This is a combined review of Lisa Lutz‘s two novels about the Spellman clan, The Spellman Files (now available in paperback!) and Curse of the Spellmans. Though these are adult books, both I and my awesome school librarian are confident that teens will love them.
Both books are narrated by Izzy Spellman, age twenty-eight in the first book and thirty in the second, and she makes a rather brilliant narrator. Somewhat recovered from her rebellious youth, Izzy is still not what most would call grown up. She works as a private investigator for the family business, Spellman Investigations, as she has for the better part of her life, and she has a knack for trickery and espionage that surprises no one who knows her.
Other members of the Spellman clan are David, Izzy’s far-too-perfect brother who is two years her senior, Rae, fourteen in the first book, her younger sister with a similar inclination for detective work, though she is on quite the straight and narrow path compared to Izzy at that age, and Olivia and Albert, their wacky PI parents. Oh, and Uncle Ray, who disappears for days at a time on “Lost Weekends,” and who has something of a conflict with Rae. The usual activities of this family are far from normal, and include recreational surveillance and garbology (the science of hunting through garbage). David no longer works for the family business, but Rae and Izzy do.
In The Spellman Files, Izzy decides that she wants a life that is a bit more normal than that of a PI, but first she takes a missing persons case that’s years old–and then finds a missing persons case much closer to home when Rae disappears. This event is central to a character who is a major part of book two, Inspector Henry Stone.
Curse of the Spellmans has a lot to do with Rae’s relationship with Henry (she runs him over accidentally within the first few pages, and gets Child Protective Services called because of her unorthodox relationship with this man nearly thirty years older than she is). Henry becomes far more involved than is sane with the entire Spellman family, and his interactions with them are hilarious. Various family members and neighbors are acting strange and Isabel is arrested four times over the course of this book, often for investigating such strange behavior.
Yes, there are mysteries involved in these books, but I wouldn’t call them mystery novels. I’d say their fantastic cleverness and hilarity pretty much defies classification. Isabel Spellman is one of my favorite narrators ever–she’s hilarious! All of the characters have their quirks (I couldn’t tell you about each one specifically here, but all of the characters are so great, and so unique, I can’t begin to pick a favorite!), and they’re all delightful to read about. I wouldn’t say that plotting is Lisa Lutz’s strength, but with the overall awesomeness of these books, it doesn’t need to be. Someone described them to me as “choppy,” and I suppose that’s true. The stories are told in an unorthodox way, with transcripts and scenes with lots of dialogue and footnotes. But I didn’t find it to be a flaw–it’s all captivating and hilarious, and the format really just works for the story, though there are plenty of stories where it would be a flaw. It’s witty dialogue, interesting interactions between characters–and if it’s done well, any weird way of writing can turn out wonderfully.
Both Spellman books are smart, funny, and almost completely insane, in a way that is also just plain amazing. I seriously could not put either one down. The personal stories and interactions ring true, and the laughter is almost constant. Luckily, I believe there is a third crazy and chaotic adventure on the way!