All writers dream of a magic wand. Writing is easy, until you have to tie the ends together and finish it. You know, those chapters where you’ve written yourself into a corner, and the protagonist can’t escape without extensive re-writes and general havoc. That’s when I wish that I could e-mail the chapter to another writer, go take a nap, and let them figure it out. That’s basically how Heads You Lose was born. Lisa Lutz, whose Spellman series already tested the boundaries of traditional mystery writing, wanted to try collaborating with another author. So, she looked up her ex-boyfriend, poet David Hayward. (Seriously, ex-boyfriend and poet? How could this project go wrong?) She wrote the odd chapters, he wrote the even—no outline or details of the plot were agreed upon ahead of time.
It’s thus that we meet Paul and Lacey Hansen, twenty-something siblings living in a small town in Northern California. Lacey has had one foot out the door and dreams of the big city since before her parents died. She hesitates to leave her less-than-responsible brother Paul alone, with only his (their) pot growing business. Yes, I said pot. When they find a decapitated body dumped on their lawn in the wee hours of the morning, Lacey resolves her last act before riding off into the sunset will be to solve the murder.
However, the zany plot is only a one element of the fun of Heads You Lose. The authors have included not only their e-mails to each other, but a rash of footnotes where we can read their thoughts in almost real-time as they review each other’s work (One reads: “What the hell is going on here? Is this the same novel?”). As the plot unfolds, so does the authors’ tether to civility. Often, the disagreements and rehashing of past gripes is written into the narrative, along with every genre cliché imaginable. Characters appear, are killed off, and reappear. There’s even an omniscient cat that brings clues conveniently to the protagonist. Oh, I almost forget the stripper with a limp and a Mensa IQ.
A brilliant pastiche on the process of writing a mystery, Lutz and Hayward pull aside the curtain and show the writer’s perspective of the shaping of a novel, at the same time executing a fun and fast-paced mystery. Though admittedly over the top, this is a book that can be enjoyed by seasoned readers and writers alike. I look forward to their next collaboration... I just hope they don’t kill each other first.
If you like Heads You Lose (Signed $24.95), I also suggest:
Lisa Lutz’s Spellman series
-Chantelle Aimée Osman