Pattison, Eliot 1951- (Joseph E. Pattison, Joseph Eliot Pattison)

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Pattison, Eliot 1951- (Joseph E. Pattison, Joseph Eliot Pattison)


Born October 20, 1951, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Joseph (a farmer) and Jane Pattison; married Barbara Hagan (a bank officer), October 12, 1985; children: three. Education: Indiana University; Boston University, J.D., 1977. Politics: Independent. Hobbies and other interests: Antiques, American and Asian history, horses.


Home—PA. Agent—Natasha Kern, P.O. Box 2908, Portland, OR 97208. E-mail—[email protected].


Attorney; author of articles and books on international law and finance; novelist.


Edgar Award for Best First Novel, for The Skull Mantra; Poe First Novel Award, 2000, for The Skull Mantra; finalist: Golden Dagger Award (England); Dublin Impac literary award (Ireland).



The Skull Mantra, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 1999.

Water Touching Stone, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2001.

Bone Mountain, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2002.

Beautiful Ghosts, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.

Prayer of the Dragon, Soho (New York, NY), 2007.


Bone Rattler, Counterpoint (Berkeley, CA), 2008.


(Editor, with John L. Taylor) The Registration of Foreign Agents in the United States: A Practical and Legal Guide, District of Columbia Bar (Washington, DC), 1981.

Establishing a Transnational Franchise, M. Bender (New York, NY), 1988.

Acquiring the Future: America's Survival and Success in the Global Economy, Dow Jones-Irwin (Homewood, IL), 1990.

Breaking Boundaries: Public Policy vs. American Business in the World Economy, Peterson's/Pacesetter Books (Princeton, NJ), 1996.

Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Laws, Thomson/West (Eagan, MN), 2003.

Author of articles on international law and global business.


In his career as an expert on international law and business, Eliot Pattison has traveled the world, with particular attention to China. In his first work of fiction, The Skull Mantra, he transports the reader to Chinese-occupied Tibet. The book, sometimes compared to Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park, Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow, and Tony Hillerman's Navajo stories, is a mystery that also gives the reader insight into the culture of Tibet and its suppression by the government of China. The Skull Mantra is as much about a people and a place as it is a thriller.

In the book, Chinese prisoner Shan Tao Yun, a former inspector general of the Ministry of the Economy in Beijing, is working in the mountains on a construction brigade with Tibetan prisoners as punishment for refusing to join the Communist Party and embarrassing a party official. Shan struggles to keep up his strength and morale, with the spiritual guidance of his Tibetan coworkers. When the decapitated corpse of a local official, dressed in American clothes, is discovered near a work site, the party boss, Colonel Tan, forces Shan to embark on an investigation, urging him to produce a false report finding a self-effacing, mute Tibetan monk guilty of the crime. Chinese officials are worried that a road set to be completed for the use of American tourists will be delayed if the crime is not solved, since the Tibetan prisoners refuse to work where a "ghost" might be lurking.

Shan, responding to threats by the Chinese on his Tibetan friends, agrees to pursue the investigation but vows to hide the truth of his findings. Helped and sometimes hindered by his sidekick Yeshe, Shan discovers that high-ranking Chinese officials and American mining capitalists are the likely culprits in the crime.

Although one reviewer on the Web site felt that The Skull Mantra is too full of descriptions and explanations, making it "overwhelmingly dull" and an "overblown first effort," other critics were nearly unanimous in their praise. A Publishers Weekly writer commented that in The Skull Mantra "a venerable plot device—the discredited detective given one last chance—is invested with stunning new life…. Set against a background that is alternately bleak and blazingly beautiful, this is as at once a topnotch thriller and a substantive look at Tibet under siege." Barbara Conaty in Library Journal called the book "a stark and compelling saga" and asserted that "Pattison writes with confident knowledge and spare, graceful prose."

In Booklist, Thomas Gaughan noted that "Pattison provides truly remarkable transport, … somehow imbu[ing] the harsh Tibetan gulag with moments of eerie beauty and serenity." And a Kirkus Reviews critic wrote that The Skull Mantra is a "superb whodunit" showing how Shan develops a vision of Tibet as "an intricate, defiantly fatalistic nation inseparable from the beautifully bleak landscape that has shaped it." The critic concluded that the novel is a "breathlessly suspenseful tour of a dangerous and exotic landscape, where opposing forces, political and magical, give way to an eerie, mystical truth."

