I read a lot of books, typically I don't review them. I'm more comfortable judging my fellow, unpublished writers than I am those who have sold something that I've then read. I keep thinking I should change that, and so I'll start my first published book review with the novel I completed yesterday, Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia.
Spoiler Warning, I guess...
Published in 1999, Anonymous Rex is an nearly unbearable by-the-numbers American detective story with a single redeeming twist: dinosaurs never went extinct. They spent the last 65 million years evolving to be smaller and now they live among humans in society in latex/poly-suit suits. All your favourite dinosaur species are accounted for - triceratops, tyrannosaurus, brontosaurus, diplodocus, duck bills, stegosaurus - each now human sized. The subject of how they lived among society before latex was invented does not come up.
...a pinch lances out from my tucked-away tail. I shake my rump, but the pain persists, small and sharp, as if a minnow with shark's teeth has found himself at an all-you-can-eat brunch on my tail and refuses to leave the buffet line. It's my darned G-3 clamp—somehow it has shifted to the left, the metal buckle digging into my hide, and there's no way to rectify the situation other than to completely readjust the entire G series. It's a quick process, simple enough, but would necessitate releasing my tail out into the great wide open for a few precious minutes. If any humans were to come in...
Our narrator, and down-on-his-luck detective, is a raptor named Vincent.
The dinosaurs among the populace can easily tell who the other dinosaurs are based on smell, as all dinosaurs scent glands produce strong, unique odours. Vincent has an extremely acute sense of smell, as well as a charming and flirty nature, an ability to open almost any door with a credit card, and the ability to waltz, tango and cha-cha impressively. Beyond the smells it's very easy for dinosaurs to completely change their appearance by wearing a new poly-suit.
The smelling part comes is important later, because later it turns out a human (with no smell) is actually a dinosaur! And then a dinosaur with a smell is actually a human! Those two twists underpin the whole mystery, which Vincent unwraps with a sense of predictability. He encounters the grieving widow, the femme fatale singing jazz at an underground bar, the eccentric scientist. The plot might have been the inspiration for Threat Level Midnight. In fact, when I was a third of the way through I began to ponder if this originally started as a terrible detective novel that never intended to mention dinosaurs until it needed an angle. Jurassic Park was probably at the height of its popularity at the time this book was being written.
Eventually the dinosaurs and their species became important to the story. Different kinds of dinosaurs can't interbreed, which makes certain characters work beyond the laws of nature and the dinosaur council to find a solution. The idea of a dinosaur and a human breeding comes up too, but that is strongly frowned upon by dinosaur society, the same way humans look down on having sex with lizards in real life.
Vincent's investigation takes him to New York, back to L.A., then back to New York again. A lot of his breakthroughs come from people mailing him things they thought he might need, or characters simply spilling way too much information when Vincent talks to them, both methods of reveal that I didn't like. His final breakthrough came accidentally when a human walked in on him with his poly-suit pants off (and tail swishing around). He thought he would have to kill her, but she revealed she was a dinosaur with no scent glands! If only he had found that out before he had that weird, forbidden sex with her….
...my engorged member tight against the confines of the poly-suit extension, tight within the confines of my new lover, she moves with me, our energies coalescing into one great wave of movement and heat. With dinos, the sounds are shrieks and moans, howls to the religion of pleasure. With Sarah, there are soft murmurs and syncopated heartbeats, delicate gasps and whispers to the night...
Because this scene happened towards the climax of the novel I figured I'd lost enough to keep on reading until the final scene.
I mean, that was a good twist. It could have been set up better if Vincent had encountered another dinosaur without scent glands earlier in the story, instead of in the preceding chapter, which kind of flagged that it was about to happen. Like how I mentioned the dinosaurs had scent glands at the top of this review. That's how to structure!
I'm not sure if this novel would have been published in present times. I guess that's because I'm cynical and feel like twenty years ago it was easier for books to be published because a brick-and-mortar bookstore was still a valid business model. That said, not only was this book published but there were actually two sequels published as well! Then I guess the author took a look at himself in the mirror, or couldn't mind-map his way out of the plot holes.
Anyway, despite his corny jokes, I truly admired Garcia's commitment to the premise and determination to push through no matter what. The fact that he got this published fills me with optimism about my own writing, and thus I give it five stars.