Book Review: The Imaginary Corpse – by Tyler Hayes

noob #1, standalone (?)

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Angry Robot; September 10, 2019

321 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both NetGalley and Angry Robot. All opinions are my own.

The Imaginary Corpse is an adorable book in a number of ways. And yet it holds a darkness within that’s surprising for both its intensity and its depth. It’s a cross between Toy Story and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, under the night sky of a film-era detective noir. Detective Tippy is a stuffed, yellow triceratops. Yes, you read that right. He’s the head and only detective at the Stuffed Animal Detective Agency. There’s nothing he likes more than root beer floats, long rides in the dryer—and of course—his creator, Sandra.

The Stuffed Animal Detective Agency operates in the Stillreal, a place where capital-F Friends end up when their creators are forced to abandon them. It’s hard to explain, but the book does a stellar job—I’ll give it a quick shot. You see, some imaginary friends are just that: Imaginary. But if a friend is imbibed with such a force of love or affection, or detail to the extent that they’re very real to their creator, they become a Friend. Alternatively, a nightmare that frightens and terrifies can often feel very real in its own right, thus becoming a Friend as well (albeit a different kind). Now, most often these Friends will be parted with or forgotten when a child outgrows them, discarded when an artist or writer moves on or their commission is canceled. But occasionally, there’s an event that leads to a Friend being abandoned. Some trauma, some insight, some… thing else. And the Friend is forcibly ripped from their creator, never to return. These Friends end up in the Stillreal.

Going to the Stillreal is a one-way trip. Friends can get hurt or injured there—most experience trauma, anxiety or worse from their forced separation from their creator—but once arriving in the Stillreal, they can’t actually die. That is, until they start.

When Tippy witnesses this, the case begins. It will lead down paths even dark by Playtime Town standards. It will force Detective Tippy to confront his own issues—the trauma, the loss, and his mounting depression. It may even change him for the better, should he and the rest of the Stillreal survive it. For even in Playtime Town does darkness loom, and Tippy may not have enough in his pocket flask of root beer to see him through it.

What to say about the Imaginary Corpse? Mostly good things, I promise.

I mean, it’s good. It’s definitely worth reading! It’s in a class all on its own, for a whole host of reasons—but mostly because it is adorable. The yellow triceratops lead, the amount of hugs offered and given, the Rootbeerium… And yet the issues these Friends deal with draw a number of parallels to everyday life. The trauma, the loss, the anxiety, the depression they feel; all seems a tangible, weighted thing, that I struggled with in my read through. Some have overcome the lot, though most still struggle on valiantly in a world they can’t escape, a living memory of a life they’re never to revisit, the memory of their creator, their best friend still fresh in their mind and yet irretrievable at the same time. Tippy walks a fine line—love, hope on one end with depression, darkness and loss lurking on the other side.

Tippy may be one of my favorite characters ever. From his time with Sandra, Tippy was imbued with Detective Stuff, a kind of sixth-sense that helped him know things, feel things, gather clues almost as if by magic—as it might seem to a small child who witnesses detectives doing such. Despite this yellow triceratops being filled with no more than root beer and stuffing, he’s more human than most of what you’ll find in media nowadays.

While Hayes starts with an interesting premise, a fantastical setting and a generally entertaining plot, the Imaginary Corpse falls short of perfection. The mystery lets the story down, sadly. And the Detective Stuff—while a powerful tool—is not enough to carry the story by itself. A couple of times I had to backtrack and reread a section where Tippy connected the dots, because it didn’t exactly make sense. Occasionally, the Detective Stuff would just bypass key details and leap on to the next, like they were too hard to explain or write. Though I suppose that’s a good use for a superpower, innit?

TL;DR

The Imaginary Corpse is a fantasy-mystery-noir, set in a strange but delightful world, filled with some of my favorite characters of all-time. And I really can’t say enough good things about it. An immensely entertaining read, the book takes its readers through the trauma and darkness—coaxing them all the while with hope and acceptance, before finally reaching a hard-fought conclusion that is neither, yet somehow both. While the novel’s mystery may be its biggest weakness, the Imaginary Corpse manages to tell the story it set out to, in the manner it set out to, while toeing the line between dark and adorable. And that above all else is its greatest triumph. Quite the debut from Tyler Hayes—one I’ll not be forgetting any time soon!

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