The Secret Lives of Dinosaurs

This sorry private-eye novel begins in Fred Flintstone's time, when dinosaurs shrank to human size; they've lived undercover in people-suits ever since. Meet Eric Garcia's gumshoe, Vincent Rubio, a Velociraptor wearing Humphrey Bogart's skin. Like Hammett's Sam Spade, Rubio has a murdered partner. An arson caper at L.A.'s "Evolution Club" takes Rubio to New York, where he discovers a connection between the two crimes.

Now, a thousand shamuses have stalked the mean streets since Philip Marlowe went soft and got married in the late 1950s. Garcia's Rubio is just an imitation of an imitation of Marlowe. Rubio is nonstop wisecracks. Rubio has a bad credit rating. Rubio works best when he's stoned. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

After 50 pages, you shake your head and realize that Garcia's dubious dinosaur premise is just . . . stupid. Kids dig brontosauruses because they're big. Real big. There's no poetry in dinky dinosaurs. Once the prehistoric premise is gone, that only leaves the tepid private-eye rituals. In the big private-eye-loses-his-cool scene, Garcia sets forth the notion that Rubio's patter is so tough that telling a Plaza Hotel desk clerk "I will rip out your nostrils and plug them up your anus . . . " gets Rubio the presidential suite. At the Plaza? Come on, brother. That tirade wouldn't even get the gumshoe a room at Hotel Seventeen.

Details

Anonymous Rex: A Detective Story
By Eric Garcia
Villard, 277 pp., $23
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Garcia's sloppy handling of noir's tenets is one thing, but in a letter accompanying the galleys, his editor brags that he himself has little interest in noir fiction. So figure Garcia and his editor's only exposure to the genre is maybe The Big Sleep was playing once at Blockbuster while they were returning Jurassic Park. Garcia's imagination pales beside Jonathan Lethem's, who began his career with the surreal private-dick-meets-kangaroo-with-a-gat, Gun, With Occasional Music. Thinking he has this genre beat, Garcia is now busily at work on the sequel to Anonymous Rex. The kid must be stopped.

 
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