#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · historical fiction · new release · World War I

New Release Book Review: The Fossil Hunter by Tea Cooper

Title: The Fossil Hunter

Author: Tea Cooper

Published: October 27th 2021

Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU

Pages: 384

Genres:  Fiction, Historical, World War I

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4 stars

A fossil discovered at London’s Natural History Museum leads one woman back in time to nineteenth century Australia and a world of scientific discovery and dark secrets in this compelling historical mystery.

The Hunter Valley 1847

The last thing Mellie Vale remembers before the fever takes her is running through the bush as a monster chases her – but no one believes her story. In a bid to curb Mellie’s overactive imagination, her benefactors send her to visit a family friend, Anthea Winstanley. Anthea is an amateur palaeontologist with a dream. She is convinced she will one day find proof the great sea dragons – the ichthyosaur and the plesiosaur – swam in the vast inland sea that millions of years ago covered her property at Bow Wow Gorge. Soon, Mellie shares that dream for she loves fossil hunting too…

1919
When Penelope Jane Martindale arrives home from the battlefields of World War I with the intention of making her peace with her father and commemorating the death of her two younger brothers in the trenches, her reception is not as she had hoped. Looking for distraction, she finds a connection between a fossil at London’s Natural History museum and her brothers which leads her to Bow Wow Gorge. But the gorge has a sinister reputation – 70 years ago people disappeared. So when PJ uncovers some unexpected remains, it seems as if the past is reaching into the present and she becomes determined to discover what really happened all that time ago…

Review:

‘Mellie would be a wonderful fossil hunter – she had an inherent curiosity and a desire to seek solutions.’

The latest release from Australian historical fiction specialist Tea Cooper offers an aisle into the past, as a unique fossil and the baffling mystery surrounding this natural artefact is explored. The Fossil Hunter is a remarkable historical pendulum that swings effortlessly between locations, time periods and characters. It is a tale not to be missed if you love a good march into the past.

Opening in the Hunter Valley in 1847, we meet Mellie Vale, a woman consumed with strange thoughts and ideas around a monster in the bush. When Mellie is sent to visit a family friend name Anthea Winstanley, she shares this wild idea with the aspiring palaeontologist. Thanks to Anthea’s strong influence, Mellie sees fossil hunting as a vocation that she would like to explore. Together, they embark on a search for the illusive ichthyosaur, a giant prehistorical sea animal that was thought to occupy the local area.  Moving forward in time to the year 1919, following the tumultuous Great War, we are acquainted with a woman who has returned from the battlefields. As Penelope works through her grief following the loss of two brothers in the Great War, she is drawn to an important fossil in a London Museum and a loose link to her deceased siblings. As a result, Penelope travels to Bow Wow Gorge, a place that holds many shadowy secrets. With unexplained remains, the disappearance of individuals from the area and plenty of speculation surrounding Bow Wow Gorge, can Penelope finally put the past to rest successfully?

I never miss a new Tea Cooper novel and The Fossil Hunter is a book that I’ve been eagerly awaiting all year. I really enjoyed my journey back into the past with the locations, cast and enthralling fossil-based storyline that came from Tea Cooper. The Fossil Hunter represents another historical fiction triumph from the talented Australian author.

With three excellent and domineering women ahead of their time in this new historical fiction timepiece, The Fossil Hunter proved to be a wholly engaging read. It was a joy and an honour to follow the individual pathways of these female trailblazers. The added dimension of the art of fossil hunting really lifted this one storyline wise. It is clear that Tea Cooper has embarked on a high level of detailed researched to bring this enlightening tale to light. As sad as it is to reach the end of a Tea Cooper novel, I must say I always look forward to reading this writer’s closing historical note. The historical note contained in The Fossil Hunter was just as I expected and more. This bonus back page spread added a truly amazing window into the background of this novel. I was able to fully appreciate all the work that went into The Fossil Hunter once I read the final historical note.

Tea Cooper is an ambitious storyteller and she pushes herself yet again with her latest novel. With three women, two separate timeframes and a trek from London to Australia to contend with, The Fossil Hunter is a highly compelling story. Tea Cooper takes great care to insert a range of themes in her latest release. These moving themes include war, recovery, loss, grief, education, women’s rights, discovery, imagination, myths, legends and natural history. With some generous descriptions of the mysterious bush locale of Bow Wow Gorge complimenting each of these narrative threads, Tea Cooper has conjured up a truly mesmerising historical tale. Although many of the creative story elements of The Fossil Hunter are fictional, I still felt that this novel had a good sense of authenticity and credibility. It was great to see Cooper take on the world of female contributions to natural history and role of museums in the past. I think these aspects will be sure to stay with me.

With fact and fiction fused effortlessly in The Fossil Hunter, Tea Cooper offers the reader a wondrous step into the past thanks to the pioneering female fossil enthusiasts of the nineteenth century. The Fossil Hunter is another momentous tale from Tea Cooper.

The Fossil Hunter by Tea Cooper was published on 27th October 2021 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Fossil Hunter, Tea Cooper visit here.

The Fossil Hunter is book #106 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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