Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz (Spellmans #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of laughs with zany characters
Cons: As long as you don't expect a strong mystery or realistic characters, you'll be fine.
The Bottom Line:
Unusual books
Give them a chance; they work well
Laughs galore.  Free Schmidt!

If You Like to Laugh, You'll Enjoy the Read of This Book.  Free Schmidt!

The Spellmans Strike Again is Lisa Lutz's fourth book about the Spellman's, a very dysfunctional family of private investigators living in (or terrorizing) San Francisco.  Even with the practice of reviewing the others in the series, it's not easy to capture the books in a review.  But here goes anyway.

Our narrator and window into this wacky world is Isabel Spellman.  She's 32 years old and has just agreed to slowly take over the family business from her parents.  The business is located in an office in the family home.  Beside Isabel and parents Albert and Olivia, younger sister Rae (17) also works for Spellman Investigations.  Only older brother David seems to have escaped the family business.  He's a former attorney who hasn't figured out what he wants to do after having lost his job.

As with the others in the series, there are multiple storylines happening here.  As an official assignment, Isabelle is trying to help one of their best clients figure out if his butler is really missing.  Her solution?  Send in an out of work actor friend under cover.  Unfortunately, the friend takes his work home with him.

Meanwhile, Olivia has decided that Isabel's current boyfriend isn't suitable for her, so Olivia starts blackmailing Isabel into going on two lawyer dates a month.  David seems to be seeing a blonde in addition to his girlfriend.  Isabel is obsessed with taking down their biggest competition in the city, a former cop with a very shady reputation.  Doorknobs and light fixtures are disappearing from the family home, and the parents seem to not care.  And Rae becomes obsessed with freeing a man named Schmidt she thinks has been falsely accused.  Where will it all lead?

All these stories weave in and out of each other.  The book makes it easy to follow by giving us a new break whenever we are switching stories.  Each "chapter" has a title that is often funny but also helps place things in context before you start the first scene.

Notice I put chapter in quotes.  There is very little traditional about these books.  Chapter numbers aren't use.  At times, a scene is made up mainly of transcribed dialog recorded by Isabel.  And I can't leave out the footnotes.  Those have some of the funniest moments (as well as plugs for the previous books in the series).

These books are classified as mysteries, I suspect because the Spellmans are PI's.  However, these are not traditional mysteries.  Yes, there is a mystery or two as one of the stories, but the real plot is the family dynamic.  And watching how it all plays out is most of the fun for me.  I really describe these more as a dysfunctional family comedy with light mystery elements.

Once again, the story here is funny.  While I would hate a family that treated me this way, I love reading about one.  You just can't help but shake your head and laugh at the stuff they try to pull on each other.  As usual, the last few pages do get serious as many of the stories come to a conclusion.  It is amazing how much those moments at the end of a comedic novel hit you.

Needless to say, these characters are pretty immature.  Although I can definitely see some maturing, especially on Isabel's part.  If you are expecting realistic characters, look elsewhere.  But if you can accept characters that are fun and go along for the ride, you'll love the ones you meet here.  They wouldn't work is anything but these books; here they work beautifully.

There are plenty of references made to the previous three books in the series, usually with a footnote reminding you to buy the books.  While you could get away with reading this book first, some of the early "mysteries" are spoiled by necessity, and you'll miss out on how character interactions change.  My recommendation is to read them in order.

Because of the zaniness, these books are for everyone.  But if you are in the mood for something light and funny, be sure to check out The Spellmans Strike Again.

You'll enjoy this book the most if you've read the Spellman series in order.

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