From Publishers Weekly
A 19th-century spinster joins a paleontological expedition as a scientific illustrator in this crisply intelligent and unsentimental novel. Smith's debut, Letters from Yellowstone, established its author as a skilled chronicler of the West more interested in intellectual advances than brute conquest; her second should cement her reputation. When the promise of a job at Yale lures Eleanor Peterson, then in her 30s, to join an expedition to the badlands of Montana, she brings along her friend and teacher, artist Augustus Starwood, an elderly Shakespeare-quoting eccentric who finds inspiration in the western landscape. Though he is the most flamboyant member of the expedition, Starwood is by no means its only memorable character. There is Patrick Lear, the group's leader, a stiff, secretive Yale professor; James Huntington, a boyishly enthusiastic gentleman collector; Little Bear, a white man who prefers to dress and pass as an Indian; hard-driving cook Maggie Hall and Maggie's son, Jeb. The Battle of Little Bighorn forces the motley crew to choose between digging up history and escaping to safety. The expedition does not last the summer, but Starwood's canvases survive to serve as the backbone of the novel, with Peterson in her old age sorting through them along with her memories. Smith layers her story like Montana rock, curious small fragments alternating with dramatic revelations. Her precise evocation of the stark western landscape matches her exacting portrayal of scientific debate and the assimilation of new theories. The end result is a very human picture of men and women puzzling out the past and the present as meticulously and artistically as Smith's remarkable heroine could wish.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Set during a paleontological expedition in Montana in 1876, this impressionistic novel is told through the journal of Eleanor Peterson, a scientific illustrator who has left the East with her friend and mentor, the elderly artist Augustus Starwood. The dig sponsored by Yale College and the thinly disguised figure of paleontologist Othniel Marsh (a.k.a. "the Captain"), whose ongoing feud with Edward Cope was the basis of David Wallace Rains's recent The Bonehunters' Revenge reveals the apparent skeleton of a Triceratops, a truly remarkable find. While the artists are in camp near Fort Benton, the Battle of the Little Bighorn breaks out, causing Sioux and Cheyenne to disperse, many north toward the Missouri River. The secrecy, skullduggery, and violence surrounding the Cope-Marsh dinosaur feud are in evidence. Ultimately, the book is about Eleanor's and Augustus's reactions to the West, a brave new world for them. Augustus decides to stay but is killed saving the life of a young boy. After returning East, Eleanor returns permanently a year later. Smith is the author of Letters from Yellowstone, which won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Book Award for Fiction. Recommended for public libraries. Jack Hafer, Chesterfield Cty.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.