Monday, May 24, 2010

Dissection: The Spellmans Strike Again

In the spirit of full disclosure, Lisa Lutz is one of my favorite newer authors. Her latest release, The Spellmans Strike Again is evidence of why I love this author. With every book in the Spellman series, which also include: The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, and Revenge of the Spellmans, you get a treat in the form of the Spellman family. Quick overview: the main character in this series is Izzy (Isabel) Spellman. She is the middle child in a completely dysfunctional P.I. family. Former wild-child, by the time you meet her in the latest book, she's managed to become a relatively normal member of society, though no one in the Spellman family is ever "normal".

Also in the spirit of full disclosure, I should add for my more timid readers that these books have a lot of language in them, as well as some alcohol and drug use and/or references. I don't necessarily condone these actions, I would say that by the time the Spellmans strike again, this is radically toned down compared to the atmosphere in The Spellman Files. While this could be a reflection of changes in literary tastes, I would actually like to say it shows both a progression on the part of the author and of Isabel.

Quick overview: If you have ADD tendencies, you'll probably love the setup to all of the Spellman books. In the 3rd book, Revenge, Isabel agrees to begin taking over the family P.I. business from her parents. In Strike Again, things are progressing towards Izzy having the whole business, though it's still early in the process. What I love about how Lutz tells her stories is the fact that there are about 6 different threads going on all at once--and all from Izzy's point of view--that you get to keep track of. There's always a couple of mysteries, as is the case in this book, but usually what's more intriguing is what's going on with the Spellmans. For instance, why are house fixtures--light fixtures, door knobs, drawer pulls--disappearing from the Spellman home/offices? Why is Izzy's mom, Olivia, adamant about her dating a different lawyer every fortnight, despite Izzy's current relationship with her Irish bartender boyfriend? And, how far will Izzy's much younger sister, Rae, take her mission to free an innocent man from prison?

As usual, the mystery in this book takes a backseat to the personal goings-on of the Spellmans. However, because the Spellman's are P.I.'s, there is a mystery or two--though rarely is there ever a dead body. Initially, you start out believing there are three mysteries--which is a pretty high number, though probably not as much as what may be on the plate for your average P.I. Izzy's personal mission is to bring down rival P.I. Harkey, who she believes is shady, so this is mystery 1, and actually a holdover from the previous book. The second mystery is a new client who thinks his former partner is shopping around his screenplay to Hollywood people. And, the third mystery is the status of one of the Spellman's longest clients' missing personal valet. Two of these eventually merge into one, but I won't tell you which. :) While light on the mystery, they're well crafted and all three (two) have satisfying conclusions, at least from my vantage point.

The biggest reason I wanted to review this book and share it with my readers is the fact that the series is some of the most unusually styled books I've read in my life. The voice of Izzy is offbeat, at times snotty and immature (despite, by this book, the fact she's 32 years old), and completely endearing. While 80% of the novel reads like a regular novel, Izzy makes use of transcripts: tape recordings, generally of family conversations, but also of the lawyer dates her mother forces her into. I'm not sure if they're funnier because of the format, but they're generally laugh-til-you-cry funny. And, Ms. Lutz also uses footnotes--brief explanations of the possible deeper meaning of a comment, or referring you to the appendices (I think there've been up to four in one of the books; Strike Again has just one.) They also are used to direct you to past history in the "previous documents--now available in paperback!"

While I usually hate books that are too light on the mystery and too heavy elsewhere, these books actually are a mystery in and of themselves. Because the Spellmans will do surveillance on each other, there's usually a mystery surrounding the family as well. This adds to my previous statements of the style of the books.

I understand from her blog that Ms. Lutz will be taking time off from the Spellmans and working on other projects, so this book ties up the series nicely for the time being. While I hope that she comes back to this quirky family--and soon!--I feel that the characters are happy now (though Izzy must say goodbye to three of her friends near the end of the book, one due to death) and their lives are continuing on a good path, though I'm sure it's still zany.

What I've learned from this book (series): Quirky is good. You can come out of the box completely, have fun, but still be recognizable as a good work (which is pretty obvious since Lisa's work has hit the NYT bestseller list--Strike Again debuted in early April, tied for 16th place--and has been nominated for and won several awards.) Also, the stranger situations you put your characters into can make for highly entertaining books, which I think is key to the success Ms. Lutz has seen in the last few years.

If you haven't read the books yet, you can order The Spellmans Strike Again through Amazon.

Well, this is my last post for a few months. As you know by now, I'm expecting my second child in just a couple months. But, I have a wonderful series of guest bloggers lined up from now until September... and as soon as the baby's born, I'll try to see to it that a quick post goes up announcing its arrival. Please come and make my guest bloggers as welcome as you can, and I'll see you back here in September!

Until next time,


Julie Musil said...

I haven't heard of this series, I'm sorry to say. Thanks for pointing it out.

Liberty Speidel said...

Thanks for stopping in, Julie! This is a great series, even though it's light on mystery. I found out about it about a year after the first book was released when I was doing a search for recent Edgar award winners and the like. They series is really a treat. :)

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