As weird, irresistible book premises go, they don’t get much weirder (or more irresistible) than “an adorable dinosaur detective investigates a string of murders in the land of discarded imaginary friends.”
Which explains in a sentence why we’ve already circled September 10, 2019 on our calendars: that’s the release date for Tyler Hayes’ The Imaginary Corpse, another singularly skewed debut novel from Angry Robot Books, the publisher who gave us missionaries to the fae and firefighters who protect a modern city from dragons.
Below, check out the cover (with art by Francesca Corsini), the official summary, and a sizable excerpt—more than enough to convince you to lock in your preorder now. Time waits for no dinosaur.
A dinosaur detective in the land of unwanted ideas battles trauma, anxiety, and the first serial killer of imaginary friends.
Most ideas fade away when we’re done with them. Some we love enough to become Real. But what about the ones we love, and walk away from?
Tippy the triceratops was once a little girl’s imaginary friend, a dinosaur detective who could help her make sense of the world. But when her father died, Tippy fell into the Stillreal, the underbelly of the Imagination, where discarded ideas go when they’re too Real to disappear. Now, he passes time doing detective work for other unwanted ideas—until Tippy runs into The Man in the Coat, a nightmare monster who can do the impossible: kill an idea permanently.
Now Tippy must overcome his own trauma and solve the case, before there’s nothing left but imaginary corpses.
An excerpt follows…
Some nightmares will stop and talk to you as soon as they know you won’t get scared. Some nightmares double down when you get courageous, start getting truly violent. And some are animals, knowing nothing except the chase and the pounce and the fear. And this one chose the spookiest barn in the Stillreal to camp out in, so practicality demands I assume it’s type three.
I pivot in place, trying to bait the nightmare back out, trusting my detective stuff to keep me on the ball. There’s another rustle off to my left, and a growl of admonishment that I’m sure soaked many a bedsheet in its day. I need to get it down near the floor again, where the tighter quarters created by the stalls will limit its movement.
“Are you a bed monster?” I ask the darkness. “Or maybe a window-scratcher?” I slather the mocking tone on thick, which as a bonus helps cover up my shivers. “What kind of half-scary nonsense were you before you came here?”
The barn stays quiet, that aggravating silence you can tell is going to be filled with noise any second. This Friend has definitely been here for a while if it’s got the acoustics down like that. There’s more movement, but nothing dramatic enough to suggest it’s coming down my way. It won’t come down without an opening. This thing is good at its job. I shrug, and start trotting off toward the barn doors, looking as casual as I can manage when my head feels like an alarm clock.
“If you’re just going to hide in the dark, I guess I’ll go tell Farmer Nick there’s nothing to be scared of.”
That gets a response. Unfortunately, that response is a whirring, buzzing, impossibly fast blackness diving down at me. Well, I can’t say this case is boring.
The nightmare tries two dive-bys first, shooting past one way then the other, glowing dinner-plate eyes flashing as it crosses my path. A stall door creaks open behind me, and the shadows on the wall grow long and hungry. This nightmare knows its stuff. By which I mean ‘Help me.’
Focus. I need to ground this thing, and I need to do it fast. The blur sails past me again, close enough to blow icy wind across the fabric of my back, and my hindlegs tighten up, ready to use my last resort. I’m a detective first, but I’m also a triceratops…
There’s a skittering noise behind me. I pretend to take the bait, craning my neck in a desperate attempt to see around my crown. A single nail pings across the floor right behind me, and I have to stifle my chuckle. The distracting surprise. This nightmare’s younger than I gave it credit for. A dropped nail, a creaking floorboard – those are tricks you use on kids to get their attention diverted.
Another nail drops somewhere in front of me, a sound that would leave a typical victim spinning in place – so, of course, the nightmare comes at me from the side, a ragged wingspan of buzzing power tools that fills my peripheral vision. I hunker down, let it sail over me, and spring up into the air for a short-range charge. All three of my horns connect with a stumpy, buckle-laden back leg, and the nightmare bowls head over heels and crash-lands in front of me.
“Ow!” it says, like a toddler with a skinned knee.
All my fear, anger, and curiosity pops like a soap bubble. “You alright?” I ask, not bothering to mask my concern.
“No!” it cries, in a tinny, air-duct wail. It curls in on itself, rubbing at its leg where I connected. I’m pretty sure it’s actually smaller now. I feel awful.
Now that it’s not moving, it’s easier to get a bead on what it looks like: black, some hints of purple and red, like the night sky just outside a city. It’s about six times my size, four limbs, the hunched stance of a dog or a cat, but its head is roughly human shaped. Given the fluid way it moves, I think it’s always shaped like whatever it thinks will terrify its target the most. And then there’s the machinery, the eyes like welder’s goggles, the whirring drills in place of claws, the saw blades spinning along the ridge of its back, all anchored in place by a spaghetti dinner of leather straps and big chrome buckles.
This is a nightmare, which by the logic that made me means it’s a bad guy. I can feel in my stuffing that I’m supposed to mock it, insult it, play it cool. But that’s not what it needs, and that’s probably not what I need, either. I swallow my first instincts and go with the second wave.
“Anything I can do?”
