Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward
Published by G.P. Putnam & Sons, an imprint of Penguin
Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman comedic crime novels, wants to write her next book with a collaborator. You know, each of them writing alternate chapters so that they figure out ‘who done it’ right along with the the reader. Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Except she asks her ex, David Hayward, who is a poet without any experience writing novels – crime or otherwise. He agrees, but things quickly get snarky, to say the least. Still, in the midst of footnotes and terse notes back and forth between chapters, Lisa and David do get their story going. Paul and Lacey are orphaned siblings living in Northern California when a dead, headless body ends up on their property. Except they can’t exactly call the cops, since Paul makes their money by growing marijuana. They try dumping the body, but when it ends up back on their property, Lacey realizes she has to get to the bottom of this, especially when she realizes who the body belonged to.
Heads You Lose is made of pure hilarity and win. Seriously. As far as the actual story goes, Heads You Lose is very compelling. The mystery is set up surprisingly well, given that the authors are supposedly alternating chapters without an outline, with no more guidance than what has already been written. Likewise, the characters are interesting and relatable, even as some of them get caught in the crossfire of warring authors and experience more personality changes or resurrections than one might otherwise think likely. If this story had been the entire story, I would likely have still read and enjoyed Heads You Lose.
Except that wasn’t the entire story. The interplay between Lutz and Hayward is what took Heads You Lose from enjoyable to fantastic. I lived for the footnotes, which served as asides from the author who was reading the chapter for the first time. and the notes back and forth between the two authors at the end of each chapter. Occasionally they worked well together, but at other times things became bitter and snarky and oh so much fun. After being criticized by Lutz for being overly erudite for a mystery novel, one of Hayward’s chapters is written in large, double spaced text with a very Dick and Jane style. Obviously this didn’t particularly advance the mystery, but it was a fantastic chapter to build the tension between the co-authors, which is as much the story as the mystery is. Also from Hayward, is this snarky little message to Lutz, in reference to her assertion in one of the notes that there were plenty of other writers she could have asked to collaborate:
P.S. About your stable of would-be collaborators, I don’t doubt that all of those authors are adept at building and resolving intricate mysteries. But I’d argue that bringing a psycho to justice on the page and cowriting a book with one require different skill sets.
I heard a little rumor that this might be the start of a new series for Lutz and Hayward, and I sincerely hope that this is true, but whether it is or not, Heads You Lose stands very well on its own, no annoying loose threads that are not tied up. In the meantime, while I’m waiting to hear the announcement of another book, I’m just going to go and read all of Lutz’s Spellman books in hopes of reclaiming the awesome.
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