Leonard Krishtalka

Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, grew up in Montreal, Canada, and studied biology, anthropology and paleontology in Canada and the U.S. He has worked on paleontological expeditions in the fossil-rich badlands of the American west; Alberta, Canada; Patagonia; China; the Afar region, Ethiopia; and the Lake Turkana region, Kenya. He is the author of award-winning essays and the acclaimed book DINOSAUR PLOTS. His Harry Przewalski mysteries, beginning with THE BONE FIELD investigate two intrigues—the scientific ones left by  ...See more >

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"A fresh, intellectually lively murder mystery replete with a hard-boiled detective consistently delivering nuggets of cynical insight. Author Krishtalka (Dinosaur Plots & Other Intrigues in Natural History) enlivens the genre, not only with his impressive knowledge of the field, but also by highlighting a strain of professional resentment specifically found in academia. The major theme of the novel is the relentless pursuit of truth, and the author executes it intelligently. As a reporter remarks: 'We’re alike, Harry...journalists...paleontologists...detectives. We dig up what history tries to bury.'"

Kirkus Reviews



Hometown Montreal, Canada

Favorite author Rex Stout, John Le Carre, Mordecai Richler, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Barbara Kingsolver, Louis de Bernieres, Eric Ambler

Favorite book Nero Wolfe series, Solomon Gursky Was Here, Corelli's Mandolin, The Poisonwood Bible, Get Shorty

Day job Director, Natural History Museum

Favorite line from a book Nature is not as simple as its observers

Unexpected skill or talent Contemplation

Passion in life Cycling, writing, paleontological prospecting in the badlands


Pub Date:
ISBN: 688-07116-3

Cullings from the "Missing Links" column that paleontologist Khrishtalka writes for a bimonthly Carnegie Institution magazine. A tendency toward sophomoric humor mars the reliable and often insightful information here: "Did dinosaurs perform bizarre mating rituals? Dinosaurs were by nature into leather. . ."; a column largely devoted to the "extinction" or "extirpation" of baseball teams; lists of legitimate definitions that start off with jokes, e.g., "ideal gas--The kind of gas that used to cost 25 cents a gallon." Otherwise, the range of material is interesting, if familiar: the Piltdown hoax; the current dinosaur controversies; origins of Homo sapiens; conjectures over cave paintings; creation myths (including the Mother Eve hypothesis); intelligent life in the universe; the diet of early man; squabbles over taxonomy, and the like. For the most part, Krishtalka's point of view is orthodox--critical of dinosaur doom theories and lashing out at Fred Hoyle and colleagues for calling Archaeopteryx fossils forgeries (and thus providing grist for creationists' mills). There are some personal chapters concerning the badlands and sites where Krishtalka has dug, including the sad tale of the Big Horn saloon in Arminto, Wyoming--once the lively turf for bone-hunters, moosehunters, oilmen, and sheepherders, and now burned down. Other chapters deal with calendars, metric measure, and other matters of time and space. Useful overall, more so for newcomers who don't mind bad puns.

Page count: 234pp

A paleontologist-turned-private detective is hired to find a missing archaeologist.

Peter Marchand is leading a dig for dinosaur fossils in the badlands of Wyoming. When he suddenly vanishes, his employer, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, asks private eye Harry Przewalski to find him. Harry heads for Wyoming and discovers a dearth of clues, intricate and sordid gossip, and a team of paleontologists, each of whom seems to have a motive to kill Peter, who is known for his scientific opposition to biblical creationism and received a death threat from a fundamentalist Christian group. Furthermore, one of his students, David Jacobs, reveals that he is a devoted creationist, and that he infiltrated the program partly to push his religious agenda. Peter was also known for his promiscuity, and he left museum curator Diana Palantier for one of his younger students, Lynn Calvert. Lynn expected Peter to trade her in, too, especially after rumors were swirling all over town about his romantic dalliance with the wife of a major landowner running for governor. And there’s also a dash of professional rivalry: Edwin Simeon, a lesser-known colleague, accuses Peter of plagiarizing some of his most controversial ideas. Meanwhile, Harry grapples with his own traumatic past—when he was Peter’s student, Harry’s girlfriend was brutally raped and murdered, which still haunts him. Author Krishtalka (Dinosaur Plots and Other Intrigues in Natural History, 1989), a real-life professional paleontologist employed by the Carnegie Museum, clearly shows his impressive knowledge of the field throughout this work. In many respects, it’s a formulaic murder mystery, replete with a hard-boiled detective consistently delivering nuggets of cynical insight. However, the author manages to enliven the genre, not only with the paleontological slant, but also by highlighting a strain of professional resentment specifically found in academia. The major theme of the novel is the relentless pursuit of truth, and the author executes it intelligently. As a reporter remarks: “We’re alike, Harry...journalists...paleontologists...detectives. We dig up what history tries to bury.”

