Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Revenge of the Spellmans

Lisa Lutz's Spellman Files series is an absolute delight to read. A blurb on the latest installment, Revenge of the Spellmans, says "The Spellman Files is like Harriet the Spy for grown-ups." So true. I loved Harriet when I was a child, and emulated her by spying on my family and neighbors (though nothing interesting ever happened like it did for Harriet). Isabel Spellman's adventures are so much fun, I actually find myself thinking about becoming a PI. That's not too much of a stretch from librarian, is it?

If you aren't familiar with the series, Isabel Spellman works as a PI for her family's investigation firm. Her family is always into her business: following her, tapping her phone, etc. Her 16-year-old sister Rae is an absolute hoot: blackmailing Isabel, negotiating to get what she wants, and always getting into mischief. When we last saw Isabel, she landed herself in court-ordered therapy and decided to take a hiatus from her job with the family's investigation firm. In Revenge, Isabel is still on hiatus from her job, temporarily tending bar while she tries to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. When her brother asks her to house sit while he is on vacation, Isabel discovers that her brother's house has a basement apartment that isn't being used. When he returns from vacation, Isabel secretly moves into the apartment to save herself some money. This causes some sleepless nights for Isabel, as well as some difficulties getting into and out of the apartment without getting caught. Isabel agrees to take an investigation job for a friend who thinks his wife may be having an affair. But when she begins to investigate, she finds that there is a much bigger secret to be uncovered. Meanwhile, someone is blackmailing Isabel again and her parents are putting pressure on her to decide whether she will come back to work. Rae is having difficulty adjusting to her best friend's new girlfriend, has taken to stealing Isabel's car, and may or may not have cheated on the PSAT.

Readers who are looking for a great mystery will probably be disappointed, as the mystery is not the main focus of Lutz's books. There are always a few questions Isabel has to solve, but the real enjoyment comes from the characters and their relationships with each other. Lutz has created a cast of unique, quirky, humorous characters. She has captured the voice of Isabel, a sarcastic thirty-something who still doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, very well. The Spellmans are certainly a dysfunctional family, but they care about each other and stick together. And some of Isabel's friendships may be unconventional, but they are touching. When authors write a series, there is always the risk that they will start coming across as formulaic and monotonous, but that isn't the case with this series. Of course, Isabel always seems to find herself in some kind of predicament and Rae is always getting into mischief, but Lutz is so creative and humorous that the stories always seem fresh. The book jacket mentions that the Spellman Files is being adapted for film! I wonder who will play Isabel?

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