant Duncan McCallum mourned the distant absence of his murdered clan, forged a new clan for himself through friendship with an aging Algonquin, Conawago, and committed to a strong social revolutionary of the Colonies, Sarah Ramsey—in the process, making a “forever enemy” of Sarah’s powerful father. (In its early volumes this was the Bone Rattler series.) Also taking part in Pattison’s historical crime fiction have been vivid versions of Ben Franklin and John Hancock, as well as Boston’s own Samuel Adams.

As Freedom’s Ghost opens, a new character steps up, turned into a rounded human built from the scraps of what we know about him historically: Crispus Attucks. This Boston-based sailor of mixed African and Indigenous ancestry is best known today as the first to die on March 5, 1770, in what we now call the Boston Massacre. His death lit a significant one of the flames that launched the American Revolution.

Thus, in the second chapter of this 381-page novel of the formation of America, anticipated loss and terror emerge for any historically knowledgeable reader: Pattison invites us to get to know this “first martyr of the American Revolution,” increasing the inevitable pain of his oncoming death. Here is what historical fiction does best, endowing the journey with understanding and emotion. Pattison leads Duncan through tangled plots and new-nation maneuvers, across a time period of mere months, inching toward the explosion that history tells us must lie ahead.

A Duncan McCallum narrative does more than bring American history into resonant life: It offers a criminal enterprise that Duncan must investigate, first through his skills as a physician and medical examiner, then through his responsibilities to those who’ve shown themselves as allies—and those in danger of being crushed by the ambitions of the new nation, like persons of color.

That said, Duncan doesn’t want a war to explode. Or at least, not yet. Aware of the vulnerabilities of the colonies (which will become states), he seeks “peace and liberty” for as long as that pairing is possible. Each year of delay in revolution means a stronger union to fight the wealthy and well-armed British.

Yet his connections with Hancock and Adams have already made him a target for the local pro-British (loyalist) magistrate. Duncan hears from a friend, “He sees you as an opportunity. A murder charge would be a convenient way to eliminate you and win favor with the [British] governor.”

So Duncan and his friends, moving from one hiding place to another, are repeatedly targeted and painted as criminals. Losing his temper and insight would be understandable, but here Pattison offers us a way of thought that’s been shaped through Duncan’s long friendship with the now-elderly Conawago: “We did not live in one world, Conawago had once declared to him under a shower of falling stars, but at the juncture of many worlds. The challenge of a successful life was knowing how to balance those worlds.”

The book’s title comes clear as Duncan and Hancock and Adams begin to grasp the conspiracy against them, the efforts of the wealthy and unscrupulous to criminalize freedom: “The War Council does not trust its shadow deeds to officers of the line. No, those are reserved for ghosts from London . . . ghosts who will haunt all of Boston if we don’t stop them soon.”

Duncan’s strength is in his medical knowledge and determination to probe criminal patterns. His vulnerability, though, is in his friendships, as each treasured family member or friend becomes a potential hostage to the unscrupulous conspiracy around him. Thus, Pattison offers once again, in this seventh book of the series, a fierce suspense that depends on love and loyalty, as well as cunning and intelligence, within the overall historical results we think we all understand.