While snuffling through our local Borders bookshop yesterday evening, I found a copy of Casual Rex by Eric Garcia. Casual Rex is a prequel to Garcia’s debut novel Anonymous Rex, which was an excellent hard-boiled detective story set in modern times, but with a slight difference: dinosaurs still exist. But humans don’t know about this. Dinos go about their business completely undetected, because they dress up in latex human suits. It’s weird, but it works.
The hero of the Anonymous Rex, Vincent Rubio, is a private detective who has fallen on hard times since his partner, Ernie Watson, was murdered. He is also a velociraptor. In the course of the story we learn a lot about the dinosaur society, about the tensions that exist because of the dinosaurs’ continual secrecy, and of course we also dig deeper into the mystery of Ernie’s death. It’s a delightful blend of whimsical science fiction and noir detective story. It works so well partly because it follows the conventions of both genres: the science-fictional side of the book explores this off-beat world in enough detail to be satisfying, while the detective side tells an exciting story about a wise-cracking gumshoe solving an intriguing crime. Garcia ties the two sides together by making sure that the crime is specific to the human/dinosaur world, and that the pay-off couldn’t exist in any other context.
I’m looking forward to reading Casual Rex. I remember finding Anonymous Rex in a bookshop in London a few years ago (probably around 1999?), on the day that Abi and I took a mad day-trip down there by train. The train from Edinburgh to London used to only take just over 4 hours (it’s longer now–thank you, privatisation!), so as long as you left early enough, and were happy to come back late, it was quite possible for Edinburghers to visit London to have lunch and do some shopping. Which is what we did. We met up with James for moules frites at Belgo (a chain of Belgian-themed restaurants where the waiters dress up in monks’ habits), and then wandered around Covent Garden for a while. It wasn’t until last year that I actually got around to reading it, though. Which makes it a little bit odd that I only found Casual Rex yesterday, because it was published in 2001. Normally if I find a book I like, I go out looking for other books by the same author. I must just not have looked terribly hard in this case.
Now that I have found it, I have also found Eric Garcia’s web site, which is where I saw that he has another book out as well: Matchstick Men. That’s right, the book that the film Matchstick Men, starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell, is based on. That’s cool. The trailer looked interesting, and it was on my list of films to watch. Unfortunately it’s also on my list of films that I never had time to go and see, and will have to catch on DVD when it comes out. No dinosaurs in this one, though, just a couple of con-men.
Garcia’s web site also has the news that Hot And Sweaty Rex, the next novel in the series is due out in March of 2004, and that an Anonymous Rex TV show is in the making. The Sci-Fi Channel have greenlighted a pilot based on Casual Rex. Very interesting. Thank goodness that TV special effects have come a long way since V did lizards in human suits back in the eighties!