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The Spellmans #1

The Spellman Files

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Meet Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors -- but the upshot is she's good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family's firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people's privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman.

Part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry, Izzy walks an indistinguishable line between Spellman family member and Spellman employee. Duties include: completing assignments from the bosses, aka Mom and Dad (preferably without scrutiny); appeasing her chronically perfect lawyer brother (often under duress); setting an example for her fourteen-year-old sister, Rae (who's become addicted to "recreational surveillance"); and tracking down her uncle (who randomly disappears on benders dubbed "Lost Weekends").

But when Izzy's parents hire Rae to follow her (for the purpose of ascertaining the identity of Izzy's new boyfriend), Izzy snaps and decides that the only way she will ever be normal is if she gets out of the family business. But there's a hitch: she must take one last job before they'll let her go -- a fifteen-year-old, ice-cold missing person case. She accepts, only to experience a disappearance far closer to home, which becomes the most important case of her life.

470 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2007

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About the author

Lisa Lutz

20 books3,749 followers
Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling author of the six books in the Spellman series, How to Start a Fire, Heads you Lose (with David Hayward), and the children's book, How to Negotiate Everything (illustrated by Jaime Temairik). Her latest book, The Passenger, a psychological thriller, will be published March 2016 by Simon and Schuster. Lutz has won the Alex award and has been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Although she attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, the University of Leeds in England, and San Francisco State University, she still does not have a bachelor's degree. Lisa spent most of the 1990s hopping through a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and rewriting the screenplay Plan B, a mob comedy. After the film was made in 2000, she vowed she would never write another screenplay. Lisa lives in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,972 reviews
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,896 reviews10.5k followers
September 12, 2014
The Spellmans are a dysfunctional family of detectives. When Rae, the youngest, goes missing, her sister Izzy drops what she's doing and goes looking for her while delving into the Spellman family's past. Who kidnapped Rae Spellman? And does it have something to do with a cold case Izzy is working on?

The Spellman Files reads like Sara Gran on mood elevators. The writing style reminds me of a more humorous version of the Claire DeWitt books. As for the Spellmans themselves, they remind me of The Royal Tannenbaums if the Tannenbaums were a family of dysfunctional detectives instead of quirky for the sake of being quirky Wes Anderson characters.

I'll be honest. Usually, humorous crime/mystery books aren't my bag. Hell, Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake are two of my favorite authors but their humorous works are largely untouched by me. I'm proud to say that the Spellman Files made me reconsider my stance on mixing mysteries and mirth.

The Spellman Files is one entertaining book and came highly recommended by Amanda and Carol, two ladies who I've learned not to doubt during my tenure at Goodreads. As the kidnapping plot slowly unfolds, Izzy reveals what got the Spellman family to that point, a hilarious tale of mistrust, familial surveillance, and lies.

Mysteries, especially those purported to be humorous, aren't generally known for their well-drawn characters but the Spellmans and those unfortunate enough to get pulled into their orbits all seemed like real people to me. Even though a family of detectives isn't the most likely of protagonists, I had no trouble believing in the way they constantly violated one another's privacy in the name of love.

Izzy reminded me of Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt quite a bit, as if Claire had been raised by a family of detectives and quit doing every drug known to man once she left high school. Her dialogue and thought processes won me over in the first 10-15 pages. I love how she said things like "He was destined to be ex-boyfriend #9" when meeting Daniel while on a job. Izzy's battles against her family's constant surveillance manage to be hilariously outlandish while still being in the realm of possibility.

I think this book worked for me while other "humor" mysteries failed is the way it was structured, mostly being an exploration of the Spellman family rather than a straightforward mystery. Also, the tone was consistent. It didn't try to juxtapose comedy with grim violence or anything like that. It was a mystery that happened to have comedic elements, not a comedy with a lame mystery shoehorned into it.

With The Spellman Files, Lisa Lutz and her dysfunctional detective family have earned a place in my hearts and a future void in my wallet. Five out of five stars.

Profile Image for carol..
1,517 reviews7,722 followers
July 8, 2019
This book won’t work for some, but head into it in the right frame of mind and it’s a fun ride, a modern screwball comedy crossed with spy caper, Harriet the Spy meets Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.

Isabel is a private investigator in the family business, Spellman Investigations. It’s been a hard road getting there after a decade of childish rebellion. “Since David [her brother] had cornered the market on perfection, I had to settle for mining the depths of my own imperfection.” Spellman co-workers include younger sister, Rae (“Rae would eventually throw everything off balance, but I’ll get to that later.”) Then there’s her parents: her mother, Olivia who met her father when she was spying on a potential brother-in-law, and her father and former police detective, Albert. Albert has a special sense of humor: “His sense of humor is purely cheap vaudeville, yet everyone falls for it. Some of his routines–like sneezing Eastern European names–he never grows tired of. Only his children have suggested he work up some new material.”

