Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston (2005)

TyrannoCanyonCover blurb

A moon rock missing for thirty years…

Five buckets of blood-soaked sand found in a New Mexico canyon…

A scientist with ambition enough to kill…

A monk who will redeem the world…

A dark agency with a deadly mission…

The greatest discovery of all time…

What fire bolt from the galactic dark shattered the Earth eons ago, and now hides in that remote cleft in the southwest United States known as…

Tyrannosaur Canyon?

My thoughts

Tyrannosaur Canyon has the workings of a decent scientific detective story, but it suffers from the flaw of giving away too much information at the beginning. It opens with the history of a strange moon rock that has gone missing from NASA’s collection. Then we meet the protagonist, Tom Broadbent, who is horseback riding through the New Mexico desert when he hears gunshots echoing from a nearby canyon. When he investigates, he finds a dying man, who with his last breath, hands Broadbent a notebook and asks him to take it to his daughter.

Instead of letting the reader slowly piece together the mystery of the man’s murder with Broadbent, the author instead introduces the killer, an ex-con named Jimson “Weed” Maddox, and gives away the motivation for the murder: Maddox is working for a corrupt paleontologist who wants the location of a remarkably preserved T. rex skeleton found by the dead man. The next two-thirds of the novel are spent on Broadbent seeking out the solution to a mystery the reader already knows the answer to, and are pretty boring as a result.

It’s not until the novel’s third act that Preston throws a curveball, bringing back the riddle of the moon rock and introducing a new villain. It turns out the T. rex holds a vital clue about the reason why the dinosaurs went extinct, which after 65 million years, still poses a threat to humanity.

The third act almost manages to save Tyrannosaur Canyon, but it comes too late. I was a bit puzzled after reading the novel why Preston didn’t center the plot around his Big Idea rather than turning out such a pedestrian thriller. To say more would spoil the ending, but let’s just say regular readers of science fiction will probably figure out what’s going on before reaching the final page.

Another flaw is the writing itself, with the book seemingly written for people with attention-deficit disorder. Chapters are usually only two to three pages long, and the prose is mostly long stretches of dialogue with sparse descriptions. There are no living dinosaurs in the book except for brief interludes describing the life of the T. rex before it was fossilized.

Trivia

  • Preston may be best known as a fiction writer for his team-ups with Lincoln Child. The two men have co-authored several best-selling novels, including Relic, which was made into a 1997 film. Their official web site is www.prestonchild.com
  • Preston also once worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He is the author of Dinosaurs in the Attic, an excellent history of the museum.
  • Tyrannosaur Canyon apparently is a sequel to Preston’s 2003 novel The Codex, although I didn’t know that until after reading Tyrannosaur Canyon. Having not read The Codex, I couldn’t tell you whether Tyrannosaur Canyon spoils the book or not.

Reviews

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