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The Dinosaur Hunter by Homer Hickam

There’s a great deal to commend Homer Hickam’sThe Dinosaur Hunter and nothing to detract from it. The New York Times’ bestselling author combines the toughness of ranching in the modern West with the exacting work of dino digging with a sense of adventure while slowly building the danger one feels lurking just beneath the surface.

While life on a ranch in the West in the year 2010 is much different than when the land was being settled in the 1800s, or even 50 years ago, it’s still tough, demanding work and not for the weak of heart. Life on Montana’s ranches comes with more than its share of hardships and troubles. The people who live there expect it and accept it; some of them even enjoy it. One of them is Mike Wire, a former homicide detective and private eye, who now spends his days running the Square C Ranch. He’s also in love with its widowed owner, Jeanette Coulter, one very scrappy lady.

Horses, cattle, and cowboys aren’t the only things to be found on the badlands. Beneath the surface are dinosaur bones that could be worth a fortune. When a paleontologist arrives at the ranch to dig, Mike senses trouble. His senses are spot on. Once discovered, those bones take on a life of their own, and when a murderer enters the picture, Mike will have to fight to protect the dinosaur diggers and the Square C.

Mike is one of those characters readers will fall in love with and want to see in future novels. He’s the strong, silent type, as befits a modern cowboy. He’s also flawed, which makes him all the more interesting. He won’t back down from a fight so he’s a good man to have on one’s side in a fight.

While he may not be keen on digging for dinosaur bones, once his boss tells him to help the hapless Pick, a paleontologist without much backbone, Mike puts everything he has into the procedure. It doesn’t hurt that two attractive young ladies, both of whom find Mike attractive, are also working the site.

When a murderer kills a man with Russian mob connections, big trouble is not far behind and Mike still has a cop’s instincts. He can smell trouble miles away!

When the diggers excavate more than one T. rex and its offspring, the stakes become even higher. Not only do they have to fight off Mother Nature in the form of rain, the Russian mob wants to steal the bones and sell them on the black market for millions of dollars.

Hickam makes the excavation exciting for the reader: “We toiled through the day, revealing more and more of the extraordinary creature. We stopped when Laura ordered us to stop so she could insure there was enough matrix to support the bones. This meant no pedestaling. We revealed only enough of the bone to see what it was, then left it in its place. Gradually it began to take shape. The big T. rex’s tail drooped, her legs were drawn up along her rib cage, and her neck was down. And around her was a set of small bones, snuggled against her leg. A chick maybe a yard high, still 65 million years later struggling to get closer to its mother for protection from the rain, just as our calves do with their moms in pasture during storms. Of course, from the mudslide cascading down on this baby, there was no protection.”

Speaking to the assembled diggers, Pick speaks eloquently of the significance of their find. “And so it happened,” Pick said, “that all this was preserved for us to discover, to see, to contemplate, and, at last, to understand. For this is nothing but confirmation of the ultimate victory that is love. We weep for this creature as we must weep for ourselves. She and her mate have taught us lessons that we as a civilization should already know, There is no greater gift than to lay down your life for those you love. The family is holy and eternal. Nature, God, the Great Being, or Event that created life on Earth put those trusts inside even this most fearsome creature.”

Hickam first became acquainted with dinosaur hunting through Jurassic Park III director Joe Johnston when the latter directed October Sky, based on Hicham’s memoir Rocket Boys. Hickam got hooked on dino digging at the famous Hell Creek Formation, home of the iconic T. rex and other similar creatures, in Montana.

~Ginny

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