Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review: Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Spellmans Document #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and plenty more laughs
Cons: None for me since I was too busy laughing
The Bottom Line
Plenty more great laughs
Characters that keep growing
Won't want to put down

Banana.  No Apple!  And Other New Spellman News

Some series pretty much stand alone, each book being a new adventure.  Other books definitely build on each other, and you need to know what happened before to full appreciate what happens here.  While Trail of the Spellmans isn’t quite as dependent on previous books as earlier volumes in the series, it would certainly help enjoy the fifth to have read the previous four.

If you are new to this wacky clan, The Spellmans are a family of private investigators living inSan Francisco.  Our window into their world is through Isabel, the 34-year-old narrator.  There’s older brother David, 36, who was a successful lawyer at one point.  The youngest is Rae, who is now 20.  Parents Albert and Olivia started the business and are still very much involved.  With all the secrets they uncover, they are very good at keeping their own from each other, which can cause problems since Isabel just can’t leave anything alone.

It’s been two years since Isabel has felt the need to chronicle the going ons in her family.  But they are at it again.  Mom Olivia is taking many new hobby classes and is out every night of the week.  Oldest son David is staying at home with his 18 month old daughter and ignoring most personal hygiene.  It appears that Rae might be the most normal one in the group as the 20 year old settles into life as a college sophomore, however, she’s done something to infuriate David and the two aren’t speaking to each other.  Even Isabel is avoiding her boyfriend and his visiting mother.

Fortunately, she has some surveillance cases to throw herself into.  There’s the brother who wants his sister followed and the wife who wants her husband followed.  Then there are the parents who want their daughter followed so they can be sure she’s not going wild living on her own as a freshman.  Finally, there’s the math professor with OCD who hires them to make sure his apartment isn’t being destroyed when he leaves.  There’s never a dull moment with this crew.

Let’s get the usual genre discussion out of the way.  These are classified as mysteries since the Spellmans are PI’s.  And I’ll confess that I first picked it up because of the mystery connection.  I quickly realized that these are more dysfunctional family comedy than true mystery.  Yes, there are some human mysteries (why people behave the way they do), but little in the way of crime and no murders.  That has never bothered me in the slightest, and I think if you pick them up with the right mindset, you’ll absolutely love it.

Why?  Well, for starters, the books are too funny.  The way the family treats each other would drive me crazy in real life, but as I read it, I can find lots of laugh or at least chuckle at.  Some of that comes from character and what we’ve learned about them over the last few books.  But some of it is just funny no matter what.  I read a few bits to my family as I was reading it, and they laughed as much as I did.

The characters feel more real with every book as we get to know them better.  That’s no exception here.  In fact, a couple of times when Isabel figured out why someone was behaving the way they were, I felt like I should have seen that coming all along.  They’ve also grown over the course of the series, and that is evident here as they grow further.  Of the cases, the only character to get much definition was the OCD professor who at times seemed very much like Monk, a welcome comparison for me since I love that character and show.

The various stories weave in and out of each other, but it’s never hard to keep anything straight.  And if one story doesn’t interest you, you’re on to the next fairly quickly.  In fact, I never wanted to put the book down.  Might be one of the reasons I finished it in a couple of days.

As always, there are no official chapter breaks, but frequent breaks with headings that help you keep the action and stories straight.  There aren’t as many transcripts this go around, although there are still some footnotes.  Yes, footnotes in a novel.  Think of them as asides to the main action; they’re usually very funny.

Yes, you can pick up this book and I think still enjoy Trail of the Spellmans.  But I highly recommend going back to the beginning to fully understand everything that happens here.  You’ll be enjoying this one before you know it.

If you need to backtrack, here are the Spellman Files in order.

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