Bestselling author Michael Wallace refuses to be locked into one genre. He’s well known for his sci-fi, his fantasies, his historical mysteries and his thriller novels. Crow Hollow is Book #1 of his new 17th century historical mystery series. Although I had read several of his sci-fi novels, I sadly had not discovered his mysteries until I picked up Crow Hollow. FYI: He calls this a fantasy novel; however, it read more like a historical mystery to me.
Ever wonder what 17th century New England was really like for the Puritans and for the Native Americans once the Puritans landed? Wallace pulls no punches, presenting the harsh realities of life in a virtual wilderness during the time leading up to the Revolutionary War. At the same time, he weaves an intensely personal story featuring an unlikely collaboration. Historical fiction and adventure fans will definitely want to check this one out!
“The truth is, I loved writing this book. Okay, I love writing all my books, but this one was especially enjoyable. You know that feeling you get when you read a historical that transports you so far away that you’re disoriented putting it down and returning to the 21st century? I felt that way for days and weeks at a time. It was winter, and my house in New England was blanketed with heavy snows. I would light a fire at the stone fireplace every evening when I’d finished my writing and think about my stories and setting.” Quote from the author’s blog about Crow Hollow.
The year is 1676. James Bailey is an agent of the British crown who’s traveled all over Europe on assignment to further King Charles’ interests – in today’s world, James would be known as a spy. He gathers bits and pieces of information sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly, and generally keeps an ear to the ground, so he can bring the king any news that might potentially impact how Britain should prepare itself or act to protect its interests in the world.
James’ new official assignment is to travel to the New World to assess the situation there. Troubling information has come that leads the king to believe unrest is growing and that could potentially lead to insurrection in the British colonies. James is to ferret out any troublemakers in positions of power and remove them to ensure unrest is put down before it gains mainstream traction.
“After that, he [James] noticed several suspicious characters among the crew and passengers of the Vigilant itself. Men who seemed to watch him when he came onto the deck, or sat too close when he and Peter [Church] took their supper.
‘Did the Puritans send spies? Peter asked.
‘Why not?’ James said. ‘We certainly did.’ This was largely bluster. No more than a handful of royal agents operated between Quebec and the Province of Carolina.
‘But who sent them?’
‘Hard to say. These stiff-necked fools have plenty of friends in Parliament. Any one could have sent word.’ James eyed the older man. ‘And when they hear you’re on board, we’re bound to attract a special flavor of vitriol.’…
Peter Church chuckled. “Which will upset them more? That I’m an Indian or that I’m a Quaker?’
‘Let’s see if you can live long enough to find out.’”
James also has a more unofficial assignment. One of Britain’s agents, Benjamin Cotton, was murdered in a Native American battle but the information that reached England was sketchy at best. Frankly, the story has such huge gaps in it that James feels something doesn’t ring true. Since Benjamin and James were good friends before Benjamin left for the colonies, James is anxious to learn what really happened not just because it could be linked to the unrest among the colonists but because he feels he owes it to his friend.
Meanwhile in the Massachusetts colony, Prudence Cotton is desperate and can’t get anyone to help her. When her husband, Benjamin, was murdered in a raid on her village by their previously friendly neighboring tribe of Nipmuk Indians, she not only saw all of her neighbors slaughtered before her eyes but she and her daughter were taken hostage. Eventually, Prudence escaped but her daughter, Mary, was lost to her. She is certain Mary is still alive and living with the remnants of the Nipmuk tribe, and she’s determined to get her daughter back. Unfortunately, she’s the only one who believes this. Everyone else thinks her mind is touched from her horrific experience and that Mary is long dead.
Despite what her fellow Puritans might believe, the Nipmuk treated Prudence and Mary as well as they would treat any hostage. Their rules for women and children might have differed from how the colonists treat women and children; however, the Nipmuk valued both. Prudence is convinced they further assimilated Mary into the tribe instead of killing her. If only someone would listen to her, believe her, and help her find Mary.
When James arrives and talks to Prudence about Benjamin’s death, she begins to feel a glimmer of hope. If only she can convince him to help her. What she does do is to convince him that it made no sense for the village’s long-standing neighboring tribe to suddenly attack them. A new non-violence truce had just been reached that pleased the Nipmuks even more than it pleased the villagers. Something about that whole massacre does not add up and James is determined to discover what it is.
Of course, the forces behind the massacre are equally determined to protect their interests and prevent him from doing so, and they immediately set plans into motion to ensure James not only doesn’t succeed but that he doesn’t leave the colonies alive. When their plans end in his partner, Peter Church, being murdered and James being badly sickened, James knows he’s up against well-organized forces. At that point, he reaches out to Prudence and fellow British agents living in secret up and down the New England coast. Whatever is going on is much bigger than he thought.
“’He’s going to Winton. Then maybe north. If he does, he’ll be speaking to the Abenaki and Nimuk.’ [said Prudence]
‘He wouldn’t do that. There’s no reason. The war is over, the matter settled.’ [said her sister]
‘Settled?’ The bitter laugh that came up tasted like gall. ‘It has been scarce nine months since my captivity.’
‘Time enough to put it behind you.’ Anne said firmly. ‘Yes, to see matters settled. God willing, to never think of them again.’
How could matters be settled, when every time Prudence closed her eyes she could see the murdered English at Winton, hear the harsh cawing as flapping black wings settled blanket-like over the slaughtered Nipmuk warriors at Crow Hollow?”
Can James uncover the plot that led to Benjamin’s death and the seemingly senseless Native American uprising? Although it appears clear that colonists actually were behind the plot, why? What could possibly cause Puritans to plot to murder fellow Puritans? Why would they risk setting off a full-scale Indian war? How does this impact Britain’s role in the New England colonies? As if that isn’t enough, can James do anything to help Prudence not just find some resolution about Benjamin’s death but discover what became of her daughter? And, if Mary is still alive, does Prudence stand any chance of finding her much less getting her back?
Prudence Cotton and James Bailey seem like a very unlikely pair at first. They possess equally strong personalities who seem like oil and water; however, they balance each other out much like Holmes and Watson – only different. I admired Prudence for her strength and determination. The woman had been through hell and back, yet she refused to give up even when faced with very public Puritan repudiation. I became her biggest cheerleader. James is equally determined and strong, and I could see instantly why the king assigned him this kind of role. The only problem was that he was a fish out of water among the extreme religious sect of the Puritans, who could make current day evangelicals look like leftists. I have avoided mentioning the villains in this piece. Let’s just say that greed and power hunger are nothing new, and were just as destructive in the 17th century as they are in the 21st century.
It’s clear that Michael Wallace did his homework on 17th century New England because Crow Hollow made me feel like I’d stepped off the page into the early days of the Massachusetts colony and the wilderness surrounding each of its small villages. And, as a Quaker, I can say that he nailed the parts about Quakers during that period. Fantasy? Not so much, despite what the author says about it, although it does include a few mythological/mystical elements consistent with belief systems during that time period. Riveting historical fiction? You betcha! Dynamite mystery/thriller? Absolutely! Crow Hollow is a great start for a really fun series and I can’t wait to see what this duo gets into next! If you’re looking for a great vacation read this summer, this one will definitely fit the bill!
Can’t wait to read it?
Crow Hollow was published on June 1, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller. FYI: I received it as a free Kindle First e-book read as part of my Amazon Prime membership, so that might still be an option if you’re a Prime member.
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