Eric Garcia,
Hot & Sweaty Rex
(Ace, 2004)

Eric Garcia writes tough-guy detective novels in a line descended from Hammett, Chandler and, to throw in a contemporary name, Parker. He has all the elements down pat -- devious plot, cynical characters, grimy settings and a wise-guy narrator out to right wrongs against stiff odds. There's just one major difference, but it sticks out like Courtney Love at a dowager's tea party. Garcia's PI is a velociraptor. In this universe, dinosaurs have survived the comet's fall and are running around disguised as humans, or "apes" as the proud reptiles call the rest of us.

This is no throw-away on Garcia's part. He has it worked out in detail. The three books in the series tell entertaining stories, but also describe the quirky differences between dinosaurs and humans, how disguises are constructed, how the secret is kept and which celebrities are in disguise. (Hint: checkout Julia Roberts jaw.) Your reaction to all of this will depend on your willingness to go along with the semi-serious gag. No problem for me as an old SF and fantasy fan, but I can't picture Alan Greenspan taking Hot & Sweaty Rex to the beach next summer.

A pal of Vincent Rubio is going to be singing at a party thrown by Frank Tallarico, head of a major LA mob. The singer tells Rubio he needs a familiar face in the audience for support. But it's a setup. Tallarico wants an investigator to tail a member of a rival gang. He offers 20 grand and makes it clear the offer will be accepted. The assignment gets sticky in a hurry as the target leaves LA for Florida while Rubio, old girlfriend in tow, hustles after. In the land of oranges and palmetto bugs he is soon involved on both sides of a gang war, and we see dinosaurs at their nasty worst.

Here I digress because Garcia's world has me thinking about suspension of disbelief. What holds attention varies greatly from one reader to the next. Almost anyone is willing to ignore the fact that characters in a novel aren't "real." If the author has them behaving in a way consistent with actual experience, we care what happens to them. As characters diverge from our experience, or their universe acts differently from ours, the audience shrinks. A poor writer of mainstream fiction rapidly loses readers when his invented people seem unrealistic. We think, "Nobody would say that, or do that." Similarly, many are impatient with fantasy, even if the characters are well drawn, because of events inconsistent with actual experience. Others readily suspend disbelief, happy to wander in a world that could never be. If they like the story and the characters, "Is it possible?" is an irrelevant question.

So, which are you? If you have trouble with dinosaurs suited up to look like Julia (and Al Gore as we learn in an earlier book), better stay away. If you like tough-detective stories, are looking for some laughs and are tickled by the thought of dinosaurs disguised as humans, Garcia is definitely your man. I can't imagine anyone doing it better.

by Ron Bierman
10 December 2005

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