Cowboys and criminals mix it up in the new West over the bones of dead monsters.
Hickam (Red Helmet, 2008, etc.) hits the sweet spot for cowboy fiction with this dusty, inspired mystery about paleontologists and lifelong ranchers in the high desert. The book’s hero is Mike Wire, a former L.A.P.D. homicide detective who abandoned Hollywood 12 years earlier to become a foreman on the Square C Ranch, where he hides his unrequited love for its owner, Jeanette Coulter, and looks out for her son, Ray. Hickam breathes life into his square-jawed wrangler, lending him a unique mix of tenderness and stubbornness. Before long, Mike develops an interest in the area’s paleontological history. Ray’s idle discovery of some theropod bones draws the attention of Dr. Norman “Pick” Pickford, who soon has gaggles of students unearthing bones from a butte on Jeanette’s property. Then strange things start happening, raising Mike’s suspicions. First, a few animals are shot, with clues that lead to an environmental terrorist. And eventually a Russian interloper is found dead with a pickaxe in his head. Nobody is on Mike’s side as he starts figuring things out, least of all the locals. “I know you’re still new out here but I thought ten years was enough for you to learn a few of our rules,” warns the local tough guy. “A man could get shot, he wanders where he’s not supposed to go.” The plot gets a bit rickety near the end, but Hickam’s obvious love for Montana and his newly acquired fascination with paleontology—earned at the side of paleontologist Jack Horner, one of the trade’s most famous practitioners—makes this tale worth digging into.
The rare novel that pits science against cowboy doggedness, getting both of them right.