Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review - Lisa Lutz and David Hayward's Heads You Lose

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward
Published by: Putnam Adult
ARC Provided by Putnam
Publication Date: April 5th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Challenge: Mystery and Suspense 2011
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Lacey Hansen is trapped in a dead end life with her brother Paul. Making a living supplying the local colleges and nursing homes with pot is not a way to live. Even Mythmatch, where legendary gods and monsters battle each other on the small screen, is no cure for boredom. But even a dull and inert life can be pushed into action by the arrival of a headless corpse on your doorstep. Due to the proximity of so much pot near a recently deceased body, the siblings decide to dump the body off a hiking trail where it will be found and investigated, far from their home. Because they know this corpse. It's Darryl, Paul's friend and pot irrigation expert. The next day, Lacey views it as her right to investigate a little, it is kind of "their corpse"... but when that investigation turns up Darryl alive and well... well then, who's the corpse? And where did it go? It's not where they left it. But a missing corpse is nowhere near as interesting as a plane exploding at the local airport and the new Doc Egan moving into town with his cute Wilson brothers looks to replace the old Doc Holland, who did leave town awful fast. It's not long before Lacey and Paul wonder when the body will finally be discovered, only to find it back on their front porch... except this time Lacey takes a closer look and realizes it's her ex-fiance Hart. Knowing that if they hide the crime again someone will most likely return the body, Lacey makes the call to inform the police, giving her brother a few minutes to clear out the marijuana plants and stash them with his pot mentor, Terry Jakes.

Now with a police investigation finally underway, Lacey decides that it's time to ramp up her own investigation. Solve the crime, leave the town, it's as easy as that. Only, solving this crime is not going to be easy when everyone has a motive for killing Hart, who, if Lacey is being honest, was quite the lowlife. Throw in a shady bar owner, an even shadier nursing home run by the Babalatos, an endearing or perhaps lethal old man, Sook, land deals, long cons, blackmail, and a stripper with an IQ higher than most members of MENSA, and Lacey doesn't know which suspect is the guilty party. At times it seems even the authors are unsure. With the authors one upping each other and making the stakes higher and the death rate escalate, we are not only waiting to see if Lacey and Paul get out of this crappy little town, but if Lisa and David will be able to get the book finished without killing each other or the entire populace of Mercer California.

Many authors when collaborating have decided to divide the work with alternating chapters. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan come to mind, as well as Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. But, one assumes, that they at least get along. Lisa and David, while disagreeing on almost every aspect of the book, except the title, have been able to create the funniest collaboration I have yet to read. Openly displaying hostility and willing to eek out a little retribution through calamity and downfall to the other author's favorite characters. With Lisa favoring Lacey and the doddering old Sook and David being Paul and Terry's biggest fan, it's fun reading and anticipating the ways the other author tries to change and manipulate the plot to their characters advantage. From Lisa having to kill a character twice and then his doppelganger as well, to David writing as if for a primary school reader, the banter back and forth is what drives this novel, almost more so than the plot.

I was impressed that they were able to come up with a cohesive and plausible ending, because they made no effort to tailor their own styles to fit together. David has a tendency to overwrite, to use stupidly named made up tv show titles and big words, I had to keep a dictionary handy in his chapters, and even then, sometimes, I was at a lose. As Lisa stated in one of her letters between the chapters, "Why in God's name would you use the words 'subfusc,' 'asperous,' and 'caliginious' in a freaking crime novel? Here's a rule worth following: If the spell-check doesn't recognize the word, don't use it!" To which I have to heartily agree. Because if I have to drag out the dictionary, it pulls me out of the story, no matter how fractured and funny it is. Whereas Lisa is a spare writer with sharp, refined wit, even if David got the biggest laugh out of me with his slur against David Caruso, letting me forgive the superfluous oleaginous. Also, Lisa is wrong, cats do need back stories. In the end, at the close of the day you will be left with a smile, a strong hope that they will be on book tour together, bickering across America, and the desperate need to hear more about their abandoned previous collaboration The Fop.


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