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ANONYMOUS REX
By Eric Garcia

Villard Books, Hardcover, 276 pages (August, 1999) $23

Reviewed by Victor Gischler (11/99)

The gimmick: Some of your friends and neighbors aren't human at all. They're dinosaurs who walk around disguised as humans and live day to day in our society without our knowing it. They have secret councils to decide Dino policy, and if a human finds out about them, then the human must die to protect the secret.

Eric Garcia's detective novel ANONYMOUS REX relies heavily on this gimmick. Don't get me wrong. Garcia's tale of evolved dinosaurs living secretly among us is a fun read, and private eye Vincent Rubio lives up to what we've come to expect from your garden variety, hardboiled Shamus...except, of course, that he happens to be a velociraptor.

But without the novel's central premise--the gimmick--Garcia's P.I. almost becomes just another cardboard cutout in the shape of a detective. Garcia pushes all the private eye buttons. Rubio is down on his luck. Rubio doesn't respect authority. Rubio's tough as nails. Rubio's got a soft spot for a leggy dame with a head full of red hair. Sound familiar? It's every Chandler and Hammett knockoff since gum met shoe. If we were to strip away the Dino trappings, it would be another watered-down detective story with a Dr. Frankenstein twist at the end.

And even the premise is a bit hard to swallow. The reader is asked to suspend a lot of disbelief. Is it possible that dinosaurs have lived among us for thousands of years yet haven't been exposed by a generally nosey human population? Well, don't be silly. It is, however, our jobs as readers to suspend this disbelief. We have to try, and if we succeed, we've had a good time following Rubio from suspect to suspect as he gets to the heart of matters in traditional tough-guy fashion--basically who has killed whom and why. But if we don't succeed, if we can't get past this central idea...well, close the book. It's all over.

I had a good time with ANONYMOUS REX, but the novelty won't sustain my interest when the sequel CASUAL REX comes out. Been there. Done that.

I'm glad to see writer's like Garcia attempt new things. Innovation is a valuable and rare commodity, and Garcia has genuine story-telling talent. Let's see what he can do when he's done milking his gimmick.


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