Monday, May 22, 2017

Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

The late Michael Crichton was one of the most prolific and entertaining writers of the 20th century.  He remains the only writer to have the #1 book (Disclosure), #1 movie (Jurassic Park), and #1 TV show (ER) in the same year (1994).  After Crichton's death in 2008, his wife discovered an unpublished novel among his papers: Dragon Teeth.

In a way, Dragon Teeth doesn't fit with the bulk of Crichton's work.  Set in 1876, Crichton centers the story around the famous "Bone Wars" between paleontologists Othniel Marsh and Edwin Cope.  A Yale freshman, William Johnson, sets out with Marsh to experience the West.  He accompanies Marsh on a summer expedition to dig dinosaur bones.  After Marsh abandons him en route, Johnson falls in with Cope, and experiences first-hand the bitter rivalry between the two fossil hunters.  The conflict and some of the events Crichton depicts are real; Johnson and his adventures are fictional.

Johnson, an heir to a Philadelphia family fortune, is out of place in the rough and tumble world of dinosaur bone hunting.  But throw in some Indian attacks, gunfights in Deadwood, ambushes along the trail, and buddying up with the famous gunfighter Wyatt Earp, Johnson is a changed man.  While the setting seems out of character for Crichton (actually, The Great Train Robbery was an early bestseller for him . . .), the story is familiar: a team sets out on a scientific expedition, things go terribly wrong, a few people die, and the hero has to rely on new-found skills to survive and protect the scientific discoveries.

Dragon Teeth was a real pleasure to read.  Crichton ratchets up the interest level to a high point, then maintains it to a satisfying conclusion.  The blending of real characters, places, and events with fictional characters keeps things interesting.  It's too real to be totally made up, but not so wacky that it couldn't have been real.  For Crichton fans, this is a must-read, but any reader looking for a fun story will enjoy Dragon Teeth.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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