Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book Review - Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files

The Spellman Files (The Spellmans Book 1) by Lisa Lutz
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 13th, 2007
Format: Paperback, 358 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
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"I cannot pinpoint the precise moment when it all began, but I can say for sure that the beginning didn't happen three days ago, one week, one month or even one year ago. To truly understand what happened to my family, I have to start at the very beginning, and that happened a long time ago." So begins Isabel's narration leading to the major event that happens to the Spellmans. But before we can get to the what, there's the how, presented in a pastiche of images from the history of the Spellman family. Isabel, our erstwhile and extremely dysfunctional heroine, was born into a family of PIs. Her father's an ex-cop, forced into early retirement by a bad back, he took up the only solid living an ex-cop is uniquely suited for, Private Investigation. On the job he met Olivia and it was true love. Their firstborn, David, was everything a child should be, hansom, athletic, smart and hardworking, growing up to be a lawyer. When Isabel came along she felt that it was only right that she was everything David was not, unruly, hard to handle and a juvenile deliquint... and perfectly suited for Spellman Investigations. But when Isabel was 14 the family was in for a surprise, in the form of Rae. Olivia and Albert found out that they were going to have another baby, while at the same time Al's brother Ray was dying of cancer. Rae was named in honor of the heroic ex-cop who then didn't die. Uncle Ray had an epiphany. If clean living made him sick then he'd just do what he wanted, mainly gambling, drinking and whoring which lead to a depletion of his resources and he moved into the residence of 1799 Clay Street, home of Spellman Investigations and the whole Spellman clan, minus David.

What follows is a narration of the odd events and circumstances that result when you've been raised in a family where spying, tailing, car chases, recreational surveillance, bugging, extortion, blackmail and all around prying into each others lives is the status quo. "The Spellman Wars" take many forms, from Rae stealing "new uncle Ray's" lucky shirt and holding it for ransom, to Isabel meeting a cute dentist on the job and then pretending she's a schoolteacher in order to date him, to mass sugar consumption, to fake drug deals... the wars are manifold with many skirmishes and allegiance shifts. But in the end Isabel decides that maybe this isn't the life for her and she asks to be let out. Her parents agree to her leaving if she can solve an extremely cold case involving the disappearance of one Andrew Snow, thinking that in a job where mysteries are rare, perhaps this will whet her appetite and return the status quo. But the status is very not quo when all the duplicity and infighting leads to Rae's disappearance.

I can not emphasize enough how much I enjoy the Spellmans in all their dysfunctions and obsessions, which I can sadly relate too. The interesting quirks and different forms of addictions each character possesses is hilarious, but at the same time, oddly realistic. From Rae's addiction to sugar and recreational surveillance, to Izzy's drink and Get Smart, to Uncle Ray's women and cards. Each character has there own set of flaws that make them unique, but at the same time, obviously related and relatable. Also the way the story is told in little snippets, like a dossier, makes you see the overall history of the characters through specific incidents and examples versus having an extremely long backstory. It also stripes away the Hollywood glamor of the PI's life showing the dysfunction and strained relationships that result from needing to always know the why. Isabel's headlong pursuit of the truth is single-minded and self destructive, but haven't we all been there? Knowing we should stop and we've gone too far, but knowing that we will still do it anyway. Fans of Veronica Mars will enjoy the same kind of mystery combined with a dry wit. I really can't recommend this book, and all Lisa Lutz's books enough! But be forewarned... be prepared to having the overwhelming desire to watch mass quantities of Get Smart afterwords! Luckily now available on DVD.

Make sure to enter my Surfeit of Spying Spellmans Giveaway to win this, or any of the other Spellman books. All signed 1st editions!


I read this when it first came out and loved it. I really need to catch up on the series now!

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