In The Spellman Files, the debut of a series of detective novels of the same name, we meet Isabel (Izzy) Spellman. Izzy is a bit of a nutcase, and several other members of her family aren’t much saner. Their antics are often hilarious, and their interaction is outrageous. But author Lisa Lutz has firm command over plotting and character development, and the result makes me want to read the subsequent five books in the series.
The story revolves around Izzy’s relationship with her parents, her older brother and younger sister, and her alcoholic uncle. Together, they operate a detective agency, Spellman Investigations, which they run out of their San Francisco home. As the novel opens, 28-year-old Izzy has been working as a detective for 16 years. (Yes, she started at 12.) Her little sister, who is 14, had been involving herself in the agency’s work for eight years. So, for starters, as you can see, this is not your normal detective story. Or your normal family. The members of the family spend a great deal of time investigating one another.
The Spellman Files: Document #1 by Lisa Lutz (2007) 372 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
In the course of the tale, Izzy becomes involved in two investigations. One is a 10-year-old cold case about the disappearance of a 17-year-old boy. (“This was almost a real mystery. We never have those in my line of work,” Izzy observes.) The other case involves her little sister’s kidnapping. Don’t worry, though. Both cases turn out well. There is little violence. And the real charm of the novel lies in the dynamics of Izzy’s crazy family.
When I was checking out this book, I noted a review of this novel in Booklist. There, the reviewer noted that “Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series will enjoy this clever debut.” Unfortunately, this reference is misleading. Read a lot of the Stephanie Plum books, as I have, and you’ll eventually tire of the formulaic writing. (For example, Stephanie’s car seems to blow up in every novel.) There’s nothing formulaic about The Spellman Files. Lutz has created a set of entirely original characters, and I can’t imagine how their behavior would be anything but original from book to book. And she has taken pains to learn how private detectives really work. The detail is convincing.
About the author
Lisa Lutz began her career writing screenplays for Hollywood. One of her rejected scripts became the basis for the Spellman series. However, before then, she had worked in a PI agency (among many other jobs). She was born in California and attended four universities here.
For additional reading
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