Pros: Offbeat and funny with very real characters
Cons: Could be too quirky for some
The Bottom Line:
Not really a mystery
But funny and fun
PI vs. PI
Welcome to the world of Isabel "Izzy" Spellman. While on the surface she may seem like your typical twenty-something, she is anything but.
See, Izzy works for her parents at Spellman Investigations. Not only do her co-workers include her parents, but also her Uncle Ray and her 14-year-old sister Rae. Only her older brother David escaped the family business by becoming a lawyer. And he's the only semi-normal one of the group.
Uncle Ray regularly vanishes for extended weekends and only returns when tracked down. Izzy runs a complete background check on her boyfriends so her parents can't surprise her with anything later. Rae thinks "recreational surveillance" is a hobby.
And no one respects anyone else's privacy. Double and triple locks on bedroom doors mean nothing. Yet that doesn't mean that people don't have secrets. And life in the Spellman house can be very entertaining and funny.
To be honest, The Spellman Files is a hard book to describe. As a family portrait, it is more of a group character study then anything else. Even though the book is about private investigators, the closest thing we get to a mystery doesn't show up until the final third.
Additionally, there is the writing style. There are chapters and sections and sub-sections and breaks. Frankly, I gave up trying to keep track of what the part I was reading was called. I just looked at the title at the top of the section and started reading.
Since Izzy, our narrator, is used to writing reports, sometimes this book feels like one. It occasionally breaks into transcripts of conversations recorded by surveillance. And there are even occasional footnotes to highlight something in the text.
Now don't think this makes the book dry. It is anything but. While the story started out a little slowly, it wasn't too long before I started getting into the characters. And once I did that, I started finding the humor.
See, this is a comic novel. The way the Spellman's relate to each other and the outside world is absolutely hilarious. Watching Izzy justify lying to her boyfriend about being a teacher is funny. As is her first conversation with said boyfriend. Rae is way too smart for a normal teenager, and watching her manipulate her family made me laugh out loud.
Not that the book is all fun and games. There are some very serious moments here, too. But the book perfectly balances the two so that each moment seems real.
It works because of the characters. While at first glance they seem like types, as we get to know them, we discover they are truly unique and very real.