Inspired perhaps by those round-robin collaborations published 75 years ago by England’s Detection Club, Lutz (The Spellmans Strike Again, 2010, etc.) and Hayward add a new twist: The two collaborators, each responsible for alternating chapters, are in sharp disagreement about how the tale should be told.
When she finds a headless corpse on her California farm, Lacey Hansen can’t call the cops because they’d see that she and her brother Paul were growing marijuana. Instead, they dump the remains in a suitably remote location before they realize that the dead man was their old schoolmate Darryl Cleveland. Or maybe he wasn’t, as Lacey realizes when Darryl turns up alive. Now it looks like the murder victim must be Paul’s old friend and mentor, veteran cannabis grower Terry Jakes. At least according to Lutz, whose chapter identifies him as such. But Hayward, unwilling to bid farewell to such a promising character, brings him back to life—hey, didn’t Lutz do it?—before Lutz emphatically kills him off again when it’s her turn. And so it goes and goes, with Lutz demanding in the exchange of notes that end each installment that Hayward develop clues that will solve the mystery, and Hayward observing that Lutz, whose preferred resolution to any untoward complications is to cut the Gordian knot by another murder, must be “the Pol Pot of mystery writing.”
The surprise here is how little all this whimsical metatextual byplay changes the formula of alarums, excursions, red herrings and other tangents beloved of the genre; it just invites the authors to join the eternally bickering sleuths.