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.