Review: Fossil Hunter, by John B. Olson

Fossil Hunter
Fossil Hunter, by John B. Olson, by John B. Olson (Promise Media Novel, Tyndale House Publishers, 2008)

Paleontologist Katie James, working solo on a fossil dig in Peru, escapes bandits and then goes back to protect her fossil. And that’s just the prologue.

One reviewer tagged Katie as “a female Indiana Jones.” I liked her from the outset, this resourceful young woman who can single-handedly capture villains but is physically unable to face a crowd.

The first few pages inspired me to give myself fully into the story – a risky thing when reading a new-to-me author. John Olson didn’t let me down. I enjoyed Fossil Hunter more than any book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a fun adventure that keeps the reader guessing. The characters are great. It’s emotionally satisfying. And the author’s choice of language is refreshing. In one tense scene, waiting to be shot, Katie counts out “120 nervous alligators”. A secondary character refers to rival scientist Nick Murad’s New York girlfriend as “Miss Guccier-Than-Thou”.

The story of Katie and Nick’s fossil hunt, racing both terrorists and a deadline, keeps tension high. John Olson’s writing lets us hear the multinational accents through word choice and sentence structure, without any clumsily-spelled dialect. And his descriptions had me feeling enough of Iraq’s climate that I’ll never need to visit.

I don’t enjoy “issue stories” and one of Fossil Hunter’s subplots is the evolution/creation/intelligent design controversy, but it’s a natural complication of having a Christian character working in this field. Any discussions and/or explanations fit well into the dialogue without the dreaded information dump or feel of propaganda. I didn’t get any sense of authorial hostility or judgement.

Katie’s father pastors a church on a Native American reservation, and her mother lived there her entire life, yet the cover photo makes Katie look Caucasian to me. Aside from mention of growing up on the reservation, the story shows her as a general, melting-pot American. I don’t often ask for extra back-story, but a bit more here would be nice.

Nick Murad is almost unbelievably non-competitive and sweet. And he doesn’t seem threatened by Katie’s take-charge actions. Even her team-mates struggle with that, and they have past experience to prove her capability. Nick, however, is a fine character and my “realism” doubts did nothing to keep me from enjoying the tale.

The pace, characters, story and writing make one of those rare novels that catch my imagination and renew my sense of wonder and adventure. For that, out of five stars, I have to give Fossil Hunter a five-point-five. And I’ve added the author’s previous books to my Christmas wish list: Shade and Adrenaline, plus Oxygen and The Fifth Man (co-written with Randall Ingermanson).

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