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Review of The Last Word by Lisa Lutz

The Last WordBy Tim Chamberlain

In The Last Word, the sixth installment of a comic crime fiction series featuring a family owned- private investigation firm in San Francisco, Spellman Investigations, Lisa Lutz delivers her best work yet–though it could spell the end for her heroine, Isabel.

For those familiar with the previous Spellman “documents,” things have definitely changed in the Spellman universe–Isabel “Izzy” Spellman has executed a hostile takeover of Spellman Investigations, and the Unit (her parents) are using it as an excuse to pay Izzy back for every awful thing she’s done over the years. Also, her lack of familiarity with accounting (really with financial matters in general) seems like it may sink the family business even before the workers’ revolt does. Needless to say, Izzy’s experiment with responsibility isn’t going well.

As usual, there are around a half-dozen different threads to keep up with, with the main plotline centering on Izzy being framed for embezzlement from the wealthy client that helped her execute the Spellman takeover. We also get several side plots involving Demetrius (“D”, the wrongly convicted man freed in a previous Spellman novel, now the most trustworthy member of the Spellman Investigations team), Izzy’s polar-opposite sister Rae, and new niece Sydney, a.k.a Princess Banana and a holy terror. I think it can truly be said that there is something here for everyone.

You will find lots of footnotes (always fun) and digression (we don’t really get into the embezzlement plotline until about a third of the way in; there’s a chapter called “Where was I?”), but you likely won’t mind. Anyone that’s visited the Spellman home at 1799 Clay Street before will enjoy catching up with the whole crew, but Izzy and her hilarious-yet-questionable decisions are still center-stage.

There’s always been a bit of a wink at the reader throughout the Spellman series–a bit of a nod to the reader, that the character telling the story knows she’s a character telling a story. However, and this is another Lutz hallmark, real life keeps happening, and these characters have to stop sniping and cracking jokes (not completely) and deal with it. One of the most enjoyable things about the entire Spellman series, and this installment in particular, is the way Lutz brings actual emotion to the page that never feels cloying. You will experience real feelings for these characters, but you will never feel that you were manipulated to do so.

We’ve steered into more serious territory before in the Spellman series, but you get hit with a lot of real life in this installment. Lutz has a deft touch, though, because she never allows it to become overly serious or maudlin–I’m not sure how she manages to stay on the fine line of funny but touching, but she does it as well in the third act of The Last Word as I’ve seen.

Finally, (MILD SPOILER ALERT) there is a definite reason this is titled The Last Word–Lutz has confirmed that this will be the last Izzy Spellman novel. However, have no fear–our author is not abandoning the Spellman family, she is just shifting perspective: the next Spellman document will be done in the voice of Rae, Izzy’s youngest sibling. Rae started a “conflict resolution” business (read: legal and semi-legal revenge services) that promises even more future hilarity. It’s a bold move to continue a beloved series from the voice of a different character, but one that I have no doubt Lutz will be able to pull off.

Editor’s Note: Lisa Lutz is appearing at BookPeople in Austin, Texas on July 17 at 7 p.m.  COME SEE HER!

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