Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Spellman Mysteries #2)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Hilarious and touching story about great characters
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Public laughter is
Side effect of reading this
And you will not mind

Perfect for Your Next Disappearance* (*Spellman Definition)

When I read Lisa Lutz's debut last year, I loved every minute of it. Yet I struggled to find a way to adequately describe it. Frankly, I feel the same way about the sequel, Curse of the Spellmans. But here goes anyway.

The Spellmans are a family of Private Investigators living in San Francisco. They are headed by Albert and Olivia. Oldest son David has left the family business (Spellman Investigations), become a lawyer, and married Isabel's best friend. Isabel (Izzy) Spellman still works for the family business, but she has found her own place. Izzy also happens to be our narrator. The youngest child is Rae, who is only 15, half of Izzy's age. But that age hasn't stopped her from becoming a wonderful addition to the PI team.

Now if you think living in a family of PI's might make things crazy, you'd be right. They regularly run background checks on each other and everyone they meet (but they're trying to cut back.) They each have multiple deadbolts on their bedroom doors. And they've taken to calling a planned time out of town for rest and relaxation a "disappearance" while an unexpected vanishing that causes others to panic is a "vacation." (Yes, there's a story behind that. But I'm not going to spoil it for you.)

This book picks up two years after the end of the first book. And it seems everyone is acting strangely. In fact, Izzy has started keeping "Suspicious Behavior Reports" on everyone. David is staying home watching TV and eating junk after having fought with Olivia, something that mother and son never do. Albert is sneaking out of the house and returning with wet hair. Meanwhile, he's actually eating healthy. Olivia is also sneaking out of the house, but she does it late at night. Or should I say early in the morning? Rae is distraught about accidentally almost vehicularly manslaughtering her best friend, Inspector Henry Stone. And Izzy is hot on the trail of the copycat vandals ruining neighbor Mrs. Chandler's holiday displays. These vandals are copying the crimes that Izzy did when she was a teenage (not that she has any idea what you are talking about).

But what has really captured Isabel's attention is the Spellman's new neighbor. "John Brown" seems nice enough, but he sure has lots of shredded paper. And who really has such a common name? Plus Isabel can't track down any information on him. And he is evasive with answers to her questions. You know, simple things like where are you from? What do you do for a living? When were you born? What's your social security number? All this leads Isabel to be arrested four times (or twice depending on how you count) in a matter of months. How will it all end?

Now if you are worried that I've spoiled too much of the book, don't be. The book actually starts with Izzy's fourth (or second) arrest and then backtracks to tell us what exactly has been happening the last few months. While there are not traditional chapters, there are many different breaks, usually every few pages and only incorporating one or two related scenes. And that makes it very easy to keep the timeline and the plots straight.

The book is classified as a mystery, and I can almost see that since there are several mysteries about why people are behaving the way they are. But there are not crimes like in traditional mysteries. The book has also been called chick lit, but I take exception to that because I am not a chick. I think the safest definition is dysfunctional family comedy.

Because this book is funny. I laughed so many times it is hard to keep track. Not only are some of the situations funny, but the dialogue is full of wisecracks and sarcasm. Izzy's narration is also full of wit, which keeps it all together.

While most of the writing is normal, we occasionally get transcripts from recorded conversations (I did mention this family records each other, right?) But everything flows together well. Trust me, you'll be done with this novel way too soon.

The book works so well because the characters are developed. Oh, you probably don't know anyone like them (thankfully), but they seem like real people. At various times, I was exasperated and sympathetic with all of them. And that's probably what makes the ending so touching.

A word of warning. This book pretty much spoils everything that takes place in the first book in the series. If you are at all interested in this book, be sure you start with that one. Believe me, you won't regret it for a minute.

I couldn't wait for a disappearance to read this book. In fact, it took all the self-control I had to not start it as soon as I got it. Now that I have finished Curse of the Spellmans, I will have to wait impatiently for the next book is the saga to come out.

You'll definitely enjoy these books more if you read the Spellman Mysteries in order.

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