A techno-thriller for dinosaur nerds!

by Dan Stout

Tyrannosaur CanyonTyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A techno-thriller for dinosaur nerds.

Although the cover art and blurbs present Tyrannosaur Canyon as a Jurassic Park knock-off, this book is about humans who chase fossils for both the brief glimpse into a lost world and the financial rewards which accompany it, all wrapped in the cloak of a fast-paced thriller.

Here's a bit of a disclaimer: I grew up wanting to be a paleontologist, and am predisposed to favor any story about this topic which is at least competently written. Douglas Preston's prose isn't brilliant, but it's certainly more than competent, and by the end I was glad that I'd picked this book up. If the story had revolved around stamps or antiques rather than tyrannosaurs and trilobites it would have still been a good airport read, but as it stands it was irresistible for me. (And frankly, the detail and affection with which Preston delves into the world of fossil hunting makes it obvious that he's more than a bit of a dinosaur nerd himself. That bit of passion from an author goes a long way toward giving life to any novel, regardless of topic or genre.)

Preston begins the mystery with the Apollo 17 moon landing, and he quite cleverly uses the actual dialogue from the mission transcripts to build the prologue for the story. From there we jump to the American Southwest in 2005, where a man is about to be killed as he returns from the site of a major find. By chance, a passerby hears the shot and tries to help the dying man. This good samaritan is Tom Broadbent, one of the main characters in an earlier Preston book (don't let this put you off-- I've never read that earlier book, and didn't feel that I was lost or walking into a sequel). Much as you'd expect, Tom and his wife are soon pulled into the crossfire as events spin out of control.

As in most thrillers, there are several villains, attacking our protagonists from several different vectors. As you'd expect, the villains with the most screen time are the most fleshed out, but I was disappointed to find that they were a bit of a mixed bag. While one heavy has outside interests and aspirations that round him out as a person, at least one had motivations which simply didn't ring true to my ear.

The science and weaponry details are there for geeks of multiple stripes; this is the kind of book that specifies what make and caliber of handgun is being waved under our hero's nose, while still finding time to ruminate on the different types of sediment thrown up by the impact which wiped out the dinosaurs.

Preston references paleontologists and bone hunters from the early days of museum expeditions to Bob Bakker, and mixes them effortlessly with car chases and kidnappings. (The desert wandering ex-CIA monk doesn't mix in so effortlessly, but hey-- they can't all be winners.)

Don't let the cover fool you-- it's no Jurassic Park clone, and Tyrannosaur Canyon is worth a read.

View all my reviews
by Dan Stout