A fresh, intellectually lively take on an old mystery blueprint.


DEATH SPOKE (Unpublished)
Mystery & Crime

At five in the morning, a University of Kansas dean, Joyce Fulbright, is suffocated at the Holiday Inn in Abilene, Kansas. Moments later, Ruby, a waitress, is bludgeoned at a truck stop diner next to the motel. Hours later, a cyclist, a young professor in the university’s Anthropology Department, suffers a sudden, violent crash on a road east of Abilene and is taken to a hospital in a coma. Days later, the administrative assistant of the Anthropology Department is brutally murdered after she discovers a diary note on the cyclist’s computer with a blow-by-blow confession to Fulbright’s murder. Fulbright is a renowned archaeologist, an expert on the prehistoric cave paintings in France. Her lover, James Porter, an anthropologist who studies Neanderthals, is charged with her murder, implicated by semen, hair and fingerprints. Police think the case is closed. His lawyer thinks he’s guilty. Porter, desperate, hires Pittsburgh private investigator, Harry Przewalski, to find the killer and clear him. Przewalski excavates the archaeological layers of the case, uncovering lives torn by sin, deceit, jealousy and revenge, and exhuming the controversies underlying the art in the caves. As dean, Fulbright’s ruthless academic politics brought power and deadly enemies. As an archaeologist, she and her academic adversaries are engaged in a bitter fight over the sudden appearance of magnificent cave art across southern France and Spain 32,000 years ago, the exquisite paintings of bison, deer, mammoths, and horses. Who executed the art? And why? Her extensive studies at Rouffignac Cave threatened to embarrass French cultural heritage and ruin professional careers––the paintings might have been forged in the 1950s to attract tourists. Two other explosive theories could undermine all cave-art studies. Przewalski is a casualty, his career in paleontology and archaeology interred by tragedy and war. So is Ruby, the waitress, who abandoned anthropology and a violent husband to start a book lending library at a café for truckers. They are attracted to one another, both victims of disillusion. They track a web of sexual blackmail, treachery, and archaeological fraud from Abilene to Pittsburgh to Rouffignac, France, where they discover Fulbright’s murder rooted in a horrific atrocity committed during World War II and a diabolical act of vendetta and redemption. (80,000 words)

THE CAMEL DRIVER (Unpublished)
Mystery & Crime

Arab Courier Attacked by Lions, a world-famous diorama at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, is vandalized in the middle of the night—the glass has been smashed and the belly of the taxidermied camel sliced open. The police find bits of flesh and fiber in the sand below. The flesh is from an infant, the fibers from an oiled cloth used to mummify cadavers. The rest of exhibit is untouched: a Berber crossing the hot North African desert on a dromedary is attacked by two ferocious Barbary lions. It was created by Jules Verreaux, a French taxidermist and naturalist, for the 1867 world’s fair in Paris, where it won a gold medal. The Carnegie hires Pittsburgh private detective, Harry Przewalski, to unravel the macabre history of Arab Courier. Who is the camel driver—the Berber’s skull, skeleton and skin are mounted under his clothing? Who is the child—why was its mummified hand sewn into the camel’s belly 150 years earlier? Przewalski becomes immersed in the moral dilemmas of sanctioned evil. Is the vandalism revenge for Verreaux’s lurid trial, sexual betrayal, and his unwanted child in Cape Town, South Africa in the early 1800s? Or for his plundering of graves in Botswana and Tunisia thirty years apart for human dioramas? Or for the secrets revealed by hundred-year-old bodies of newborn children swimming in formaldehyde in large glass jars in the basement of the Paris museum where he worked? Is the vandalism related to the discovery, never revealed, of a wrapped bundle of mummified hair and fingers found lying beside the fossilized skull bones and teeth of a Neanderthal child in a cave in Belgium? Or the apparent suicide of a brilliant museum archaeologist two days earlier? From South Africa to the sinister museum collections in Paris, Belgium and Pittsburgh, Przewalski tracks a fiendish killer in a murderous race for scientific fame.