Eric Garcia,
Anonymous Rex
& Casual Rex
(Villard, 2000/2001;
Ace omnibus, 2004)

Forget everything you know about dinosaurs. Not only did they not become extinct 65 million years ago, they currently make up about 5 percent of the "human" population. Rather than stomp all of us humans out of existence eons ago, they decided just to live in our world secretly (they have much smaller bodies than their ancestors), donning complex human guises involving lots of straps, buckles and epoxy. You'd be amazed at just how many celebrities and power brokers are actually dinosaurs in disguise. All they want is to keep their secret, find the time and opportunity to really be themselves every now and again, and maybe get a good buzz on with basil or certain other herbs if and when the urge strikes. They live by two golden rules: never let a human learn their secret (and kill any who do) and never, ever, ever engage in interspecies relations with a human.

With Anonymous Rex, author Eric Garcia first brought this strange new world to life, garnering critical acclaim and a cult following for his efforts. He is a brilliantly wicked author, packing loads of comedy into noirish tales of dinosaur private investigator Vincent Rubio. Poor Vince has had a rough nine months. It all started when his partner Ernie was run over by a taxi in New York. Vince went a little nuts after that, broke a lot of rules and at least one nose during his investigation of the accident, and got himself declared dinosaur non grata in both New York and back home in Los Angeles. He is in an emotional and financial tailspin, nursing a major basil addiction and basically trying to find a reason to keep on keeping on. With little left to his name, he finally gets a case thrown his way, an insurance job investigating a fire at a local dino club. As luck would have it, the club owner had important contacts in New York, and before you can say velociraptor, Vince is back in the Big Apple conducting interviews for a case that may well have some relation to his partner's death.

This thing gets pretty involved, as a simple case of possible arson soon leads Vince into a conspiracy of dinosaur-sized proportions involving human-dinosaur genetic experimentation. Slowly but surely, Vince starts assembling the pieces of the puzzle, but progress doesn't come without setbacks -- a couple of attempts on his life, some inconvenient deaths of informants and friends, a serious lack of funds and even a dangerous relationship with a singularly appealing human female. Danger is Vince's middle name, however, and in time he breaks out of his emotional funk, manages to stay away from basil long enough to clear his head, and relentlessly pursues a solution to a surprisingly complex mystery.

The book is written in first person, in the classic style of ye olde detective mysteries from the golden age of Dashiell Hammett and Sam Spade. And make no mistake -- aside from the unique dinosaur angle and the constant showcase of sarcastic wit and genuinely funny writing, Garcia knows how to construct and tell a good mystery. Anonymous Rex is a thoroughly engaging read from start to finish. There's an edge to this story, a fair share of surprises along the way, and all sorts of social commentary you can ponder or simply ignore. If you've been yearning for something different, Vincent Rubio, P.I., is on the case, and the game's afoot.

Casual Rex is Garcia's second "Rex" novel, but it is actually a prequel to Anonymous. Victor and his partner Ernie are your basic PIs -- snooping on roving spouses, hunting down petty thieves, etc. Their humdrum state of existence changes when Ernie's ex-wife asks them to find her brother and bring him home (forcibly, if necessary). It seems the poor kid has gotten all caught up in a dino cult called the Progressives. Most dinosaurs have accepted the fact that they have to go to great pains to pass themselves off as humans, but some yearn for the old lifestyle of complete dino freedom. Vic and Ernie infiltrate the cult and get their man -- but that's just the beginning of the story. There's something really sinister going on here, and our detective heroes are determined to find out just what the Progressives are up to. Their mission eventually leads them to a back-to-nature retreat in the islands of Hawaii, where they learn even more than they bargained for about the cult.

The fact that Casual Rex wasn't quite as funny as I expected it to be is certainly not a bad thing. The novel does, after all, deal with such serious issues as drug abuse (ah, sweet basil), cults, murder and your proverbial world domination and genocide -- as well as friendship, honor and humanity (or whatever the dinosaur equivalent of that would be). Garcia's writing style remains delightfully quirky, the absurdist setting is effectively presented (with explanations of dinosaur culture over the millennia enriched by rich and numerous off-the-cuff remarks), the action is well-paced, the tragedies that take place over the course of the novel are surprisingly poignant, and a rising level of suspense (not to mention curiosity) definitely draws the reader in and carries him/her all the way to the end.

This Anonymous Rex/Casual Rex Omnibus places Casual Rex in front of Anonymous Rex, which is fine if you want to read the prequel first. If you'd rather read the two books in the order of publication, though, be sure to start with Anonymous.

by Daniel Jolley
3 September 2005

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