Summer of the Dragon, by Elizabeth Peters

>> Friday, May 05, 2006

Summer of the Dragon is one of my favourite stand-alones by one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Peters. It was due for a reread!

A good salary and an all-expenses-paid summer spent a sprawling Arizona ranch is too good a deal for fledgling anthropologist D.J. Abbott to turn down. What does it matter that her rich new employer/benefactor, Hank Hunnicutt, is a certified oddball who is presently funding all manner of off-beat projects, from alien conspiracy studies to a hunt for dragon bones? There's even talk of treasure buried in the nearby mountains, but D.J. isn't going to allow loose speculation -- or the considerable charms of handsome professional treasure hunter Jesse Franklin -- to sidetrack her.

Until Hunnicutt suffers a mysterious accident and then vanishes, leaving the weirdos gathered at his spread to eye each other with frightened suspicion. But on a high desert search for the missing millionaire, D.J. is learning things that may not be healthy for her to know. For the game someone is playing here goes far beyond the rational universe -- and it could leave D.J. legitimately dead.
Ahhh, Peters is so, so great! A B+.

Anthropology grad student D.J. Abbott is a master procrastinator. She has left finding a summer job so late than when she sees her advisor about it, all that's left is an offer from well-known crackpot millionaire Hank Hunnicutt, who seems to believe in every weird theory floating about. Since it's an extremely generous offer, though, D.J. decides to apply for it (it doesn't hurt that Hunnicutt's Arizona ranch isn't within visiting distance from her parent's house, something very important for her).

Hunnicutt's already rejected a few applicants, but he accepts D.J., and so she heads over to Arizona. When she arrives, she finds the house full of assorted weirdos and a couple of extremely handsome men. She also meets the endearing Hank, who's very vague about the reason he wanted her at the ranch. He insists she rest and relax and enjoy the amenities until a certain gadget arrives... then he'll show her his discovery.

But soon thereafter, after a couple of suspicious accidents, Hank vanishes, and it falls to D.J. and a few allies to find out what happened to him... and which of the nuts might have had a reason to make him disappear.

Summer of the Dragon has three strengths which are the reason I love this author so much. First, there's the characters. Peters is a master at creating fascinating, three-dimensional, fresh secondary characters, and she's not bad with her protagonists, either! Each of the weirdos in residence has a distinct personality, and they are, every one of them, loads of fun. As for D.J. and her romantic interest (whose identity I won't reveal here, though anyone familiar with her books will probably deduce it the minute he shows up), they're great. I especially loved the way D.J. was a declared feminist and refused to take any shit from anyone (remember this is a 1979 book, so she's a very unique heroine that way), and the way Peters wrote her total enjoyment of food... and her guy's reaction to this!

Second, I absolutely adore Peters' writing. She's got a wonderful sense of humour, and this shows through, not only in extremely funny scenes, but also in the very way she puts things. If you want to see what I mean and haven't yet tried this author (what are you waiting for?), just go here and read the first couple of pages (there seem to be a few letter missing here and there, but you can still easily understand).

Third, Peters' plots are always enormously entertaining, and I always love her mix of adventure and archeological and historical elements. Summer of the Dragon wasn't an exception. It takes a while to get to what's going on, but once we do get there, it's fascinating, as is the setting!

An excellent book. Fortunately, it's been a while since I've reread quite a few other books by this author, so I'll probably be rereading them again soon!


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