Fiction Review: The Fossil Hunter, by Tea Cooper


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Buried secrets. An ancient fossil. And one woman’s determination to unravel a nineteenth century mystery.

Australia, 1847. The last thing Mellie Vale remembers before the fever takes her is sprinting through the bush, a monster at her heels–but no one believes her. In a bid to curb Mellie’s overactive imagination, her benefactors send her to visit a family friend, Anthea Winstanley. Anthea is an amateur paleontologist convinced she will one day find proof that great sea dragons swam in the vast inland sea that millions of years ago covered her property. Mellie is instantly swept up in the dream.

1919. When Penelope Jane Martindale arrives home from the battlefields of World War I with the intention of making peace with her father and commemorating the death of her two younger brothers in the trenches, her reception is disappointing. Desperate for a distraction, she finds a connection between a fossil at London’s Natural History Museum and her brothers’ favorite camping spot and the last place they were seen before falsifying their ages to join the army. But the gorge has a sinister reputation: seventy years ago, six women disappeared from there. So when P. J. uncovers some unexpected remains, it seems as if the past is reaching into the present. She’s determined to find answers about what happened all those years ago . . . and perhaps also some closure to the loss of her brothers.

From USA TODAY bestselling author Tea Cooper comes the story of how 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 buried secrets.


Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

I’ve been a fan of Tea Cooper’s split time fiction since first coming across her novels two years ago. Set in New South Wales, Australia, her books have an air of mystery about them that keeps readers captivated. With The Fossil Hunter, you might ask what a young orphan in 1847 has in common with a World War One nurse in 1919, but Cooper slowly reveals the connections like a paleontologist uses a brush to gently remove the dirt around a precious fossil. Nothing is straightforward or to be presumed. Revelations, circumstances, and twists mix with detailed descriptions of rural Australia combine for a compelling narrative I didn’t want to end.

Via the 1919 timeline, I began to get an idea as to what happened all those years ago, but did I want to know? I was getting to know the 1847 characters. Did I want to know their fate? The girls’ disappearance reminded me of the Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, a creation Cooper later references in her notes.  Whereas the girls in the older novel disappear at the geological formation in Victoria, here the girls’ seeming disappearance takes place at the intriguingly named Bow Wow Gorge. Although the name sounds fictional, I discovered – also in the author’s notes – it is a real place, and just very difficult to access due to its paleontological significance.

Even if you don’t have an interest in fossils – which I don’t – if you love historical mysteries, you’ll love this book of family adopted and biological, and histories of both the living and the dead.


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Publisher: Harper Muse (an imprint of HarperCollins Focus)

Publication Date: 09 August 2022

Book Information



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Tea Cooper is an established Australian author of historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist, and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is the winner of two Daphne du Maurier Awards and the bestselling author of several novels, including The Horse Thief, The Cedar Cutter, The Currency Lass, and The Naturalist’s Daughter.


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