In Bone Mountain, Pattison continues the story of Shan, as he is given a very special assignment. He is to take the stone eye of an important god, a religious artifact, and return it to its rightful home in the Yapchi Valley. Over the course of this journey, he faces numerous hardships, including challenges such as an American diplomat who has gone renegade, a group of Tibetan rebels, a Chinese army officer who proves heartless and a danger, and a very old medicine lama. On top of all of this, there is danger from the outside world as the Yapchi Valley is the site where a number of international companies are searching for oil, and an American engineer working in the area has vanished. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that "Pattison's empathy for the cause of Tibetan independence is admirable, but it often overwhelms his story." However, a contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book to be "enlightening, sometimes brilliant, often moving, but always very, very serious." The reviewer went on to add that "only very, very serious readers need apply." A reviewer for Asia Africa Intelligence Wire found the novel to be "a powerful thriller that will leave few readers unmoved."

The next installment in the series, Beautiful Ghosts, continues to trace Shah's daily experiences as well as the mysteries he inevitably solves. In this story, strange artifacts of the modern world, each in some way linked to death or a death threat, begin to appear in the mountains of Tibet. Objects include a casino chip from Reno, Nevada, and an old English tea set owned by an older Tibetan woman that is revealed to contain a global positioning device. Following the trail, Shan eventually flies to Beijing and then to Seattle, Washington. Supposedly, he is looking into a murder having something to do with Tibetan artwork, but in reality he is supposed to calm a volatile argument between a number of Chinese officials, a longtime federal agent, and an American software giant. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "Pattison … has a tendency to explore in excruciating detail every possible twist and turn of his complex story." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book "salted with wonderfully effective set pieces, but traveling the distances between them is no picnic."

Prayer of the Dragon finds Shan in Drango, a small, extremely rural village located up in the mountains, where the old ways are still observed and it appears that time has forgotten the people. A local poet shepherd encourages Shan to help an important lama to head down off the mountain, claiming the village is not safe. Meanwhile, at the bottom of Dragon Mountain, signs prevent trespassing and proclaim danger. Ultimately a serial killer is discovered hiding in the mountains. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews commented that "stories wrapped around other stories brocaded with abundant local color and told with leisure and elegance form a heady literary tapestry." Donna Seaman, writing for Booklist, dubbed Pattison's latest effort "another relentlessly tense and convoluted adventure of tyranny, crime, and spirituality."

In Bone Rattler, Pattison takes a bit of time away from the land of Tibet and instead focuses on Lord Ramsey and the various Scots he took on as indentured servants. Duncan McCallum, a hero who wishes he were anywhere else and who has a legendary temper, takes on far too many risks for the subsequent reward. The mystery weaves among the events of the French and Indian wars and the culture of the time, all while building up to a mystery. Jen Baker, in a review for Booklist, commented on the book' "dashing and audacious hero, filigreed connections linking characters…, and a plot propelled toward inevitable catastrophe." David Keymer, in a review for Library Journal, observed that "there are many resonances between the life of this highland warrior and the ways of the Iroquois."



Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, February 22, 2003, review of Bone Mountain.

Booklist, June 1, 1999, Thomas Gaughan, review of The Skull Mantra, p. 1743; September 15, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Prayer of the Dragon, p. 39; October 15, 2007, Jen Baker, review of Bone Rattler, p. 31.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1999, review of The Skull Mantra, p. 1250; July 15, 2002, review of Bone Mountain, p. 997; March 1, 2004, review of Beautiful Ghosts, p. 203; October 15, 2007, review of Prayer of the Dragon.

Library Journal, July, 1999, Barbara Conaty, review of The Skull Mantra, p. 134; November 15, 2007, David Keymer, review of Bone Rattler, p. 54.

Publishers Weekly, August 16, 1999, review of The Skull Mantra, p. 63; August 19, 2002, review of Bone Mountain, p. 70; March 22, 2004, review of Beautiful Ghosts, p. 66.

ONLINE, (March 24, 2001), review of The Skull Mantra.

Eliot Pattison Home Page, (March 24, 2001).