The nightmare sniffles, still curled away from me, continually rubbing its leg. “No.” It doesn’t sound sure.
“I’m so sorry,” I say. “You scared me, and I reacted. Doesn’t mean you aren’t hurt, but…”
It sniffles again. “I was trying to scare you,” it says. “I understand. It just… it really hurt!”
“Yeah. I’m sorry.”
It rubs at the affected area for another second. “I’m okay. I’ll be okay.” It doesn’t sound okay, at all.
The good news is, I have a job to do here, and it might actually make things better. First things first. “What’s your name?”
The nightmare tenses up in confusion. “What?”
“Your name. If you’re willing to give it to me?”
When it blinks, there’s a sound like a garage door opening and closing. “I’m… Spindleman.”
“Hi, Spindleman.” I extend a cloth paw. “I’m Tippy.”
Spindleman looks at my paw, trying to decide what to do, then brightens before enveloping it with a hand that’s mostly screwdrivers. Shaking it makes me glad I’m kind of hard to hurt.
“Can I ask you for your pronouns?”
It’s very young, then. “When I don’t call you by name, do you prefer he, she, ze, it…”
“It,” Spindleman says. “Matthew always called me it.”
“All right then, it.” I smile, and log the name Matthew for later. “I’m really sorry.”
Despite itself, Spindleman brightens. I take the opportunity.
“Can I ask you a few questions? No is fine, if you’re too upset.”
Spindleman sniffles again. “Okay.”
“Thank you.” I sit down on my haunches, removing what threat I can, and get ready to memorize. “So… judging by appearances, you’re a long way from home, aren’t you?”
I nod, trying to act as casual as possible. “Okay. Can you tell me where you came from?”
“The bushes around the house,” it says. It sucks in air like a drowning man. “The, the night-time house with the big orange moon. The one that Matthew sleeps in.”
Okay, this I can work with. My stuffing is starting to unclench. “What can you tell me about Matthew?”
“Small,” Spindleman says, almost awe-struck. “Small, and defenseless, and… vulnerable.” There’s a glaze of saliva over its words, but it’s hard to hold that against it; we’re all what our people made us. “Every night, he has to sleep in his huge room all by himself, and the light in there is bright, so much brighter than the sky I live in during the day…”
“So Matthew is your person?” I ask.
So it’s a very young nightmare, then. “The one who created you,” I explain. “The one who made you Real.”
Spindleman sniffs, nods. “He was my… person. But he’s not anymore.” Its head sags on its long industrial accident of a neck. “He didn’t need me anymore.”
This sounds familiar. I never stop hating it, though. “Are you here because you got separated from Matthew?”
“He stopped caring about me.” Spindleman’s goggle eyes widen, and in their glass I see a towering silhouette offering a big, thick hand to me. “He said I wasn’t scary anymore, and then he kicked me out, and I had to leave the house and come out here and I… I…”
“Shhh. Shhh. It’s okay.”
I lay a gentle paw on one leg, and Spindleman recoils from me, huge again, saw blades sparking where they connect with the cross-beams overhead. I back up, partly calculated and partly panic. Spindleman doesn’t have any facial features, but I can still tell it’s upset.
“I’m sorry,” I say, keeping my distance. “I should have asked before I touched you. And… I’m sorry you got separated.”
Spindleman hesitates, but from my detective stuff’s read, that’s only because it has no idea what an apology looks like. This is going to be a steep climb.
“Is it okay if I ask you some more questions?” I ask.
Spindleman whimpers. “Yes?”
“Is this the first place you went after you left Matthew’s house?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I didn’t leave very long ago, but, this isn’t the first place.”
I sit down on my haunches. “Where was the first place?” I think I know, but that’s when I most need to ask questions.
“I went to the big motel. The one in the big sandbox. The… the bird woman, she helped me find my way there.”
“Bird woman? Tall, muscular, eyes shine red, white, or blue?”
“Yes!” Spindleman says, excited to be able to answer in the affirmative.
“That’s Freedom Frieda. You were staying at the Freedom Motel?”
I nod. The Freedom Motel is a common first stop for Friends newly booted into the Stillreal. The question is how it wound up out here on Sundrop Farms. My toes are starting to vibrate again. “Why did you decide to leave?”
Spindleman shrinks again, now about my size, its machinery partially retracted into its body. “It wasn’t safe there. And everywhere else I went was so, so big, and so open…”
It’s afraid. Hopefully a small distraction will help. “Your home Idea’s pretty small, then? The house, I mean.” I need to be careful of my phrasing.
Spindleman cocks its head. “The sky is big…but the house, and the little garden, and the… car…” It shivers. “Yes. It’s pretty small.”
“So you left there because Matthew didn’t think you were scary, and then the motel was too wide-open for you?”
“No,” Spindleman says. “No, everywhere else was too open for me. The motel was perfect.” Its voice brightens for a second. A very short one. “I left the motel because of the Man.”
“The Man in the Coat. He came by the motel, and he looked in all the windows, and… and he was like me, scary like me, and I had to get out of there…”
“He was like you?” I ask. I try not to sound too excited.
“He was… Real, you said? He could travel like me. He was there looking for me because I left the house.”
My brain sets off fireworks.