Four Letter Nerd

Tag - Dragon Teeth

4LN Book Review: Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is a colossus in the entertainment industry.  He is the creative mind behind Jurassic Park, ER, Andromeda Strain, Congo, and Westworld.  During his life, Crichton dominated the box office, the literary world, and television.  Dragon Teeth is the latest in a series of posthumous novels discovered by his family to hit the shelves.

Summary from HarperCollins:

About the Book

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

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate Americas 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 Williams newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the Wests 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.

There is a particular formula a majority of Michael Crichton’s most popular books follow.  Take a team of scientists from diverse fields of study, insert a preternatural problem that serves as an antagonist – such as an alien spacecraft (Sphere), super-virus (Andromeda Strain), or genetically reconstructed dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) – and have the team of scientists work together to solve said problem.  Dragon Teeth smashes that mold.

While most of Crichton’s literary work would fall under the action/adventure genre, Dragon Teeth falls more in the realm of western/historical fiction.  The story takes place during the Bone Wars, which found two leading paleontologists – Cope and Marsh – in a bitter race to discover dinosaur bones.  Cope and Marsh, as well as Cope’s compatriot Charles Stern, all play significant roles in the story and actually existed (they have their own Wikipedia pages and everything). The Earp brothers also make their presence known in and around the town of Deadwood (bonus points if you read their parts with Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton’s voices).

While the historical characters are exciting, the true protagonist of Dragon Teeth is William Johnson; a fictional character that serves as a foil for the reader to learn more about the historical events unfolding. Born into affluence, Johnson has led a life of ease and excess. It’s not until he makes a spur of the moment bet and joins a paleontology exhibition headed west that he faces any real adversity, and boy does he face it. During the Wild West adventure, Johnson finds himself in the middle of both the Bone Wars and the Sioux Wars. Add to that the general cast of ruffians typical of western lore, and you got yourself a story more reminiscent of Louis L’Amour than Andromeda Strain.

It is important to note that this book isn’t technically a finished product. It was found in manuscript form, and a note from his wife indicates that he started planning it as far back from 1974. Some of the dialogue is stiff and the pacing is a bit jumpy, but I think this is a book fans of both Crichton and westerns will enjoy as long as they don’t expect something akin to his blockbuster titles.

For more like this, check out our Top Four Michael Crichton Novels