Head Games author McDonald has used a number of real people and events in this zany work of fiction. The line between what is real and what isn't is constantly blurred, possibly causing readers to scramble to Google or Wikpedia to check facts. While the protagonist, Hector Lassiter and his sidekick Bud Fiske are fictional, readers also meet Orson Welles and Marlene Dietrich on a movie set, Jack Webb via phone and the current President Bush appears as a prominent character in Book Three. Ernest Hemingway, through numerous mentions, plays an interesting role as a sort of shadow character to Lassiter's life.
Fact: Pancho Villa was a real person who achieved a sort of cult folk hero status before being killed in New Mexico. Fact: The head of Pancho is no longer buried with Pancho's body. Commonly believed, but may not be fact: The head of Pancho Villa is in the Skull and Bones Society House at Yale University.
McDonald, playing into Americans' fascination with secret societies and the legends surrounding Pancho Villa's head, has created a first rate novel that's part historical fiction, part thriller and totally entertaining. Hector Lassiter, a crime writer for Black Mask Magazine. Lassiter, and his sidekick Bud Fiske, set out to find Pancho's head and deliver it to Senator Prescott Bush. Bush is offering $25,000 so that the head can be used by Yale's Skull and Bones Society in ceremonies. Lassiter faces two major problems with this quest. First he has to actually get the head, and second he has to keep Villa's head while literally keeping his. What follows is a road trip that's sort of what would happen if Thelma and Louise dropped into a Dirty Harry movie. There's plenty of shootouts and car chases for the action junkies, but the book is also laugh out loud funny in an Elmore Leonard sort of way.
The one thing I didn't like about Head Games, has nothing to do with the story, but rather the cover of the book. The front cover just does not do the book justice. It gives book browsers very little hint as to the good things that await them inside. Fortunately, the backside blurb does. Head Games has been nominated for the Best First Novel Edgar Award. It's a nomination clearly deserved.
REVIEWED BY CARYN ST. CLAIR
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