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American/Cozy Mysteries

Vinnie's Head, Marc Lecard, St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95.

Vinnie's Head by Marc Lecard

I like when a book makes me laugh out loud - it happens so rarely! There are a few authors who are capable of it - I've laughed aloud at Sharyn McCrumb, Janet Evanovich, Carl Hiassen, Sarah Caudwell and Pamela Branch - but the newest member of the laugh aloud club is Marc Lecard. As you can probably tell from the title of this book, it's not a serious affair, but it's written with professional panache and the story is great. It carries you right along.

The premise is Donald Westlake worthy - the hapless (some might say, stupid) Johnnie LoDuco opens up the action by snagging not a fish, as he fishes in the Long Island Sound, but a head - and not just any head, but the head of his best friend, Vinnie. Johnnie for whatever reason decides he can't abandon the head of his best friend, so he hauls it away with him in a cooler he brought for the fish he didn't catch. Then Lecard backtracks the action - relating how a tantalizing trail of free cigarettes and lunch meat across a parking lot got Johnnie into a car with people he shouldn't have been hanging out with. For some reason, Johnnie is the only one who ends up in jail, and when he gets out he is at loose ends. When he hooks up with his old friend Vinnie it looks to Johnnie like his luck is turning.

As Vinnie, and his beautiful, but slightly scary, girlfriend, Jennifer, take Johnnie in, Vinnie tells Johnnie about his scheme for the three of them to end up in Paraguay with millions of dollars thanks to a clever credit card scam. To any reasonable person, this is not only a ridiculous story, but completely laughable. It's on a par with those e-mails you get from Africa, promising you many thousands of dollars if only you will accept their wire transfer. Johnnie, though, falls for it hook, line and sinker. When the story veers back to the present, Johnnie is alone in Vinnie's garage with his head in the freezer and a cabinet full of ramen noodles and instant coffee. Periodically Johnnie is beset by various thugs looking for Vinnie's money, a bounty hunter, and the elusive Jennifer, who more than proves to the even vaguely intelligent reader that she is not to be trusted. Johnnie, however, is captivated by Jennifer and doesn't really seem to be able to think straight when he's around her.

This is a caper story with a very low wattage bulb at its center, which really only serves to make it funnier. By the time (towards the end of the book) that the reader gets to a certain Humvee and Johnnie's new friends Patrice and Bogdon, the laughs are coming fast and furious. The loose ends are very neatly tied up at the end of the story, those deserving of it are punished, and fun has been had by all. This is a very promising debut which is a more than welcome addition to the mystery pantheon - there needs to be more books that make people laugh out loud. At this moment, even thinking "Bogdon" makes me chuckle. Read it and find out for yourself.

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