Review: ‘Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?’
September 3, 2014
You’d be wrong. (“Dead wrong,” Devereux giggled.)
Frank Fleming’s first short story at Liberty Island, “Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?”, is thoroughly entertaining and frequently laugh-out-loud funny—a “First Rate Farce”, in the words of one reader. Perhaps one should have expected nothing less from the long-time PJ Media humorist whose previous work includes the funny “FAQ on Christianity”.
In the best tradition of Calvin and Hobbes alter ego Tracer Bullet or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the story takes film noir or detective-fiction conventions as its starting point, but doesn’t take them too seriously (though the story does seem to evince the author’s genuine love of the genre—as well as of science, and dinosaurs). The story follows hard-boiled detective Braeburn and his assistant, Devereux, as they first meet with a seemingly mad scientist with theories about dinosaurs, then (surprise-middle spoiler alert) have to solve a real murder—before the killer comes for them. Except the whole thing is told in screwball banter.
The characters are perhaps both more and less than merely two-dimensional: On the one hand, a character like Devereux deliberately doesn’t fit (all) the expectations of a stock character or stereotype, but on the other hand, it’s not clear that the chosen combination of stock and incongruous elements adds up to a coherently developed character, or that it’s intended to. The story, while engaging, may just not take itself that seriously.
Like a Dave Barry column or a Looney Tunes cartoon, Fleming takes almost everything any of his characters says or does as an opportunity to add the incongruity or twist of humor, even when the characters are giving advice about humor:
“TV gets our job all wrong,” Devereux added. “For instance, when we come upon a murder scene, we don’t just say a quip and walk off. I mean, we often say a quip…but then we have to stick around and process the scene. And if your quip goes over poorly, that can be really awkward.”
“Stick to puns,” Braeburn advised. “Like when that body was missing a hand, and I said, ‘I guess he lent someone a hand…and the question is who.’ But stay away from political humor—that can be divisive.”
Happily, Fleming eschews his own advice, sprinkling references to political and other controversies throughout the story. It’s not clear that he has an agenda or is trying to make a particular point one way or the other about, say, Creationism; rather, he just doesn’t seem to consider any of these “divisive” issues to be off limits or especially inappropriate for polite company.
It’s a fitting example of the stories at Liberty Island. Perhaps Adam Bellow’s chief concern in founding the site was to foster a countercultural resistance to the humorless enforcers of political correctness.
By the same token, it’s also fitting that Liberty Island’s first published full-length novel will be by Fleming. Superego, set to come out this November, is billed as “a sci-fi technothriller that combines both action and romance” (maybe even one that takes itself seriously).
Liberty Island, continuing to break conventions and forge ahead creatively, offers an intriguing option: Through a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding program, you can pre-order Fleming’s novel, another Liberty Island writer’s first novel, or a subscription to a year’s worth of Liberty Island original novels by writers yet to be determined (the “Liberty Island Book Club”)—or, for only a hundred dollars, a Liberty Island Book Club lifetime membership (“That means you are guaranteed to receive 12 e-books a year. Forever.”).
- Liberty Island’s David Bernstein explains here.
- You can view the crowdfunding (Publush) campaign and pre-order your novels here.
It’s affordable—prices start at $5 for an e-book, $15 if you prefer an actual book (“Because we all have friends who prefer reading on dead trees (including some on the LI team!)”)—and it’s a way for you to make a real difference: Liberty Island is still in its struggling initial stages, and with 16 days left on this crowdfunding campaign, has raised only $65 toward its $2,500 goal. If Liberty Island does well in the years to come, not only will you have the equivalent of a “first edition” of a famous novel; you’ll also have helped change the face of popular culture.