Lisa Lutz grew up in Southern California, and spent the next decade or so college-hopping and working a string of odd jobs, including a stint in a family detective agency. During that time she wrote the screenplay for a mob comedy called Plan B, which was made into a movie in 2000. Lutz considered the film "unwatchable," so she swore off screenwriting and began The Spellman Files.
"Ten years later, I remember the [detective] job as basically me in the basement shredding old files, a lot of invoicing and paying bills, and maybe five days of doing fun investigative work," she says. But detection occurs in The Spellmans Strike Again — the close to Lutz's four-novel mystery series and another outing with this delightfully dysfunctional family of detectives — most of it by members of the family investigating one another.
That family saga is narrated by Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, whose life has been a series of bad choices, poor judgment, bone-headedness and other deep character flaws. Fortunately for Izzy — described by People magazine as "the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy" — her mother, father, uncle, sister, brother and assorted friends and lovers are equally eccentric, and equally annoying and lovable. Izzy's life is an addictive romp from the first page of the book to the last, including all the footnotes and appendices.
"I suppose the most defining characteristic of my family is that we take our work home with us," Izzy explains in the first chapter. "If your family's job is investigating other people, you inevitably investigate each other. This single trait has been our primary point of conflict for most of my life."
This mélange, reminiscent of a Left Coast Royal Tenenbaums, lives in literally armed conflict in a Victorian house in San Francisco (don't call it San Fran), when they aren't sulking, running away, locking each other in closets and/or trying to have a life. Through all four novels, starting with the New York Times bestselling The Spellman Files — now in movie production — and continuing through Curse of the Spellmans and Revenge of the Spellmans, Lutz takes readers on a tilt-a-whirl emotional ride, but in this last volume she brings everything to a tidy conclusion. Izzy wins her true love at last, sister Rae spurns Yale for Berkeley, brother David hangs onto his great new girlfriend, Mom tears up her list of required lawyer dates, and Dad returns the missing doorknobs and light fixtures.
Most shocking of all, Izzy grows up, sort of, although it takes the death of her 85-year-old friend Mort to settle her down to earth. "Every day we get older, and some of us get wiser, but there's no end to our evolution," she reflects. "We're all a mess of contradictions; some of our traits work for us, some against us. ... Over the course of a lifetime, people change, but not as much as you'd think. Nobody really grows up. At least that's my theory; you can have your own."
For more local book coverage, please visit chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.
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