Iowa City Public Library's Reviews > The Spellman Files

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
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's review
Jul 16, 2010

bookshelves: fiction, jason, staff-picks-blog

Last month the young adult division of the American Library Association (YALSA) announced the winners of the annual Alex Awards. These are books, "written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." Based solely on the cover art, I picked up The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. This is a quick, funny read that has flashes of Veronica Mars (a PI family with snarky humor) and definitely owes much to sitcom television.

Isabel Spellman is a black sheep in a family of…very dark sheep. Mom and Dad Spellman run a Private Investigator firm out of the house and have difficulty keeping their work from spilling over into their personal lives. Two of the three children are employees and all have great aptitude for the job, including the following ever-handy skills: surveillance, interrogation, negotiations, lock picking, and just being generally sneaky. As a result, all of them have their quirks and Izzy in particular is quite emotionally damaged…being bugged, trailed, and professionally interrogated by your parents will do that to a person.

Told from Izzy’s point of view, the first half of the book is devoted to immersing the reader in this off-the-wall life in the Spellman household. These accounts were often funny but felt a bit like watching the pilot episode to a sitcom…although it is one heck of a sitcom. Dialogue-heavy text and sarcastic dark humor prevail here and older teens weaned on The Simpsons and reality TV will get a kick out of reading how Izzy fails at life. During this section I found myself wanting Lutz to get to the point but I stuck with her and was happy I did.

Izzy eventually realizes that she needs a break from her family/work if she’s going to keep her latest romantic fling (a very normal Dentist) afloat. Her parents reluctantly offer her an "out" but it requires that she solve a decade-old cold case. Much of the rest of the book is devoted to Izzy surprisingly making headway on the case, however, there are ominous overtones with regards to the witnesses she hounds as well as the law enforcement that originally handled the case. Finally, just when this case is unravelling, her younger sister Rae (who has a penchant for practice surveillance)
disappears while tailing someone on her free time. Suddenly all of Izzy’s family and romantic drama shifts to the back burner as the family unites to employ all their sleuthing skills towards tracking down Rae.

A solid, fun effort with a sequel in the works. --Jason

From ICPL Staff Picks Blog

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