Black House Books, PB, 2007, $14.95, 300 pages, ISBN #978-0-615-44110-8
Memorial day weekend is by tradition the start of summer, and the beginning of vacation season. It’s when we look forward to ice cream, baseball and garage sales . . . as well as “lazy hazy days,” halter tops, short shorts, sandals and flowers blooming for three months or more. A lot of us think it’s the best time of the year . . . when we hop in the car and go places to see things. And that’s why I’m kicking off the summer reading season with one of the most kick-ass road trip novels I’ve read since Jack Kerouac.
The novel is Head Games was nominated for an Edgar in 2008, for Best First Novel, and is “Equal parts road novel, crime caper and historical fiction; a black comedy and wistful ballad of lost America rooted in borderland myth and history.” That quote from the liner notes. Book one is subtitled, 1957: The Land of Hope and Dreams, and the first sentence reads : “We were sitting in a backroom of a cantina on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, three drinks in, when Bill Wade reached into the dusty duffel bag he had tucked under the table and plunked down the Mexican generals head.”
The head is that of Doroteo Arango; known to all the world as Generalissimo Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the charismatic leader of the peasant army who nearly won the Mexican Civil War in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Yeah, that guy . . . Pancho Villa. A huge bounty is being offered for the head by Prescott Bush, the director of the CIA, a member of the infamous, and secret, Skull and Bones society at Yale University, the father of George Herbert Walker Bush, and grandfather of George W. Bush. Yeah. Those Bush’s. That plan is opposed by about ten-thousand Mexican criminals, drug loads and their murderous, crazy, armed-to-the-teeth thugs, all of whom are bent on keeping the icon in Mexico. Within a few pages of the first sentence, an all-out machine-gun and pistol fight takes place that leaves almost all the participants dead, and the narrator/protagonist Hector Lassiter fleeing for his life, running for the border in his ’57 Chevy Belaire, with two carloads of unidentified hostiles in close pursuit. The chase, and the gun battles, run from Texas, to California, to New Haven Connecticut and back to Texas as everyone tries to get the head. This one will leave you on the edge of your seat gasping for air and calling for more while laughing your butt off. It’s fast and furious and fun in equal measures.