Monday, May 22, 2017

Dragon Teeth

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
HarperCollins: 5/23/17
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062473356

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton is a highly recommended historical adventure novel.

Let me preface this review with a few comments. As most people know Crichton passed away in 2008 and the books published since then have been from manuscripts found by his wife Sherry.  Dragon Teeth is an early manuscript; purportedly research on it began in 1974. Longtime fans of Crichton's work will recognize in the style a resemblance to several of his earlier novels. That fact doesn't diminish this novel, but Dragon Teeth is neither a Jurassic Park story nor a prequel. What it does do is affirm that Crichton's fascination with dinosaurs, fossils, and paleontology began long before the Jurassic Park novels were written.

Dragon Teeth is set in 1876. At this time there was war in the west between Native American tribes and the US, a gold rush in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and legends of the Wild West were alive. It was also the time of the "Bone Wars," a nickname given to the bitter rivalry between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope. The narrative follows William Johnson, an entitled Yale student who made a bet with a rival that he would go west to dig for dinosaur bones. He learns photography so he has a skill that enables him to join Marsh's expedition. Marsh, however is a paranoid man and ends up abandoning Johnson in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At that point Johnson joins Cope's group, who are heading west to the Montana badlands to dig for fossils. They make an incredible find, but unforeseen circumstances separate the exhibition members, resulting in getting half of the bones back east to become solely Johnson's dangerous quest.

William Johnson is a fictitious character, but the novel is populated with many other recognizable historical figures, places, and events. Dragon Teeth is a western more than anything else, but it demonstrates the research Crichton undertook for his novels. This is a nice combination of historical fact and fiction that showcases Crichton's ability to take facts, science, and history and mold it into an entertaining story.

While Dragon Teeth doesn't have the high level of exceptionally-fast-paced-heart-stopping action that is displayed in many of his books, this is still a very entertaining story that will hold your attention from beginning to end. I do wonder, however, if it was set aside and not published earlier because Crichton wasn't satisfied with it. It is not as good as many of his novels. But, setting that aside, fans will be pleased with it and easily place Dragon Teeth in context as an early example of his body of work. As a long-time fan, I love Crichton's books, but... a gentle suggestion to his estate: I think it might be time to close the vault on things he wrote but didn't publish.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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