Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review of Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Title: Revenge of the Spellmans (Spellmans #3)
Author: Lisa Lutz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paperback & Ebook
Source: Won from Goodreads’ First Reads
Publication Date: 2009
Rating: 4 out of 5
One of the reasons I enjoy Goodreads’ First Reads program is that I can enter contests to win books I normally wouldn’t pick up, thus discovering new authors in different genres. Sometimes this backfires (see my review of The Medusa Amulet), but since I spent last night laughing like a hyena and scaring the dog, I think we can safely say my plan worked out great with Lisa Lutz’s Revenge of the Spellmans. This book was so funny in places that I had to stop reading because I was tearing up from laughing so hard.
Revenge of the Spellmans is billed as a mystery, but to me the biggest mystery is how Isabel “Izzy” Spellman has managed to live 31 years without strangling someone in her family. Izzy’s family owns a PI firm in San Francisco, but as the book begins Izzy is taking a break by working as a bartender and attending court-ordered therapy sessions. When her boss at the bar asks her to look into a friend’s case as a favor, Izzy reluctantly agrees, but what at first seems to be a simple case of a husband suspecting a wife of cheating soon becomes far more elaborate.
What makes this book so unusual is that most of the book is focused on small mysteries within the family. Izzy wants to know why her perfect lawyer brother David is acting so unusual, her younger sister Rae keeps relocating Izzy’s car without permission, and her father keeps insisting on having lunch with her. This family is probably certifiably insane, and in the real world these people would drive you NUTS, but within the pages of this book the Spellmans are hilarious.
My absolute favorite scene has to be when Izzy recounts the first job interview she ever had. Even though she’d been working off the books for her parents since she was 12, her father insisted on having a job interview when Izzy turned 15. Honestly, I think I found this scene so funny, because I can TOTALLY see my Dad doing this. Unfortunately, I resemble uptight lawyer brother David more than Izzy, so I would have played along. Izzy doesn’t, and just thinking about the scene makes me snicker. She’s quite the smartass, and while at times that definitely gets in the way of her developing relationships with other people, it creates some hysterical moments within the family. When her Dad (Albert) calls her from the office and tells 15 year old Izzy to “Dress appropriately, Ms. Spellman”, Izzy dresses up in her brother’s old nerd costume and packs a lunch in his briefcase. When the interview begins, she breaks out a napkin and starts eating. Really, I was crying by this point. But my favorite lines come at the end of the interview, which I have to quote here:
ALBERT: Why should we hire you?
ISABEL: Do I need to remind you that I already work here?
ALBERT: Tell me how you can contribute to our organization.
ISABEL: Please. Just let me drink the Kool-Aid.
ALBERT: That’s it, Isabel. Get out of here!
ISABEL: It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Melman.

Ms. Lutz varies the narration in a lot of different ways, including transcripts from Izzy’s court-ordered therapy sessions, more traditionally narrated passages, appendices, case files, and flashbacks like the one I just mentioned. The back and forth between the family mysteries and the ones Izzy is hired to solve mesh perfectly, while the snarky footnotes help make this book a winner.

My only criticism is that the actual mysteries Izzy has to solve really aren’t that interesting to me. The family dynamic is what keeps you turning the pages and wanting more. I think if you know that going in, you’re really going to love this book, but if you’re looking for a gritty, hardcore mystery, this is probably not the book for you. I’m also not thrilled by the cover art, but it seems in keeping with other books in the genre, such as the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, so I’m sure that was intentional.

In the end, this was a lot of fun to read, and I’ll definitely be catching up on the series before the fifth book is released in February. If you’re the mood for a good laugh, you really can’t go wrong with Revenge of the Spellmans.

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