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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/10/2004 Archived Entry: "Book Review: Hot and Sweaty Rex"

Hot and Sweaty Rex
By Eric Garcia
Published by Villard Books, 2004

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Our boy Vinnie is at it again! This time Vincent Rubio, the dinosaur detective, is up to his artificial eyebrows in mob business. For those of you who missed the first two books in this serio-comedy series by California writer Eric Garcia (also the writer of "Matchstick Men", which was recently made into a movie starring Nicholas Cage), the premise, in brief, is that all the dinosaurs (who were really quite intelligent, despite their walnut-sized brains) faked their own extinction and now live among us, disguised as humans in stretchable latex outfits and masks, similar to the ones used on the original "Mission Impossible" TV series. They also have their own sects and secret societies within this human-dominated world. One of them is their own version of the Mafia.

Garcia does a great job convincing us that the dinosaurs would have evolved into a more or less decent race, interacting with humans without fraternizing with us. He also does a disturbingly good job of convincing us that some of our most prominent celebrities are actually dinos in disguise. The disturbing part is that such a claim is plausible. I mean, just look at Julia Robert’s jaw line! Doesn’t it look like a disguised Stegosaur’s? It also explains why the majority of the Republican Party is referred to as a bunch of old dinosaurs. But I digress; it’s because Garcia’s dino protagonist and his ilk are all so ”human” that makes them believable.

What I find endearing about Garcia’s dinosaur detective is the fact that he’s so--well, human! Vincent Rubio may be a wisecracking reptile in a rubber suit, but he acts like your average fictional P.I; he has friends as messed up as he is or worse, contacts in the L.A. Police Department (who are also dinos in disguise), likes his women with big tails (typical male!) and has a weakness for herb--the cooking kind, not cannabis sativa (Dinosaurs get off on cooking herbs like basil, oregano and cayenne pepper the way that humans do on marijuana.) He doesn’t smoke cigars, but he smells like one; Garcia’s dinos all have their own unique body odor reminiscent of things of nature. They also have their own sects and secret societies within this human-dominated world. One of them is their own version of the Mafia.

Vinnie gets involved through a casual friend, a dino lounge singer who invites him to the home of a prominent Velociraptor mobster, Frank Tallarico, ostensibly to celebrate the thirteenth birthday of the mob boss’s son (that’s the age at which a young dino’s claws come in, equivalent to a human boy’s bar mitzvah). But it seems Mr. Tallarico needs a private eye to follow Nellie Hagstrom, a ranking officer of a rival Hadrosaur mob in Miami, who’ll be visiting Los Angeles in the next few days. In return for this service, he makes Vinnie an offer he can’t refuse; twenty thousand dollars, enough to pay off his overdue rent and utilities, as well as some fresh herb, the finest basil ever grown Too bad Vinnie is an herbaholic. Yep, nine months on the wagon and he hasn’t touched a single herb. But the money alone is enough to send him on Hangstrom’s trail. The next thing you know, our boy Vinnie is being ordered to follow Hangstrom to Miami and stay with Mr. Tallerico’s kid brother Eddie, who’s running the family business there, while keeping tabs on Hagstrom. When an old friend from New York, Glenda Wetzel (a female Hadrosaur in women’s clothing), turns up unexpectedly, Vinnie takes her along too.

Once in Miami, Vinnie is reunited with his old childhood friend, Jack Dugan, who turns out to be the head of the Hadrosaur gang, and Jack’s kid sister, Noreen, who was Vinnie’s high school sweetheart. (They were supposed to elope on graduation night, but he got so stoned on fresh oregano he slept right through the rendezvous.) Now Noreen’s engaged to her brother’s right hand man, who happens to be Nelly Hagstrom, the mobster that Vinnie is following; he isn’t too fond of Vinnie and isn’t shy about letting him know it. Vinnie is forced to play both sides against the middle as he tries to convince Eddie Tallerico that he’s on his side, while helping his old friend Jack find out who’s the Raptor mole that’s been planted in his organization who keeps telling Eddie where Jack will be so they can rub him out.

When Jack is finally rubbed out after the third attempt, Vinnie becomes a dino with a mission; find out who killed his friend, who’s gunning for Noreen, now in charge of the Hadro mob, and try not to succumb to the ever-present temptation to fall off the wagon and sample the Hadro mob’s new hooch, an herb-based liquor called Infusion. (Basil gin, cilantro vodka, cinnamon stick rum--makes all those fruit-flavored human liquors look like soda pop!) But even after dispatching the murderer of his friend, Vinnie’s victory is a bittersweet one. In the end, he will lose another old friend, as well as the woman he once loved (and still does, deep down inside), while earning the respect of both Raptor and Hadro mobs alike. The ending is particularly chilling, when Vinnie’s back in L.A. and uses one of the Raptor mob’s methods of assassination to even the score with Frank Tallerico for Jack‘s murder. It leaves you wondering if Vinnie will be around for a sequel.

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