Book review–Michael Crichton’s Dragon Teeth, an adventurous stagecoach ride back to the Old West

Review by C.J. Bunce

After reading Michael Crichton’s groundbreaking science fiction novel Jurassic Park, I was hooked, and set out to read everything else he had written before and awaited each subsequent work with excitement.  I quickly learned that you can identify his work through his character choices and his storytelling, and not only were his ideas fresh and new (Crichton passed away in 2008), he knew how to spin a good yarn.  Yet, except for the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World, each of his books is completely different from one another.  In common the books follow intelligent people who set about accomplishing something unprecedented.  Crichton’s latest (and perhaps final?) posthumous novel is Dragon Teeth, and in true form it is both a brilliant Crichton work, and also unlike anything he’d written before.  It arrives at bookstores later this week.

Shelf Dragon Teeth alongside Jurassic Park as the very best of Crichton.

Here at I’ve so far reviewed three of Crichton’s eight “lost” novels penned under pseudonyms.  In the early days of I reviewed Crichton’s Micro, a posthumously published novel Crichton hadn’t quite finished when he died, which included the technology that could shrink humans to half-an-inch tall beings.  With Dragon Teeth, there is no suspension of disbelief required as with many of his works.  This story is historical fiction, and a Western–easily one of the best Westerns I’ve read.  We meet a college student in 1876 named William Johnson.  He is an arrogant, self-absorbed son of a shipping magnate who takes on a dare and ends up accompanying a professor on a journey across the Old West in an early search for dinosaur bones–then newly-discovered proof that the planet is much older than previously thought.  The professor, one of the early paleontologists, is in a lifelong battle with another, competing paleontologist and their squabble becomes deadly as Johnson finds himself a pawn in repeated attempts at oneupsmanship.  Based on the feud of real-life 19th century professors, Dragon Teeth sucks the reader into every black and white Western movie where the heroes weren’t all that heroic, the dust was thick, the path was treacherous, and each new day could very well be your last.

Crichton stitched together all the Western spots you didn’t want to find yourself in as an outsider in 1876–Cheyenne, across the Badlands, into Montana and Wyoming territory, and the end of the line in murky Deadwood.  Dragon Teeth has all the atmosphere of Silverado, and reads with both the folklore of a Louis L’Amour novel and the peril and adventure of a Jon Krakauer true-life account.  You’ll find deceit and friendship as they existed beyond the frontier, Native American friends and enemies, and a look inside political and religious clashes that exist to this day.

As a Crichton lead character, William Johnson is unique.  Although made from some of the mettle of the students in his Timeline story, he transforms from an unlikeable young man to a steadfast and determined man of the West, changing at his core more than the average Crichton protagonist.  Along the way he rubs elbows with history, like Custer’s last stand, a ride with the Earp brothers, and an encounter with a young Robert Louis Stevenson.

Dragon Teeth is a fun read you’ll devour in a single sitting.  How was he able to keep up his creativity for so long, so well, and in so many genres?  Unlike Tom Clancy, Crichton never let the writing get bogged down in technobabble, yet these popular, late authors are equals as intrigue is concerned.  Pick up this lucky find from Crichton’s personal archive, one of the best, and last, works from one of our nation’s all-time most popular writers.  Pre-order your copy now here from Amazon.  An audiobook version is also available.  It arrives in bookstores May 23, 2017.  Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment is already developing a television series based on the book to air on the National Geographic Channel, co-scripted by Graham Yost (Band of Brothers, The Pacific).


Leave a Reply