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Dragon Teeth


Dragon Teeth

- Click here to read Roz Shea's review of the audiobook.


“Adventure is out there!” That mantra, made famous in the Pixar film UP, could also apply to young William Johnson. When the smarmy Yale student oversteps his boundaries by daring to explore the unchartered Wild West on a bet, he has no idea what he is in for. You see, the year is 1876, and not much is known about the Wild West outside of tales of marauding groups of bandits and savage Indian tribes. During the course of his adventure outlined in Michael Crichton's DRAGON TEETH, William will come face to face with all he has heard about and more.

Crichton surrounds the fictional William with a slew of real historical characters, hence making this tale an entry in the historical fiction genre. This introduction shows Crichton's abundant imagination as he creates the college student’s backstory, actually comparing photographs of him showing how he changed both physically and spiritually between his time at Yale in New Haven and his time spent in the West, specifically in a photo taken in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Pride gets the best of William when he puts his foot in his mouth after getting flustered by his school rival, the boisterous and snobby Harold Hannibal Marlin, who mocks him for never venturing into the unchartered territory known as the Wild West. With $1,000 on the line, William not only agrees to visit the West but offers to give up his entire summer by volunteering to join Professor Othniel Charles Marsh on his expedition to “dig up old bones.”

Marsh is a well-renowned paleontologist with a reputation for being difficult, overbearing and extremely possessive in pursuit of his next archaeological find. His venture into the Wild West is for one purpose and one purpose only: to turn up dinosaur bones never before seen, allowing him to claim and name them. His mission team is already selected, and only one position remains available --- photographer. Even though he knows next to nothing about photography (outside of being able to take a picture), William talks his way into the role and begs his wealthy father to provide him with photography equipment to use on the expedition.

"The most unbelievable thing about this novel is the mere fact that I am holding a book by Michael Crichton in my hands.... His unique gift for blending fiction with science and history remains unmatched, and I can only hope that there are more hidden gems to unearth."

William finds the wide-open spaces of the Midwest to be quite tedious and often regrets putting himself in this position just to prove a point with his college nemesis. His lack of commitment is quite evident, which results in his oversleeping one morning at a hotel in Cheyenne, and he is left behind by Marsh and the expedition team. Not knowing where to turn, he comes across someone who claims he can help him out. This man turns out to be Professor Marsh's arch-rival, Professor Edward Drinker Cope. Cope is far friendlier than Marsh and more than accommodating in allowing William to join his team on their expedition, which has similar goals to Marsh’s.

Cope's team even includes some Native Americans. This is quite important since the temperature between white men and Indians who feel their territory being threatened has never been more heated. As a matter of fact, the Department of War actually forbids any civilian from venturing into the disputed Indian lands of Montana, Wyoming or the Dakotas in the wake of the slaughtering of General Custer and his troop at Little Big Horn.

Cope does not heed this warning, and he and his team continue their digs. At one point, they successfully unearth remnants of the Lost World when they dig up what looks like large teeth. Labeled by some as “dragon teeth,” they most likely belonged to a brontosaurus. Guess who is part of the team tasked with guarding these crates of newly found dinosaur bones? None other than our young hero, William Johnson.

Knowing that this find would really drive his ex-leader crazy, William is more than happy to help out Cope. There is much backstory given to the Marsh-Cope rivalry, including a brief meeting of the two, and readers will delight in it. Unfortunately, things take a dangerous turn when part of Cope's team --- which includes William ---  is separated from the rest during a violent incident with both bandits and enemy Indian tribes.

William and those with him are feared dead, and the rest of the Cope team move on without them. Not only is William still alive --- the sole survivor --- he has in his possession the crates of dinosaur bones that include the dragon teeth. He ends up in the infamous town of Deadwood --- yes, the very same Deadwood depicted in the terrific HBO series and home to epic history that includes Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Though Deadwood has changed a bit from those times, it is still a rough and dangerous place.

The action that takes place in Deadwood is more than enough to have warranted its own novel. Without giving away too much, I will leave you with the fact that William goes above and beyond to protect his crates. This will include angering the deadly Curry brothers and even getting into an old West shootout with Dick Curry himself. Things escalate to such deadly heights that William actually hires the famous sheriff Wyatt Earp and his brother to guard him and his valuable crates. Much of the excitement created by the Deadwood portion of DRAGON TEETH recalls some of the great Old West fiction of the past and personally made me think of the late great Edward Gorman, who penned many exciting tales in that genre.

DRAGON TEETH splinters its plotline rather severely with very clear separations among the Marsh, Cope and Deadwood portions of the story. Only a master novelist like Crichton could tie up all of this together as things go full circle between Marsh, the dragon teeth bones and characters contained within the Deadwood storyline. Needless to say, William is clearly changed between the novel’s start and finish, and the photos referenced in the introduction are a testament to that.

The most unbelievable thing about this novel is the mere fact that I am holding a book by Michael Crichton in my hands. When he left this earth back in 2008, a huge void was created --- one that no author since has been able to fill. His unique gift for blending fiction with science and history remains unmatched, and I can only hope that there are more hidden gems to unearth. DRAGON TEETH stands among much of Crichton's previous work and was a pleasure to dive into.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 26, 2017

Dragon Teeth
by Michael Crichton