Review: “Thunderhead,” Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Pros: Enjoyable archaeology thriller
Cons: Stock characters; no real surprises
Rating: 3 out of 5

Archaeologist Nora Kelly has found an old letter from her father, one that indicates he’d found the lost Anasazi city of Quivira, the fabled city of gold. Using his notes and the help of a scientist, she finds a trail that should lead her right to the city. That’s enough to convince the head of her institute to put together an expedition–but other than that scientist who helped her, and her as head of the expedition, he gets to pick all of her compatriots. He’s able to get the absolute luminaries in their fields, which is a plus, but it’s a quarrelsome bunch she has to put up with. Meanwhile, someone seems to be dogging Nora’s heels, trying to steal the letter her father sent, or perhaps do something even worse. Nora has to find her mythical city, keep her companions alive and working together, and somehow escape the predations of some very mysterious and evil forces.


Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Thunderhead is a fairly by-the-books archaeological thriller. This isn’t to say it’s bad; if that’s the genre you’re in the mood for, it’ll satisfy. It ticks off all the right suspense boxes, kicking the danger in early and ratcheting it up at regular intervals. There are plenty of discoveries and setbacks, new friendships and new enmities.

There are only two real downsides. One is that most of the characters are stock characters, stereotypes. (Ahh, the rugged cowboy horse-wrangler with a heart of gold.) There are some exceptions to that however, so that isn’t a huge problem. Other than that, there just aren’t many surprises here. Because it sticks carefully to expected parameters, there’s never any real doubt as to who will succeed, who won’t, who’ll die, who won’t, etc. There are only minor variations on a theme rather than any real shockers. All the pieces of the whole are appropriate, fun, and suspenseful, if not overly thrilling.

I did for a brief time see enough chemistry between two female characters that I dared to hope the authors might do something surprising with a relationship there, but alas, it was not to be.

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