Eric García (Repo Men) wrote three novels about the dinosaur detective Vincent Rubio: Casual Rex, Anonymous Rex, and Hot and Sweaty Rex. Detective Rubio is a velociraptor, not a Rex, so I suspect that the author wanted a catchy and suggestive title.
In Rubio’s world, dinosaurs have not died out, but remained disguised members within human society to protect themselves from the humans that would hunt them down if they knew of the reptiles’ existence. Maybe they watched too much V series and took it to heart. Because dinosaurs are at all levels of society, they can tweak paleontological data so that dino research ‘proves’ their extinction. If a human isn’t fooled or discovers the true nature of the disguised dinosaurs, dinos have full authority from ‘the Council’ to kill them. Most dinosaurs, including Rubio, look down on humans as inferior beings. This comes as no surprise if you can fool them for millennia into thinking you are extinct.
In the novels the dinos are costumed as humans and interact with them normally in their daily lives, even as children. It is a very difficult premise to believe in, even for this reader who ‘accepts’ holosuites and hidden schools of magic. The costumes are so wrong- the high tech suits are made of latex and are supposedly so authentic-looking that it looks real even when the dinos are naked. The dinosaurs keep their snouts and tails in check with straps and buckles! I can ‘accept’ that evolution made dinosaurs smaller –even human-sized– because the story offers the plausible explanation that the fossil record has been severely tampered with. But the hiding in latex thing (and hiding for centuries pre-latex) was really hard to get past to enjoy the stories.
Thankfully in the TV movie Anonymous Rex (2004) the technology used to disguise dinosaurs included high tech holographic images as far as I could tell. Except they could feel their transformation and their bodies’ volume changed (?!). I’m still unsure what they did about their tails. I admit that I never really got over the ‘dinos in costume’ idea, but that didn’t make me hate the storylines. Although flawed in practice, it is an amusing premise. The dinosaur society quirks are amusing too. In their world, for example, dinosaurs get addicted to herbs like basil, whereas alcohol has no effect. Dinos can identify one another through pheromone scents, and tend to sniff one another on the back of the neck when they meet. Here’s a summary about each book in the series and the TV movie.
Casual Rex (2002) was written after Anonymous Rex (2001), but it is a prequel so I’ll cover it first. It introduces us to Vincent Rubio and his partner Ernie Watson of Watson & Rubio Investigations. Although Watson has a terribly unoriginal name, he is the sweetheart of the two and infinitely more likeable than Rubio. Watson is a T-Rex, fatherly, and wiser than the younger Rubio. He’s obsessed with his ex-wife. Vincent is obsessed with his clothes and drug (herb) habit.
In the story, Watson & Rubio investigate a dinosaur cult called ‘The Progressives,’ in which dinosaurs strive to connect with their primitive side even though they grew up as human as possible to fit into society at large. ‘Progress’ entails becoming more of a natural dinosaur. The problem is not this philosophy, but when the Progressive leaders take it to the extreme.
The TV movie Anonymous Rex was based on the Casual Rex novel, and not the Anonymous Rex book. The movie plot is similar to Casual Rex but the core conspiracy was at a much smaller scale in the film. The movie adds a daughter (Stephanie Lemelin) for Ernie Watson (Daniel Baldwin) who is mostly there to get rescued. Vincent Rubio is a much more likeable character (being Sam Trammell helps of course). The book has two amusing subplots sadly missing from the movie: an investigation for the detectives’ landlord and a great costume maker/drag queen called Jules that I would have loved to see in the movie. Both the book and the movie deal with Vincent’s ambiguity towards the ‘Progressive’ cult ideas. Something refreshingly toned down in the movie was the constant intolerance towards humans and ‘lesser’ dinos- Compys being the lowest of the low- it made Rubio that much more unlikeable. Another problem with the book is that some of its humor is dated.
The second book, Anonymous Rex, is definitely the best of the trio. If you read just one book in the Rex series, make it this one. The story is about Vincent Rubio hitting rock bottom: bereft of a partner, doing herbs, and not being able to get out of debt because the agency isn’t taking on enough jobs. He had recently been thrown out of the local Council, which unlike the movie, doesn’t play Mahjong to make decisions- they fight it out (sometimes literally). He manages to land a job at a big detective agency, Trutel, and while investigating the case of a nightclub fire, finds it links back to what happened to his old partner. This book covers more dinosaur idiosyncrasies like how they get hospital care without blowing their cover, the taboo world of sex with humans, how dinos procreate, and black market guises.
The third book, Hot and Sweaty Rex: A Dinosaur Mafia Mystery, is about a recovering herbaholic detective Rubio who finds himself enmeshed in a mafia war between Velociraptors and Hadrosaurs down in South Florida. Rubio is coerced into working for the Tallarico (Velociraptor) family. In this case he’s working with Glenda Wetzel, a Hadrosaur, previously introduced in the series as a detective friend. To complicate matters, Vincent is friends with the Hadrosaur family boss. (This book is where the Anonymous Rex movie gets its Mahjong idea- it’s what the Raptor mobsters play.) I’m not into mafia books or films so I’m biased here but I found the story quite boring. It is definitely the weakest of the three for me, although it had its fun moments.
Summing up, I would recommend seeing the Anonymous Rex movie and the Anonymous Rex book for campy fun. Read Casual Rex if you want more of partner Ernie Watson and dinosaur alt-history, and skip Hot and Sweaty Rex unless you really like your mob stories.