Review of “Heads You Lose”

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Clear the calendar, call into work, and hire a sitter — you’ve got a book to read and it deserves your full attention.

Lisa Lutz may be as big as stars get in the galaxy of comedic crime novels, while David Hayward runs a small writing and editing business. Lutz is the bestselling author of the popular Spellman series, while Hayward’s poetry has been published in a magazine or two. She’s got her eyes on an ever-moving plot, and he’s creating and developing characters left and right. Oh, and the two once dated, watched their relationship crash and burn, and then stopped speaking for years.

Nothing rebuilds the foundation of friendship like co-authoring a book, right? Well, jury’s still out on that one, but it sure makes for an enticing read.

The plot centers on two unlikely detectives. Paul and Lacey Hansen are twenty-somethings living together in a small rural town in Northern California, where they’re making a living growing marijuana and selling it to locals. But when a headless corpse shows up and harshes their buzz in the first chapter, those locals become suspects as the Hansens embark on an investigation that has them uncovering shady secrets about their seemingly sleepy town.

Lutz and Hayward use the platform to re-hash old wounds and make new ones. Like any collaboration there were ground rules: alternating chapters, fifty-fifty split, and an agreement that, as the big namer here, Lutz was technically in control.

All standard, but Lutz and Hayward have seen fit to include their dialogue about the book within the book. Interspersed within each chapter are notes from the other author — mostly criticizing vocabulary usage or mocking ideas for plot twists — and then each chapter concludes with notes between Lutz and Hayward (more criticizing, more mocking).

At times, the banter can be a lot like middle schoolers leaving mean notes in each other’s lockers, but nine times out of ten, it’s hilarious. Sure, the two leave plot on the back-burner in an effort to frustrate the other a time or two, but it makes the plot of the book that much more interesting.

As readers, it becomes clear why Lutz keeps killing off Hayward’s favorite characters. The presentation of the novel emits an understanding of how the magic of the written word is crafted, and it’s messy.

As the authors attempt to untangle the plot and their characters attempt to solve the murder, both pairs become increasingly hostile and passive-aggressive.

After Lutz chews Hayward out for using unnecessarily fancy words for a crime novel in his chapters, he retaliates — in a big way, and in big font. He writes in a note “As for the vocabulary, I’ll try to turn it down a notch.” The following chapter is in a large, children’s book-sized font and opens with “Terry was cutting the pretty plants. Cut, cut, cut, went the scissors.” Hayward then concludes the chapter with a note reading “Hope you were able to follow along without pictures.”

Thus, “Heads You Lose” provides two captivating tales. On one side, it’s a crime story featuring two off-beat detectives as they meet a fascinatingly diverse cast of characters with quirks to boot. And on the flip side, it’s a discerning glimpse into the story of two authors, with a plethora of baggage and biting remarks for the other, as they come together for the common good of a great book.

And both sides of the coin are most definitely winning.

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