The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Dec 6, 2012

Isabel "Izzy" Spellman is a determined, insatiably curious, sarcastic private investigator. Not yet 30, she's already a seasoned pro at detective work. She's also an emotionally closed-off woman with a checkered past who drinks too much and will break the law without a second thought if she thinks it will help her get the information she wants. She refers to any guy she dates "Ex-Boyfriend," assuming the relationship won't last. She's a neurotic member of a crazy, dysfunctional family. A family that runs the private detective agency she works for. A family that casually spies on and blackmails each other. This is The Spellman Files, Document #1 in a wonderful, darkly comic series by Lisa Lutz. The Spellman Files is a mystery novel, but not in the usual sense. The cases Izzy works on aren't the thrilling mysteries that make up most detective novels and they're not even the center of the plot. The Spellman Files focuses more on the secrets Izzy tries to hide from her parents and the secrets her parents and siblings try to hide from each other, as well as Izzy's relationship troubles and brushes with the law. The novel is narrated by Izzy, who jumps back and forth between the present (when she's giving testimony to a police inspector), the recent past (when she's working on cases and trying to outmaneuver her manipulative family), and the more distant past (as she relates her life growing up in the house of a crazy family, lists her ex-boyfriends and why they became exes, and describes some of her more colorful episodes as a juvenile delinquent). She peppers her narration with frequent, sarcastic footnotes that further contribute to the comedy. I absolutely adored The Spellman Files. Maybe because my own family is eccentric and neurotic. Maybe because, like Izzy, I've often felt like something of a screw-up. Maybe because the structure of the story is so offbeat. And maybe because author Lisa Lutz creates such distinctive, colorful, endearing characters--particularly Izzy, who may have many faults, but is at heart a good, caring, moral person. Whatever the reasons, I highly recommend The Spellman Files and all of its sequels.

Reviewed by Josh N.
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