In his first adventure, set in 1957 (chronicled in Craig McDonald's delightful novel Head Game), noir novelist and Black Mask alumnus Hector Lassiter traveled to Mexico seeking the head of Pancho Villa at the behest of Prescott Bush. Toros and Torsos, in which Lassiter seems to always be one step behind a serial killer inspired by surrealist art, begins in 1935 in the Florida Keys, moves on to Spain in 1937, continues in Hollywood in 1947, and concludes in 1959 in Cuba. As in its predecessor, the womanizing, hard as nails, violence prone Lassiter ("the writer who lives what he writes") moves in elite circles throughout, rubbing elbows with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, John Huston and Rita Hayworth.
McDonald's sophomore effort is a lot of fun, as the author effortlessly and credibly incorporates his characters and storyline into such real life happenings as the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, the Spanish Civil War, the filming of The Lady from Shanghai, and the Black Dahlia murders. Reminiscent of the fine work that Max Allan Collins has done in his Nate Heller series, Toros and Torsos manages to convey interesting historical tidbits even as it entertains. Although lethal tough guy Lassiter is indeed larger than life, his presence among the likes of Hemingway and Welles feels appropriate, as if he actually were a vital part of that notable crowd. Add McDonald's myriad, but uniformly clever, allusions to all things noir to the mix, and you get one captivating read.