Edgar Award winner, Eliot Pattison, is a master storyteller. His mystery set in post-apocalyptic America, “Ashes of the Earth,” is no exception. Previously, his novels have been set in historical times; this time around he has jumped into the future to construct a world thirty years after global warfare destroyed life as we know it.
The protagonist is Hadrian Boone, a middle-aged survivor who helped to build the colony of Carthage in a remote area of what was the Northeastern U.S. Across the lake are exile outposts for those who were not fit enough to pull their own weight in Carthage. Beyond the New Jerusalem exile outpost is St. Gabriel, another colony in what had been Canada founded by former prisoners escaped from a lock-up that was destroyed in the holocaust. Fishermen, salvage seekers and marauders explore these and other more remote locations, but basically there is very little communication between the city-states.
The political and social constructs are very like those of ancient times while the technology that runs each community comes from the 19th century. The re-inventor of much of the technology and the medical discoveries in Carthage is also the town librarian, Jonah. He discovers something about the drugs being shipped in from St. Gabriel and their strange effect on the young people of Carthage and becomes expendable.
Hadrian vows to find his friend’s killer and in the process sets off on a dangerous voyage to the exile camps and ultimately to St. Gabriel along with a young police officer, Jori Waller, a young salvager named Dax, and another officer named Bjorn. Together they unlock the mystery of Jonah’s death and save Carthage certain destruction from the inside out.
Most of the novel displays the unremitting hardship of life after nuclear holocaust. It shows how hard-fought each bit of progress in life is and how fragile life really is. The book makes one appreciate what we have in this world and not want to take what we have for granted. It could all be gone in an instant.
“Ashes of the Earth” will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is hard to take the constant bleak prospects of how these survivors must live out their lives, and how little they have to pass on to their children of traditions, religion, memories and physical objects. The few possessions that these people gain are treasured, though, ironically, many do not treasure their children enough to protect them from superstition and the drugs that can quickly destroy mind and body.
This book is for anyone who wants a profound and disturbing look into the human soul in the years following the apocalypse. I view “Ashes of the Earth” as one of the most exceptional fictional accounts of the year.
This review was written from a review copy.