Excavating the Past in The Fossil Hunter | Book Review


Rating: 3 out of 5.

A fun combination of the allure of dinosaurs and an uncertain murder mystery

Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Tea Cooper
Published: October 2021
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 384 (paperback)

Huge thanks to Harlequin for a copy of this for review

Content warning (click to see)

death º skeletons º bullying

Quick thoughts
This book was quite unexpected in the way it turned out compared to my expectations. We have two storylines, one in the 1840s and one in 1919, and the stories are linked. In the 1840s we have a young, traumatised girl called Mellie who finds a love of fossil hunting. In 1919, we have PJ who stumbles upon a fossil from Australia in a museum (in England) and gets sucked into its history. The way these stories interlink with each other is darker and twistier than you’d ever expect.

What I enjoyed
First and foremost, I loved the Australian setting of this (being Australian myself). It was quite different to many books I’ve read by combing a dual setting of Britain and Australia, with most of the story taking place in Australia.

I also loved the fossil hunting. I’m a dinosaur die-hard and anything to do with excavation gets me as excited as a four-year-old on Christmas! PJ is also a great character, she’s strong and inquisitive and I enjoyed following her journey.

I thought this was going to be about discovery and women making history, but this rapidly turned into a whodunnit of something we’re not entirely sure what it is. We have a disgruntled father who blames PJ for the death of her brothers, we have a not-quite-abandoned house, we have fiancé who keeps disappearing and we have an old woman full of secrets.

What made this quite enjoyable was not knowing which one of these things was an actual problem, and which ones were red herrings, disguising the path forward for the story.

What didn’t blow me away
Honestly, I hated Sam. He seemed to constantly teeter between caring deeply for PJ and horribly gaslighting her. I wish he hadn’t been in the book because he frustrated the heck out of me. I felt his almost-negativity (which always snapped back into loving/caring-ness with such force I had repeated whiplash) kept drawing me annoyingly away from the women and the fossils. Bleh.

The greatest mystery in the novel (which I shall not spoil) is rather hurriedly resolved on the last page, and I so wish the drama of that had been drawn out more. I loved the chapters set in 1840, but as the book progresses, we slowly move away from this timeline and stick in 1919, but I desperately wanted to keep this alternating time-setting chapter sequence going throughout. Once the 1840s chapters petered out, I felt the book began to lack a little oomph.

Final thoughts
I’d definitely recommend this for some light reading that’s a bit more than your average romance historical fiction. This has intrigue and a super unique plot surrounding excavation, which is awesome. It was perfectly enjoyable, even if it had an icky male love interest and some resolutions that left me wanting.

Grab a copy!

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