Book Review: Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz- She Will Be Interviewed March 18 on KAZI
By Tim Chamberlain
The Further Adventures of a Wonderfully Dysfunctional PI and Her Entire Dysfunctional Clan
With Trail of the Spellmans, the fifth book in the Spellmans series, Lisa Lutz delivers a fast and funny mystery that should please old and new fans alike.
The new installment follows the further adventures of Isabel “Izzy” Spellman (a San Francisco private investigator) and her family who just so happen to be her co-workers. There is no limit to the plotting that goes on between the family members of Spellman Investigations, and in the fifth book Lutz is still surprising me with her novel ideas on this front–you get the feeling that she might be a bad person to cross.
One hazard of writing the fifth book in a series is presenting the back-story of returning characters: how do you introduce these characters to brand new readers without boring your returning readers to tears? Luckily, there’s enough history from the first four books that Lutz has no problem providing a brief and funny snapshot of the whole family that certainly kept me entertained as a returning reader. In fact, Lutz gives just enough detail (and a few reminders that previous documents are available) to intrigue the reader, and I imagine those being introduced to the Spellmans in this fifth book will hurry out to get the first four.
While the Trail of the Spellmans is essentially a mystery, it distinguishes itself from much of the genre by replacing blood with dry humor and some surprisingly poignant scenes–there are moments with Izzy’s boyfriend and her Grammy (a priceless addition to the Spellman universe) that I’m amazed ring so true in a book this funny. Also, the fact that the novels are set up as “documents” written by Isabel allows Lutz to break down the fourth wall a bit with hilarious results. Lutz has written Isabel as someone that’s not quite right, knows it, and has a sense of humor about it.
Demetrius Merriweather (otherwise known as D) is a semi-new character, as he was introduced in the fourth book (The Spellmans Strike Again) as a wrongfully incarcerated man that Isabel and her sister eventually help to free. Now he is working for the Spellmans, and the ex-con is, somewhat unsurprisingly, the most hardworking and normal of any of them. His presence gives Lutz the option to diffuse some situations that otherwise would almost have to blow up before D’s arrival, and it definitely changes the dynamic of the house.
Despite D’s presence inter-family sabotage continues apace with the previous novels, actually upping the ante a bit with some child-rearing experimentation/treachery between some non-Izzy family members. While “child-rearing experimentation” may not sound very funny, Lutz somehow managed to make this bit the funniest part of of the book. There are a few pages from a fictitious children’s book included that are especially amazing–not only because they are hilarious, but because they give some important insight into some Spellman family history.
As always, lovers of footnote humor will not be disappointed with a Spellmans book, and I think Lutz actually coined a footnote joke on page 79. This is a thoroughly modern book, complete with text message conversations, thumb drives and terrorism jokes (really, they’re quite funny and honestly inoffensive). However, the bottom line is that Isabel’s comfortably steady knack for questionable decisions is still wildly entertaining. After all, would you really want a mystery heroine with a perfect love life and no penchant for hidden scotch?