2008; 405 pages. Book Two (out of six) in the “Spellman Files” series. Laurels : Nominated for a 2009 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. New Author? : No. Genre : Dysfunctional Comedy. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Izzy Spellman, Private Investigator in the family-owned & -operated Spellman Investigations, has been busy lately. First, there’s the family mysteries. Her dad has inexplicably turned into a fitness freak. OTOH, her ultra-perfect brother, David, has morphed into an unkempt couch potato. And her mom seems to enjoy vandalizing a miles-away motorcycle in the wee hours of the morning.
Then there’s the new and suspiciously-acting next-door neighbor with an obviously fake name (“John Brown”). What is he hiding? And Mr. Peabody’s hoarding snot-rags. What’s that all about?
All of this is really cutting into the one PI case that she’s actually being paid to solve – someone is abusing Mrs. Chandler’s front-lawn leprechauns every time she sets them up in a holiday tableau. And the mayhem looks creepily similar to what was done to those gnomes years ago. Allegedly (but never proven) by Izzy Spellman.
What’s To Like...
This is an epistolary novel – it’s all done in the form of (transcribed) tape recordings, reports, and written notes by Izzy. This makes for James Pattersonly short “chapters”; you can find a convenient place to stop any time you want. The writing is witty. The footnotes are witty. Heck, even the Appendix and Acknowledgement sections are witty. The book made me LOL a number of times. And you’ll learn two new acronyms, MILFO and REAFO. Good luck trying to figure them out. Their meanings are listed in the Comments.
Izzy is the star of the show, and you get to see everything from her POV. But she’s prone to draw the wrong conclusions from the clues and evidence. I kinda like that in a protagonist. Her missteps result in her getting arrested four times in Curse of the Spellmans. That’s gotta be some sort of record for a leading lady in a novel.
Lisa Lutz weaves a backstory into the first 35 pages, which was nice since it’s been 4 years since I read the first book in the series (reviewed here). CofS is a standalone book, but the usual caveat applies – you’ll get more out of the series if you read the books in order. Like The Simpsons, the main fun here is following the antics of one hugely dysfunctional family. Their progress towards “functionality” is minimal so far, although Izzy does try something new (for her) at the end of this book – apologies.
“How much did you have to drink?” I asked.
“Only five beers,” Rae replied.
“I didn’t think it was that much.”
This is when Henry turned around, looking disturbed. “How can you not think five beers is a lot?”
“I saw Isabel drink an entire six-pack during the last Super Bowl.”
Henry shook his head in disappointment. “First of all,” he said to Rae, “your sister has had a lot of practice.”
“Second of all, she weighs almost forty more pounds than you.”
“More like thirty,” I snapped back. (pg.219)
“I’m here to apologize,” I said. “Please invite me inside and offer me an alcoholic beverage. I’m going to need some help getting through this.”
You see, as far as I could recall, this was the first time I had ever attempted an apology to my brother. David’s agonizing perfection was always a barrier to any real apology. My brother walked over to his bar and poured us both a drink.
“Your godlike perfection has infuriated me for years. I’ve watched your playboy antics with women for close to a decade and I found you to be offensive.”
“This is an apology?” David asked.
“I’m getting to it,” I said.
“Hurry.” (pg. 394)
“I’m fine. Just seriously deep sleprived.” (pg. 61)
For the first half of the book, you’ll have no idea what the main plotline is while Izzy rambles from one misadventure to another. And if you’re reading Curse of the Spellmans for the mystery story, you’ll likely to be disappointed. But things get more focused in the second half, and all of the threads mentioned in the above introduction are resolved nicely.
Instead, treat this book (and this series) as a light “beach” read – to be enjoyed for its humor and entertainment value, and not for its sleuthing. And rejoice that you’re last name isn’t Spellman.
8 Stars. As good as the first book, but not better.