Dinosaur bones and dastardly deeds

  • Tyrannosaur Canyon

    Douglas Preston, 365 pages, hardcover: $24.95. Forge Books, 2005

It’s a sad, sick world, as the daily papers, broadcast news and even High Country News report, what with droughts, drying aquifers and global warming. Sometimes one yearns for a bit of escapist fun. Douglas Preston offers up a delicious dose in his latest novel, Tyrannosaur Canyon.

A page-turner set in the desert Southwest, it’s about the search for a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex. The specimen promises fabulous riches to any fossil hunter who can find it and sell it, and instant fame for the scientist who can unravel the mystery locked in its well-preserved cells. And it just might revolutionize paleontology with an entirely new explanation of why the dinosaurs died out.

The book stars northern New Mexico veterinarian Tom Broadbent, who also appeared in Preston’s bestseller, The Codex. Broadbent stumbles upon a dying fossil hunter, whose final request is to have his notebook delivered to his estranged daughter. Broadbent’s efforts to decipher the notebook’s code and find the daughter land him — and his lovely wife, Sally — in the middle of a high-stakes conflict involving befuddled local cops, a paleontologist willing to kill for tenure, a code-breaking monk with a mysterious past, a black ops agent bent on keeping government secrets, and, ominously, a secret supercomputer used to mine data from billions of e-mails and phone calls.

Tyrannosaur Canyon is vintage Preston, a fast, entertaining read; Broadbent and his friends are so likeable and the action so lively that you can forgive the far-fetched parts of the plot. No doubt it will make a blockbuster movie some day. For now, though, it’s a nice break from the depressing evening news.

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