Heads You Lose
by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward
Reviewed by Doug Brown
[Editor's note: This review originally ran with the wrong book title. Apologies to our readers for the confusion. We've since fixed the error.]
It's not uncommon for two authors to work on a book together. It's also not uncommon for collaborating authors to each write alternate chapters. Slightly less common is for the two authors to be writing a mystery a chapter at a time, where neither knows in advance who the murderer is or what the other writer will do. What makes Heads You Lose unique is that Lisa Lutz and David Hayward included the emails they exchanged after each chapter was written. These messages basically say, "Here's where I'm going with this. Please don't mess it up too much," though they often contain criticisms of the other's chapters. Even footnotes that the authors made in each other's chapters are included in the book. The ground rules were that each author wrote her/his chapters unimpeded, and the other author couldn't go back and undo anything done by the first author.
The premise for Heads You Lose is siblings Paul and Lacey discover a headless corpse on their property. Paul has a business growing and selling marijuana, so calling the police isn't an option. He and Lacey move the corpse several miles away to a place where they hope it will be soon found. But the corpse is next found by Lacey -- back on their property.
Lutz is a mystery writer, but Hayward is a poet who has never written a novel. Their history is that they were once in a relationship that didn't end well, as is often alluded to in their correspondence. Hayward has a tendency towards show-off vocabulary, which repeatedly earns Lutz's ire: "Why in God's name would you use the words 'subfusc,' 'asperous,' and 'caliginous' in a freaking crime novel? Here's a rule worth following: If the spell-checker doesn't recognize the word, don't use it!" After one rant from Lutz about vocabulary, Hayward's next chapter is in large print and entirely consists of Dick & Jane sentences, like, "Irving the cat was on the porch. He was eating a dead bat. Chomp, chomp, chomp, went Irving." Lutz's response begins: "My thoughts, in chronological order: 1. Fuck you. 2. Seriously, fuck you."
The inclusion of the authors' emails and comments offers a glimpse into the process that's at times more entertaining than the story itself, and it almost makes two mysteries in one, as along with the actual murder mystery, the reader is trying to figure out what happened on that fateful vacation that's frequently referred to in the authors' emails. At one point Lutz mentions that her recollection of their relationship was "drinking and talking." Hayward responds that he recalls it more as "drinking and listening." The combativeness between the authors is also mirrored in Paul and Lacey, each of whom is working to solve the crime (oftentimes working against each other to do so). Heads You Lose is a quick read, and the deconstructionist format makes it a fun one.