Review: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (2017)


My Rating: 4 stars                                          Read: 5/3/2017

Release Date: June 1, 2017


Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novel—a thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate America’s western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.

Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition.  But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions.  With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and William’s newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the West’s most notorious characters.

A page-turner that draws on both meticulously researched history and an exuberant imagination, Dragon Teeth is based on the rivalry between real-life paleontologists Cope and Marsh; in William Johnson readers will find an inspiring hero only Michael Crichton could have imagined. Perfectly paced and brilliantly plotted, this enormously winning adventure is destined to become another Crichton classic. 

My Review:

I’m a big Michael Crichton fan from way back. I read all his books as they came out in the 80’s and 90’s. So I was eager to read this new posthumous release.

I have mixed feelings about it. Let’s start with the positive. The book is a fiction-meets-fact novel in which the adventures of a fictional young Yale student, Johnson, is interwoven into the true-life rivalry of two fossil hunting professors of the late 1800’s. Cope and Marsh, real historical figures, were among the first to dig up bones of dinosaurs out west and they went to great lengths to sabotage and steal from each other.

Johnson, a pampered and bored Philadelphia scion, goes west with Marsh on a dare. He ends up working for Cope after he and Marsh part company. There’s lots of adventure–Indians, gun fights, forts, stagecoaches, raging rivers–pretty much all the western cliches. Johnson even ends up in Deadwood where he meets other real life figures such as Wyatt Earp.

If you like Westerns, or have an interest in the story of the dinosaur bone hunters, you will likely enjoy the book. I found those aspects interesting, even though they weren’t things I particularly was eager to read about. The historical research was well done and I learned things I didn’t know.

On the down side, for a book with so much action, it felt a bit boring to me. I wasn’t compelled to turn the page and finish the book in a day the way I always was with Crichton’s previous books. It just doesn’t have the same snap and forward momentum. Maybe it was because of the historical setting. Most of Crichton’s books have been contemporaries, and I found the old west setting didn’t hold my attention very well.

Also, there was the constant use of leading lines at the end of the chapter. Such as “He could not have foreseen that his mother would be told he was dead.” or “Little did they know tomorrow would bring disaster.” These prescient lines were quite frequent and bugged me a bit.

In short: if the subject matter truly interests you, give it a go. It’s certainly better than many books that are published today. But if you’re looking for the typical Crichton magic, you may be disappointed. If this book had not had his name on the cover, I wouldn’t have guessed it was his.

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