Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review of "Dry Bones" by Craig Johnson

A huge Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton - perhaps the largest yet discovered - is found on the Wyoming ranch of elderly Cheyenne Danny Lone Elk. The dinosaur is dubbed 'Jen' after it's discoverer, Jennifer Watt. Jennifer and local paleontologist Dave Baumann prepare to dig out the skeleton for the local High Plains Dinosaur Museum. While the dinosaur is being excavated the corpse of Danny Lone Elk is found in the local snapping turtle pond, partially eaten by the aggressive shelled reptiles.

Because the 'Jen' skeleton is estimated to be worth more than eight million dollars it's ownership is soon disputed. The Cheyennes claim it's theirs, the Acting Deputy U.S. Attorney says it belongs to the state, and Jen and Dave insist they bought it from Danny for the Dinosaur Museum.

While the wrangling over the skeleton goes on, Sheriff Walt Longmire investigates the death of Danny Lone Elk and welcomes a visit from his daughter Cady and grandbaby Lola, who live in Philadelphia. Though there's speculation that a drunken Danny died when he fell into the turtle pond, further inquiries point to mercury poisoning as the cause of death. Who would want to murder Danny? Walt goes to the Lone Elk Ranch to talk to the old Indian's family - his brother, son, daughter, and grandson, each of whom has their own quirky issues.

As the story proceeds there's a tragic death connected to Walt's family, which may have been engineered by a psychopath with a grudge against Walt and his undersheriff Victoria Moretti. This story thread isn't pursued much, and may be fodder for a future book.

As Walt looks into Danny's death some of the possible suspects pull a vanishing act. Walt's pursuit of these individuals leads to plenty of action involving a recalcitrant Appaloosa, a ferocious thunderstorm, a helicopter, a hidden cave, a sinkhole whirlpool, etc. In the course of the story various characters are poisoned, almost killed in a flash flood, coldcocked with a rifle butt, shot, bruised, taken to the hospital, and so forth. Through it all Walt and his best friend Henry Standing Bear (AKA The Cheyenne Nation) show their mettle, two tough old soldiers who know how to get the job done. Walt's loyal pooch, 'Dog' also demonstrates some doggy smarts.

As I read the book I learned a little about Wyoming, Indian artifacts, snapping turtles, helicopters and dream visions. I was also impressed with Walt's common sense, affection for his family and friends, and just plain grit.

By the end of the book Danny's death is solved and the T. rex is getting a home. This is a good mystery in an engaging setting, recommended for fans of the genre.

Rating: 3 stars

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