Monday, October 4, 2010

The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz

2007; 358 pages. Genre : Dysfunctional Comedy. New Author? : Yes. Laurels : NYT Bestseller. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
Meet the Spellmans. Mom and Dad (Olivia and Albert) run a family-business Private Investigating company. They have 3 children. David (age 30) has been a perfect human being his whole life. Isabel (26) is the black sheep of the family and the narrator of the story. Rae (14) is a negotiating guru. All three children are/were also employees of the family business, and are adept at surveillance, running identity checks, and (when they're not spying for clients) spying on each other..
The Spellman Files recounts Isabel's misadventures in this whacked-out family, and her efforts to live a normal life. Fat chance..
What's To Like...
This is a laughs-on-every-page book. There are Isabel's (Izzy's) ten ex-boyfriends, the tattoo-loving best friend, and the vain attempts to get out from under the prying eyes of the rest of the family, especially when it comes to keeping current boyfriends. The footnotes are a hoot too. The 20-page recounting the "tennis wars" will have you ROTFL.
The characters are likable and well-developed. Almost too well-developed. The first half of TSF is nothing more than a giant backstory. A cold case plot finally arrives around page 200, wanders among more of Izzy's life story, and joins up around page 300 with a subplot involving a sibling disappearance. Both plots eventually resolve themselves, but without any real build-up to a climax.
Kewl New Words...
Only one, and I've looked it up before. Sartorial : pertaining to a tailor or tailoring. One of these days, that word will take root in my mind.
"Good morning, Isabel."
"Dad, what are you doing up so early?"
"I thought I'd watch the sun rise."
"How'd it go?"
"I missed it by a half hour. Who knew it was so early?"
"Are you deliberately blocking my path out the door?"
"Yes." (pg. 150)
Officer Glenn introduced himself and his partner, Officer Jackson, then offered my father a warm handshake and said, "Good evening, sir. Is this your daughter?"
"That depends. What did she do?"
"We received an anonymous tip that a young woman matching your daughter's description was following random people around in the vicinity of Polk Street. Shortly thereafter, we found Emily following an elderly couple on Nob Hill. While that is not a crime, we consider it a somewhat unusual activity for a young lady at this time of night."
"Honey," said my father, "you don't give officers of the law a fake name." (pg. 163)
The family that surveils together prevails together.
Because they're both PI's, Lisa Lutz's Isabel Spellman will inevitably be compared to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. Which is unfair, since they're not of the same genre. You'll find Ms. Plum in the "Mystery" section, and Izzy in "Fiction/Literature".
I've read some of both series, and each has its merits,. I agree with the bookstores. The Spellman Files is not primarily a mystery, and if you read it for that purpose, you may be disappointed. But as a work of dysfunctional comedy (a genre I just coined), it succeeds nicely. It made me laugh, the characters are engaging, and I'm left wanting to read the sequels. 8½ stars.

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