Heads You Lose
Lisa Lutz and David Hayward
302 pp hdb $24.99
By Diane Weddington
Paul and Lacey Hansen, orphan siblings who sell marijuana grown in their basement in rural northern California, find a headless corpse in their backyard woods. Not wanting their pot business discovered, they do not call police, but instead dump the corpse in a remote part of a nearby park.
Less than a week later someone dumps the same corpse on their doorstep. Who is the victim? Who knew they dumped the corpse and brought it back?
With the help of a geriatric pot buyer, a reclusive war vet and Paul’s stripper girlfriend Brandy who is also a genius, the Hansens try to find the murderer before one or both of them is killed.
“Heads You Lose” might have been an interesting mystery. The authors effectively portray the paranoia of pot growers, the close-knit network of buyers which allows the trade to flourish and the complex relationships of neighbors in a small community.
Might have been. The dual authorship, which is meant to be the unique selling point of this book, is in fact its weakness and ultimately the reason it fails.
Lisa Lutz and David Hayward were once romantic partners. Lutz, the author of the well-received Spellman mysteries, invited Hayward to collaborate with her. She would write the first and all odd chapters and the final chapter; he would write the even chapters. They would each maintain the plot.
They were not supposed to discuss what they planned to do, but were allowed to make email comments to each other after reading each other’s new chapter. These emails are included after each chapter in the book, as are the comments each could not resist making within the body while reading.
Many critics have found this scathing banter highly amusing. It gets personal early on, with each recalling the incidents that originally split their relationship. Maybe, if their relationship were the point of this collaboration, it would work.
It is not. In an effort to defy or undermine each other, Lutz and Hayward throw too many twists into the story. People die or disappear not because they should but because one author wishes to tweak another.
In several cases Lutz warns Hayward, a poet given to ostentatious and excess verbiage, to simplify his writing. He responds first with a parody of Dick and Jane children’s books, then ramps up his allusions and words to an even higher level.
Their exchange seems, in the end, simply a childish stunt of two peeved ex-lovers who wrote a book best left unread.
Having claimed the right to end the book because she is the reputed mystery writer, Lutz does write the ending. It is a weak and unbelievable ending. True, most readers will keep reading to find out the identity of the murderer, but it’s a long and painful trek to that end.
Those who want to read a good collaboration would do better to try Caribbean Blues, edited by Mary Higgins Clark. Those who like bantering ex-couples would be better served by watching When Harry met Sally.