Friday, June 18, 2010

The Spellmans Strike Again Brings Back That Crazy, Lovable Family

Lisa Lutz first introduced Isabel Spellman and lunatic-ridden family in her 2007 debut novel The Spellman Files. The Spellmans run a family-owned private investigation agency in San Francisco, but they are far from your typical small family business owners. They are each other's worst nightmare. In fact, they spend almost as much time spying on one another as they spend conducting investigations for paying customers. Izzy, the narrator, is the thirty-something middle child who never grew up -- or, at least it took several extra years. In the previous three books, she gets into all kinds of trouble. In this fourth (and I've heard last) installment, Izzy is a bit more level-headed, but the rest of the family continues with their crazy antics.

I really don't want to give away the storyline of the previous three installments in the series, so instead of focusing solely on The Spellmans Strike Again, I'll introduce you to the cast of characters:

  • Albert Spellman: The patriarch of the family, he's an ex-cop who bought the business from an old-school private investigator. So far, he's made a decent living for his family. Although sometimes slightly sneaky, he's actually the quiet one.
  • Olivia Spellman: Mother and number one family spy. And by family spy, I mean the one who spies on family members the most. But, after all, she's the mother -- it's her job to make sure her eldest isn't cheating on his wife and to ruin Izzy's going-nowhere relationships. If she didn't have her children's lives to meddle in, what fun would life be?
  • David Spellman: The oldest and only male Spellman child, he's also the only semi-normal member of the family. Although in the last book, he made that a subject of much speculation (and spying, of course). Once a stable, employed and productive member of society, he's recently become both unemployed and divorced...
  • Isabel Spellman: Protagonist, middle child, and perpetually rebellious adolescent (even after 30). However, recently (as aforementioned) she's become ever-so-much more mature. Except in relationships, as she's currently seeing the bartender at her local bar, primarily for convenience's sake. She would be there anyway; he would be there anyway... You get the picture. Might as well date, right?
  • Rae Spellman: The youngest sibling (currently still in high school), she is the true wild-card of the bunch. A genius, but a misguided one. She's gone missing (The Spellman Files -- Book#1), stalked a policeman (Curse of the Spellmans -- Book#2), and forever seems to be torturing her family (all 4 novels). When she wants something, she goes after it with all guns blazing -- and she always wants something.
Intertwined with the Spellman family members is a recurring cast of characters who are hilarious in their own right. Izzy's best friend is the 80-plus retired lawyer Morty; Rae's policeman crush-turned-best-friend is the health-fanatic Henry Stone; and various others round out the novels perfectly.

Besides Lutz's obvious talent with humor, the best thing about these books is the refreshing style -- both in writing and in layout. There are no chapters, but rather transcripts, case files, and phone calls. (For example, headings such as "Phone Call from the Edge #17" and "Rule #40 -- Learn Some Manners".) Lutz also employs a frequent use of footnotes, which adds abundantly to the reading pleasure. An excerpt to prove my point:

Phone call from the edge #19

[Transcript reads as follows:]

MORTY: Izzele, tell me everything that's new.
ME: I have some information and I don't know what to do with it.
MORTY: I'm all ears.
ME: You are, aren't you?ª

ª Morty's ears are positively enormous. (p. 111)

Lisa Lutz is a masterful writer whose series includes both likeable, although crazy, characters and exceptional writing. I love the Spellmans in all their madness, and I think you will, too. There is also talk of a movie version coming soon!

A little bit of info on Lutz's inspiration for the novel and her own experience as a PI:

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