Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TOROS & TORSOS - Craig McDonald

First line: "'Can I sit with you for a time, sir?'"

TOROS & TORSOS is the second book in the Hector Lassiter series. This novel finds Hector living in the Florida Keys in 1935 when a hurricane is preparing to strike. Hector picks up Rachel in a bar with the help of a few friends and a rather shady plan. His plan is more along the lines of a one-night stand, but his plan goes a bit awry. As Hector begins to care more about Rachel than a one-night stand, strange murders begin to occur around the Keys, murders that resemble, even mimic Surrealist art. But these murders don't stop for Hector in the Keys, they follow him into Spain and later Hollywood. Is this a case of life imitating art or art imitating life?

Craig McDonald once again makes use of his unique epic-style time line in the plot of TOROS & TORSOS. What makes this series all the more unique however, is that the novels interweave on that timeline with one another. They aren't simply chronological. The style allows readers to pick up anywhere in the series without missing details that may show up in later books. It also allows the readers to see how the books fit together on Hector's timeline, regardless of what order they are read.

Also in the style of HEAD GAMES, McDonald peppers the plot with historical figures: Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles play prominent figures in this novel. Rita Hayworth makes an appearance. They, and their own histories, blend seamlessly into the life of Hector Lassiter. I found myself needing to Google quite often as I read, driven to find more out about a time period, a person or an event. And every time I did, the facts were straight and the events of the novel were absolutely plausible.

McDonald changes from HEAD GAMES in point of view, however. TOROS & TORSOS takes on the third person limited point of view, whereas HEAD GAMES is told from Hector Lassiter's first person voice. McDonald's versatility makes both approaches effective and memorable.

McDonald has created a rich, robust character in Lassiter, the man who "writes what he lives and lives what he writes." Anyone who reads this series knows that Lassiter is much more than that, too. He can be a womanizer, but he can also be attuned to women, often more so than the other men around Lassiter. He can be ready for a rumble, but knows when a rumble is counter-productive. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but he can be deeply affected by events, by people, by fate. Hector Lassiter is not a character who can be easily compartmentalized because he reflects humanity by acting out of character or exhibiting hypocrisy. In reality, that's what most people do. Lassiter is worthy of the epic hero role.

A small element I enjoyed in both novels, but especially in TOROS & TORSOS was McDonald's use of quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Having listened to T&T on audio book, these quotes are more pronounced; I can't glance over them as I might be tempted to while reading. And hearing them emphasised their perfect placement and enhancement to the text. The quote opening Chapter 27 not only enhanced the text, but McDonald's whole approach to this series:

"There is no logic...The acts of life have no beginning and no end. Everything happens in a completely idiotic way."
Many writers will TALK about "pushing boundaries" or "transcending genre." McDonald DOES those things with flair and panache. This is a novel that will haunt your thoughts and dreams long after you've finished. Its plot and characters will haunt you; its language will haunt you; its beauty will haunt you. And if you finish this novel and it doesn't race to the forefront of your mind every time you hear "Ernest Hemingway," "Surrealism," "Orson Welles," etc., you are a far stronger person than I. Or maybe stronger person isn't the right comparison.
TOROS & TORSOS isn't traditional; it isn't conventional. It's thought-provoking; it's brilliant; and it's a must-read.

I listened to TOROS & TORSOS on audio from Recorded Book, narrated by Tom Stechschulte. Stechschulte also narrated HEAD GAMES. He does an outstanding job with pitch, tone, and pace for the hardened pulp fiction writer. I didn't have any trouble latching on to his sound as the sound of Hector Lassiter. As a matter of fact, I listened to another audio book not long after TOROS & TORSOS that was also read by Stechshulte and it took me about three chapters to adjust to the fact that it wasn't a Hector Lassiter novel I was listening to. This is a great combination of reader and character.

TOROS & TORSOS is published by Bleak House Books in hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-60648-000-7) or trade paper (ISBN: 978-1-60648-001-4), and the audio book version is available from Recorded Books (ISBN: 978-1-4407-1657-7).


le0pard13 February 9, 2010 at 9:43 AM  

Great audiobook review, Jen. I have this one scheduled right after Craig Johnson's DEATH WITHOUT COMPANY. So looking forward to another Lassiter. Thanks, Jen.

Naomi Johnson February 9, 2010 at 10:50 AM  

I love-love-LOVE this book! Somebody tell me again why it didn't get an Edgar? That still hasn't sunk in for me.

C.T. Henry February 9, 2010 at 1:15 PM  

What are you doing when you are listening to audio books? Are you in the car?

Craig McDonald February 9, 2010 at 8:42 PM  

Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and probing review, Jen. Truly, I'm grateful beyond words.


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