April 26, 2011

BOOKS: Heads You Lose, Lisa Lutz & David Hayward (2011)

It's two, two, two books in one!

In a brief editor's note, we are told that Lutz and Hayward agreed to collaborate on this novel, writing alternate chapters. They would do no advance plotting, and neither was allowed to change the plot developments the other had added to the story. Each occasionally comments on the other's chapters in footnotes, and at the end of each chapter, we get to read a brief exchange of notes between them. That situation is complicated by the fact that Lutz and Hayward were once romantically involved; their relationship appears to have ended rather badly, and it is strongly suggested that the end was brought about by their last attempt at collaboration.

A serious quibble here: No advance plotting for a murder mystery? Even for a fictional setup, it stretches credulity that any authors would think they could pull that off successfully.

But that's the conceit, and the Lutz/Hayward relationship is always present in the background as we read the mystery they've concocted, which is set in northern California, where 20ish brother and sister Paul and Lacey are rather aimlessly drifting through life in a small town. Paul grows pot; Lacey works at the local coffeeshop; each has quiet dreams of getting out of this place. When a headless corpse turns up on their property, they can't exactly call the cops -- all those pot plants, you know -- so they move the body to someplace where they figure it will be found fairly quickly. But things go awry, and it's not long before Paul and Lacey are working to solve the crime themselves.

As the professional relationship between Lutz and Hayward begins to fray, and their footnotes and chapter notes become more hostile, the sibling relationship between Paul and Lacey shows some strain, too, with each wondering if the other might be involved in the murder. The rule about not undoing the other author's plot points goes out the window; one character dies, turns out not to be dead after all, and dies again in consecutive chapters.

Given the "no pre-planning" rule, it's not surprising that the mystery rambles a bit (and let's face it, tight plotting was not one of the strengths of Lutz's novels about the Spellman family), but it does so in an amiable enough fashion, and it's fun to watch the authors take increasingly vicious pot shots at each other in their chapters. (Lutz frequently complains that Hayward uses too many obscure words; his response to those complains is the single best joke in the book.)

Heads You Lose isn't going to win any awards, and it's not at the level of Lutz's earlier work (it's Hayward's first novel), but it's an amusing piece of fluff.

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