Monday, May 5, 2008

Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia

Disclaimer Thingy: Cross-posted at the Spring Reading Challenge.

As it says on the cover, Anonymous Rex is a detective story. I generally find detective stories to be overly formulaic, and this book, while it wasn't exceptional, also didn't irritate me in the way that many books of the genre do.

Many contemporary writers of detective stories, mysteries, or whatever you want to call them, seem to think that adding some unusual twist to the basic premise is enough to make up for the lack of an original plot. The twist to this particular book was that the protagonist, Vincent Rubio, is a velociraptor. That's right, a velociraptor, like in Jurassic Park. In fact, in this story, approximately 12% of the population are actually dinosaurs masquerading as humans (score one for the "intelligent design" folks, I guess.) Thousands of years ago the surviving dinos on the planet, who had by that time evolved to be smaller in size than their ancestors (score one for Darwin), decided that their best hope for continued survival was to integrate into human society, keeping their existence a secret. The dinos can differentiate between humans and dinos by smell, which solves a whole bunch of potential problems. The dino scenario allowed for a few rather clever details (e. g. alcohol has no effect on dinos, but herbs such as basil and oregano are mind altering substances, providing a whole new take on "fern bars".)

The book begins with Vincent Rubio
addicted to basil and wallowing in extreme debt and depression following the mysterious death of his partner in the private investigator business. A suspicious fire at a dino night club leads to an investigation requiring Vincent's currently very affordable rates. Further intrigue ensues. I'll leave it at that.

Author Eric Garcia was only 26 years old when this book was published, and at times his youth was obvious, particularly when referring to cultural events that anyone my age would would know about, but obviously
were not understood by the author; in fact, it was clear that he didn't even realize that he didn't understand them, yet wrote about them with the self-assured obliviousness of youth. I should have made notes about them while I was reading the book, but I didn't and my aging brain doesn't seem able to dredge up details I read only a day or two ago, so I have no examples to cite. Oh, well.

I found Anonymous Rex to be a reasonably entertaining read, but nothing to get too excited about. Take out the dino element and it was an okay detective story - not great, but I've read a lot worse by much more famous authors. It is Garcia's first novel, so I may try another of his books some day to see how they progress.

Note: Now that I've written all that stuff, I discover that Casual Rex, the prequel to Anonymous Rex, was made into a pilot by the Sci-Fi channel and released under the name of Anonymous Rex (I don't do television, so this is news to me.) Garcia also wrote Matchstick Men, which Ridley Scott made into a film starring Nicolas Cage, released in 2003. In addition, he is the author of Repossession Mambo, the film version of which is due to be released in 2008 starring Forest Whitaker and Jude Law.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ed,

I'm not sure from your review, are you recommending this book? I liked the Thursday Next series, but not the werewolf epic.

Are there any mystery writers that you like?


Ed said...

Hi, Beth,

My feeling is, if you generally like mysteries, you'd probably enjoy this book, but won't be blown away by it. I found the protagonist to be a likable character and the writing didn't bother me, which, in my opinion, for most mysteries, is unusual. But, the plot lines were fairly predictable and if you factor out the "Dino" element, it was a more or less generic story. Further, my perception is that most mysteries are written for female readers (the protagonist is often a woman who has men pursuing her [even when the author is a lesbian] despite the fact that she wears no makeup, dresses in jeans and flannel shirts and, in her own opinion, is plain looking and uninteresting) and this book has more of a male perspective than most. So, my final answer is, if you enjoy reading mysteries in general and aren't bothered by a story that isn't female-centric you'll probably like this book. If you don't, it's a crap shoot as far as my ability to predict what another person will enjoy is concerned. Personally, I found it to be entertaining, but not particularly intellectually challenging; better than watching television, but a far cry from Terry Pratchett.

How's that for a convoluted answer to a simple question?

Are there any mystery writers that I like? Now, that's a tough question. I've actually never read anything by Agatha Christie, who seems to be the standard against which other mystery writers are measured. Does Robertson Davies qualify as a mystery writer? I like his books; there are elements of mystery in his stories, but I would hesitate to call him a "mystery writer". I like the concept of a good mystery, but I would be hard pressed to think of a "mystery writer" that I actually like. I've read a few that I have found really annoying (Nevada Barr, Dan Brown [ugh! Dan Brown must be the worst of the worst!], Rita Mae Brown, Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, Frank McConnell, Sharon McCrumb.)

Do you have any recommendations?