Happily, I was given an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley for an honest review which was exciting since I’ve been a fan of Lisa Lutz for a long time now. The Spellman Files is a six book series that follows the quirky Spellman family who have no boundaries and run their own investigative business out of their home in San Francisco. In Heads, You Lose, every other chapter is written either by Lutz or her ex-boyfriend David Hayword and as they write a murder mystery they also trade barbs with one another in the footnotes (I really, really love this book). When I saw that Lutz had a new book coming out and that it was a departure from her typical sarcastic, light and ridiculous (in a good way) tone I was very curious how it was going to turn out. Of course, it also had the tag of “for the fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train”…which made me wary. Is every book written now for the fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train? Good lord. I’m happy to report that I don’t think this book is anything like the two of those books. As a reader you have to be willing to be confused, Lutz reveals little bits and pieces of information from the past, or communications in the present that really don’t make much sense without context. Slowly, the context falls into place but for the most part we follow the main character doing things that we don’t truly understand.
The book opens with Tanya DuBois finding her husband Frank dead from a heart attack at the bottom of the stairs. For reasons that will slowly be given to the reader throughout the course of the book, she decides to leave rather than call the police. We learn that Tanya is not her real name and through emails from the past, we learn that whomever she is, had to leave her hometown due to a crime. What we don’t know is whether or not she actually committed that crime and why no one wants her to return home. Assuming another identity, Tanya (now Amelia) bonds with a female bartender named Blue who recognizes a kindred spirit in Tanya. Both of them are running away from their pasts. However, Blue’s not quite like Tanya and her own ethics are much more lax than hers. In fact, Blue was the only part of the book that I didn’t really love because she just seemed so invested in Tanya/Nora and I wasn’t quite sure why. She stands out like a sore thumb and reminded me of Dexter in female form (no, she’s not a serial killer but her code reminds me of his).
The whole book is Tanya shedding identities, moving around the country, evading police and attempting to simply hide in plain sight. She still has ties to someone named Ryan in their hometown. Through the sporadic emails over the years the reader gets the sense that they were once in love, that Ryan can’t face her coming home and seems defensive over something from their past. We can also tell that Nora (Tanya’s original name) has secrets that could bring everyone down if she returned home.
I think what I enjoyed most is that the character of Tanya (aka Amelia, Nora, Debra etc). She is a mix of vulnerable and resourceful. She’s capable and yet believably so. I got the sense that she’s learned these skills on the road, she wasn’t graced with MacGuyver like abilities. I think the reader can tell that she’s had a rough time living a life that isn’t her own for the past eight years and that she’s tired of the secrets, tired of the lies and yet there’s no end to any of these things–in fact, they escalate. She, as a woman has certain things to deal with that a man on the run wouldn’t have to worry about. It’s not a particularly fast book, and often it seems repetitive because she does a lot of changing identity, attempting to establish safe places to stay but I didn’t see this as a detriment to the story. As it continued, I wanted her to succeed and I wanted to be able to get her life back but was unsure if that was even a possibility.