Head Games Paperback – Sep 15 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In McDonald's fun, deft debut, set mostly in 1957, Sen. Prescott Bush has sent out the call: bring me the head of Pancho Villa, the late Mexican revolutionary. Aging writer Hector Mason Lassiter, author of pulp novels like The Land of Fear and Dread and Border Town, gets caught in the crossfire between Mexican nationalists and frat boys out to place Villa's head in Yale's Skull and Bones Society trophy case. Along the road to hell, Lassiter picks up a young love interest while dropping in on Orson Welles and Marlene Dietrich on the set of Touch of Evil, but that doesn't slow down the action (it's a tricky thing, firing for flesh wounds with a machine gun at close range). Reminiscent of James Crumley's Milo Milodragovich PI novels but Crumley lite, this slick caper novel touches chords of myth, history, loss and redemption just enough so you can hear echoes faintly under the gunfire. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
It's 1957, and novelist Hec Lassiterwho followed Black Jack Pershing into Mexico to hunt Pancho Villa, befriended Hemingway, worked with Dashiell Hammett, bedded Marlene Dietrich, and helped Orson Welles script his filmsis feeling his age. But when an old pal sets Villa's head on the table of a cantina in the Mexican desert, Hec is up for another adventure: delivering the head to Senator Prescott Bush (father of 41, grandfather of 43) so that it can be used in secret ceremonies at Yale's Skull and Bones Society. What follows is an exuberantly over-the-top romp conflating real events with legends and filled with murderous federales, murderous old Villistas, additional decapitations, mercenaries, unhinged Yale frat boys, CIA spooks (also Yalies), and enough gratuitous violence to fill several Steven Seagal films. There's even a cameo from a callow, foul-mouthed Skull and Bones initiate named "George W." Much of Head Games reads like a picaresque adventure, but McDonald's portraits of Welles, Dietrich, and Pancho Villa are beguiling and seem knowing. This one is simply great fun! Gaughan, Thomas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hector has come into possession of the skull of Pancho Villa. Like Rick's transit visas in Casablanca, it seems that Hector will never be lonely as long as he has that infamous skull. He is pursued across Mexico and California by federales, frat boys, and the father of a future Presidential dynasty. Along the way, Hector makes time to visit old friends like Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles who are in the middle of filming noir classic "A Touch of Evil." Towards the end of the book, we even get to meet a young man named George W at the Skull and Bones Tomb on the campus at Yale.
The book is a great read on many levels. There is enough action, cussing, and violence to satisfy Quenton Tarantino. But this is a thinking person's novel too. There are literal and figurative "Head Games" going on thoughout the book. Hector Lassiter is trying to plot his way out of his predicament like he would plot one of his own crime novels. He succeeds on some levels, but finds that he is unable to control the people he comes in contact with the same way he can control characters in his novels.
Author McDonald maintains complete control over an amazing cast of characters in "Head Games." The plot and the writing will keep you turning the pages. The clever and ironic dialogue will keep you smiling.
If you like crazy road stories filled with wild characters (a la Kerouac), with a secretive and manipulative organization out to get the main character (think DaVinci Code in Connecticut), along with the sense of humor of Comedy Central's Daily Show, you will love this novel.
Ok, it really is a book about people chasing other people who may or may not have Pancho Villa's head. It really is, no kidding. And with that absurd premise Craig McDonald has written a book that actually works as a boisterous, thrill filled action adventure that is a blast to read.
The legend of Villa's head being stolen by Harvard's Skull and Bones Society has been documented throughout the years. It was brought up during the Presidential campaign because rumor had it that Preston Bush- yup, of those Bushes- was involved at the time. McDonald uses these myths to form the basis for the aptly titled Head Games. He creates a hard boiled crime writer, his newbie interviewer, a beautiful Mexican girl and throws them into the middle of the fight for possession of Villa's decapitated head (now a skull.) It is filled with car chases, lots of blood and a little love.
Head Games is a novel with a strong plot, characters who are characters and plenty of action. Lines like "But talking about your plans is the surest way to make God laugh " prove McDonald's writing prowess. This also shows one of the book's strengths- it sense of humor. McDonald never takes his characters seriously, he lets them run amok with just enough leash on them to prevent them from getting totally out of hand. His crime writer, Lassiter, hangs out with the big wigs of the 1950s- Hemingway, Dietrich and Welles are all brought into the scene. The plot thread that has Lassiter not speaking to Hemingway over a past argument adds a fun touch of fictitious realism. The pile of bodies grows, the number of enemies is ever increasing and the chase seems never ending. And characters from history traipse through the pages, recapturing their forgotten place in our little remembered past.
The other surprising strength of the book is its ending, Book 2. It has its end of the adventure, culminating climax that is expected. But the continuation of the story through the years to the book's and the story's actual ending is a charming twist. It adds pathos and emotion to the over all appeal and depth to the book. Unexpected yet appreciated.
Bleak House has again found an author and his book that is just off the norm into the creative and diverse. Head Games is a serous bit of black hearted tomfoolery that entertains and diverts.
I also read his TOROS & TORSOS later book of a earlier version of Hector Lassiter with other horrible acts of man on man, or should I say woman on man.
The bottom line is that the research that had to be done to write this book is worth reading just to get an idea of what was happening at this time in history unknown to most of us.
Hector Lassiter is many things: a one-time pulp writer, a novelist, a screenwriter, an adventurer, a lover of fine women, and a man who is willing to do what it takes to get the job done. In this case the job is to thwart the bad guys and return the long decapitated head of Mexican legend Pancho Villa to its true resting place.
You can read a detailed summation of the plot here already, so no need for me to go into that. But what I would like to impress on a curious reader who is thinking of giving this book a try is that Hector is not like many other crime novel protagonists. He's a man with flaws and a definite dark side. He does some things that will make you wonder about his moral compass, but definitely make him more human and believable. For those of you who are sick of so many of todays crime series heroes who never seem to age or change or develop this book is for you, because Hector ages, changes and develops right here in this one book.
I loved the book and wait with much anticipation for the prequel which is titled Toros & Torsos and is due out in late Summer/early Fall. I hope Mr. McDonald will treat us to many more of his imaginative works because he is simply a first rate writer.
The story, while not at all realistic (and not designed to be), is very entertaining and fast-paced, with plenty of dark humor and mystery to hold your attention. The main characters are the sort you can't help but love, even as you shake your head at their questionable values.
I greatly enjoyed the experience of immersing myself in the story. My only criticism is that, with so many surprises and twists and characters, there were a few times it just became overwhelming and a bit hard to follow.
Overall, even though this is not a genre I normally enjoy, I have to say this is the most well-written and satisfying read I've had in quite some time!