Friday, March 28, 2008

Curse Of The Spellmans--Lisa Lutz

Dear god, the Spellmans are back.

Dear god, the Spellmans are back!

As you may glean from those two statements, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book. I really liked last years The Spellman Files, narrated by the saucy Izzy, who can't help telling a story that runs around the mulberry bush as police investigate the disappearance of her little sister Rae. Key to the tale was the history of her family of San Franscisco private eyes, a family for whom evasion, deception and suspicion are more of an identifying trait than any physical resemblance. Curse of the Spellmans continues Izzy's roundabout narrative tendencies as she tries to explain to her lawyer Morty how she's managed to get arrested 4 times in 2 months. She maintains that arrests 2 & 3 don't count as they were instigated by family, and 4 shouldn't because...well, it's complicated.

The main flaw levied against Lutz's first novel was that it lacked plot. Her second is chockablock full of major and minor mysteries, and she expertly spins them out. Why is Olivia Spellman sneaking out at night to vandalize a motorbike in the Noe Valley? Why is Albert Spellman hitting the gym after avoiding it for 35 years? Is David Spellman entering a downward spiral and personality change a la Uncle Ray? Why did his wife leave town? Who is recreating a series of pranks Isabel and Petra perpetrated in high school? And what is Inspector Henry Stone getting out of his friendship with the Spellmans, a relationship that leads to accidental attempted vehicular manslaughter, fake engagements, "it takes a village" parenting, and having Izzy as a roommate?

And that's not counting the cause of the arrests, the Spellmans' new neighbor John Brown, or "Suspect," as Izzy calls him. Most girls wouldn't be insanely curious about a locked bedroom, a common name, and a gardening habit. But it only takes a few dates and evaded questions before Izzy's insatiable need to ascertain the truth takes over and leads to dead end investigations, stalking, and a restraining order.

This book is as funny as the original, but there's also an undercurrent of fear and sadness--the Spellmans, for all of their eccentricities seem to be fraying and Izzy's obsessions in particular raise an eyebrow. But it's a great read, and I'm interested in seeing where Lutz goes with this (I presume) series.

If you liked this series, check out Lauren Henderson's Sam Jones and Liz Evans' Grace Smith series for more sarcastic female investigation. They're British, but much the same in tone and humor. I'm also strongly reminded of The Bagthorpe Saga in the way the Spellmans pile on the family crazy.

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