Real cowboys still work in today’s Montana ranchlands. One of them is Mike Wire, a former L.A. homicide detective who is running the Square C ranch and pining for Jeanette Coulter, its iron-fisted owner.
But Montana isn’t home to just horses, cattle, cowboys, and cowgirls. Beneath the earth lie dinosaur fossils worth a fortune. When a paleontologist and his attractive young assistants arrive at the Square C, everything changes. Death begins to stalk the badlands and Mike must use everything he’s learned as a cop and a cowboy to save the people he has come to love.
Bestselling author Homer Hickam enters new territory here to write about a world that has fascinated him for decades, drawing on his own experiences fossil-hunting and getting to know the people of Montana. In the vein of the novels of Larry McMurtry and Tony Hillerman, The Dinosaur Hunter pays tribute to the still amazing and glorious American West.
This is a tough review for me because one of my major problems with The Dinosaur Hunter lies with the author’s politics – well, not with Hickam’s personal beliefs, per se, but how he allows his views to shape the novel’s characters. Hickam is best described as a Tea Party Republican, the major difference being that he accepts evolution as a fact. So any characters in The Dinosaur Hunter that conflict with his world view – environmentalists, government officials, Californians – are portrayed as incompetent at best and as evil at worst. This is not a book filled with people with complex motivations.
The heroes of the story are the conservative, hard-working ranchers of eastern Montana, like former L.A. detective turned cowboy Mike Wire. He fled California to move to a place where crime is only something that happens in big cities, and where kids don’t have sex until they’re properly married. (Having lived in Montana for five years, I literally laughed out loud at that passage – Hickam truly is naïve about rural life.) Wire’s life is fine until one day a paleontologist shows up on the ranch where he works, looking to dig up dinosaur bones. Fast forward until nearly two-thirds of the way into the novel, when we have the first murder in what is supposed to be a murder mystery – a murder that Wire mostly ignores. Move ahead until the final few pages, when the bad guys show up, shoot up some people, explain their motivations, and are quickly dispatched to wrap up everything in a neat, tidy ending.
Yes, I’m being harsh, but The Dinosaur Hunter is simply a bad novel. For much of the book, there is no plot, and when one starts to materialize, our hero doesn’t show much interest in it. The characters are negative stereotypes based on Hickam’s simplistic take on politics. (Although that is a weakness of a lot of genre fiction – many liberal authors, for instance, can’t seem to write about businessmen who are not greedy or religious people who are not fanatics.) And the main character is an unlikeable jerk who spends most of his time trying to get in the pants of every woman around him.
If there are any redeeming qualities of the novel, then it is the small lectures we get about dinosaurs and the descriptions of life on a dinosaur dig. But if you are looking for that, there are plenty of nonfiction books that are much better reads than The Dinosaur Hunter.
- Hickam is a former NASA engineer best known for autobiographical Rocket Boys, which describes his life as a child growing up in West Virginia. The book was made into the 1999 film October Sky. His website is www.homerhickam.com
- In an afterward, Hickam said he came up with the idea for the novel after being introduced to paleontologist Jack Horner by Joe Johnston, who directed Jurassic Park III.