Saturday, December 27, 2008

Craig McDonald's Toros & Torsos

About a year ago, it seemed anybody with even the slightest interest in crime fiction was talking my ear off about Head Games, the debut novel from Craig McDonald. When it finally reached the top of my TBR pile, I quickly realized why. Head Games was fast, funny, original, violent, well-researched, and a fucking hoot to boot.

A few months back marked the arrival of McDonald's Toros & Torsos, the prequel to Head Games, and I barely heard shit about it. The fuck is up with that, reading public? How'd you drop the fucking ball so quickly, how fickle can you faceless masses be? Because, no goddamn joke, T&T is even better than Head Games, a feat that I didn't think possible until, you know, I read it.

So if you're not familiar with Head Games you have to do two things for me:

1) Pull your head out of your ass.

2) Read the shit out of that motherfucker toot-fucking-sweet.

We last saw Hector Lassiter, the crime novelist protagonist of Head Games, shooting the minions of Prescott Bush to keep Pancho Villa's head out of the hands of a bunch of Yale alumnis. In Toros & Torsos Hector is a much younger man of thirty-five, hanging out in Key West with Hemmingway, sipping Mojitos and seducing women. This simple life of writing, drinking and fucking is rocked by the arrival of the stunning Rachel Harper, a huge fucking hurricane, and a bunch of butchered bodies that resemble certain works of surrealist art....

From there story spans over a quarter of a decade and along the way we meet tons of famous figures - the names of which I will not reveal because, well, it's a major part of the fun of the book. I will say that we do get to hang with Orson Welles once more, only younger, thinner, and apparently involved in one of the most famous murders of all time (it's a fucking brilliant plot twist).

T&T definitely does the alternative history thing a la James Ellroy, same as Head Games, and the book is just as much fun as it predecessor, but in different ways. Head Games was sort of like if McCarthy's No Country For Old Men had a sense of humor and a bunch of fun noir pop culture mixed into the plot. Toros & Torsos takes its time compared to Head Games, but it is a better novel for it. Also, there is not nearly as many bloody action sequences either. And it's more of a mystery/serial killer thing than a crime novel.

Yeah, I know. You're wondering, "Well, Nerd, if it's a mystery, a (sigh) serial killer thing, not as violent, and has a more deliberate plot, just why the fuck are you telling me that this a better novel than Head Games?" Fair question, imaginary, highly-incisive reader.

Fair question indeed, old friend.

The answer is actually a disgusting cliche that the Nerd fucking hates more than Dane Cook:

"Toros & Torsos is a novel one savors."

I fucking know, right? That word "savor" just makes you want to stab someone (well, I admittedly have a problem with nearly every word that is involved with food, but that might just be me). Anyhow, it's true. This book was just like getting a chance to spend time with a bunch of awesome historical characters from the literary, art and (especially exciting for The Nerd) cinematic worlds of the past.

McDonald has clearly researched a shit ton and it pays off - there is never a moment where you say "Hem wouldn't say that" or "Orson wouldn't do a thing like that." Though they may not have actually done and said the things they do and say in Toros & Torsos (at least let's hope not, anyway), you don't ever doubt that they could have.

But not only is there an all-out fucking buffet of cool characters for any geek to shit their pants over, but there's this fucking genius mystery plot holding it all together, this just brilliant, un-forced way to allow the reader the opportunity to be in all these awesome places in these amazing times with these iconic characters - it's a pretty fucking astounding feat, really.

And it's not like we're not in Forrest Gump-land either where we just drift along until someone else cool runs into Gump. No, there's this fucking tightly constructed, bloody thriller plot holding it all together. And then the horrible, shocking, satisfying, disgusting choices that Lassiter eventually has to make at the end? It's just so quietly brilliant, so fucking subtly bold an ending. But it's all just the fucking icing, man.

So yeah. Toros & Torsos is ridiculously awesome and I have my fingers and fucking toes crossed that McDonald will do at least one more Lassiter book because I'm not done hanging out in his beautiful, dark, violent world.


Corey Wilde said...

I'm in full agreement with you, this was -- by far -- the best book I read in 2008. Yeah, even better than 'Head Games.'

The good news? There are FIVE more Lassiter novels to come and -- are you sitting your ass down? -- they've already been written. McDonald is not only a friggin' genius, he's a workaholic. 'Print the Legend' comes out in the fall of '09.

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