A recent addition to the team is former officer and born-again gambler, Uncle Ray, perhaps the only straight-shooter in the family. “I asked him what he’d been up to for the past two weeks and he replied, ‘Let’s see. I went on a five-day bender, sobered up during a forty-eight-hour poker game. Had a few dates in Reno. Another poker game. Three days, for the life of me, I can’t remember.” Her brother David, refused to join the family business–he’s rebelled by becoming a lawyer. “The truth was, the job didn’t interest David. He thought people had a right to privacy. The rest of us did not.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the story is its deconstructed structure. A number of journal entries, flashbacks, interrogations and scene shots build both current story and background but require reader synthesis. Isabel is a little obsessed with keeping track (or proving her case) and a number of her exploits are list-oriented, reminding me of Cursed. For instance, there’s profiles summarizing relationships through “Ex-Boyfriend #8” (#6 and #9 “simply cannot reduce to the data that will fit on a three-by-five index card“) and Uncle’s series of benders, known as “Lost Weekend #.” There’s also the three main incidents that changed her path from her life of irresponsible hedonism to one of maturity. While it is the type of structure that can smack of authorial gimmick, here it worked. Perhaps the disjointed set-up allows for certain parallels to be made between the narrator and the reader, so that they are at similar perspective when the main event appears. However, Lutz is smart enough to not stay with the device too long; once past the introduction and historical context, narrative smooths out and becomes more linear.

Writing is clever with lines that make me laugh out loud. Much like the screwball comedy, the humor isn’t based on one-liners, but a clever set-up that suddenly resolves into an absurd scenario. There’s a scene on a stake-out with young Rae that particularly amused me. The romance plot is a series of harebrained schemes that escalate from one little lie.

Plotting is interesting; truly, the story is more about a dysfunctional family who specializes in investigative work than any specific mystery. There’s a sub-plot of Ex-Boyfriend #9, which really does start to resemble screwball comedy, and a war between the Ra(y/e)s that is remarkably calculating. Those who want a crime-solving story are apt to be disappointed. I hesitate to compare it to Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum series; this is in many ways darker, less functional, less “I Love Lucy.” There’s proliferate mention of drug use in the past, and some questionable family dynamics. The reader gets the feel there is a mystery in the beginning, but it’s only hinted at in an early interview with a police detective. Half-way through, Isabel is given her own cold case to work, but the conclusion and resolution were no real surprise to me as a reader. It serves more as a foil for the narrator’s own family. I didn’t mind the lack of suspense involved with it, as by then I understood the real story is the family and Isabel.

I enjoyed it–like frozen yogurt with sprinkles, it went down smooth and clean with no ice-cream headache or aftertaste. Note that it likely has high re-read potential, especially given it is more about character and relationships than mystery. Next one already ordered from the library.

5/24: Re-read. Still holds up; added it to my e-library when it was available for a deal. Also probably worth noting it passed the mom test.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
August 29, 2013
I'm one of those people who will forgive anything of a movie or a novel as long as I enjoy the characters. If I like the characters, if I find them amusing or admirable or realistic, I'll gladly read hundreds of pages in which nothing really happens just for the pleasure of their company. This is one of those novels and, as such, while I enjoyed the hell out of it, I probably won't actively recommend it because I don't want anyone wondering, "I don't get it. What did she think was so special in this thing? Nothing really happens. Sweet bibliophilia, she book raped me!" And then there are the awkward months of refusing to make eye contact with me in the hallways, the whispering behind my back ("She's the one who book raped Edna"), and the nervous tics that will inevitably manifest themselves when I'm spotted with a book in my hand and approaching someone. And so I will not insist that anyone read this novel, although I think a person might enjoy it if he willingly chooses to read it of his own free will with no pressure from me whatsoever.

The Spellman Files is about an eccentric family of private investigators, although it is narrated through the viewpoint of 28 year old Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, the middle child of the family. When Izzy was younger, she knew there was no way that she could live up to her impossibly perfect older brother so she instead dedicated her life to rebellion and anarchy. Izzy was a success in making her parents' lives a living hell--always in trouble with alcohol, drugs, vandalism--however, she cleans up her act (to a point) when her sister Rae is born and emulates everything Izzy does. Fortunately, the directionless Izzy's past makes her a perfect employee in the family's private investigation business. She has no scruples about following the law or the rules, has only a loose interpretation of morality, and actually enjoys detective work. While Izzy has matured, she hasn't lost her razor sharp tongue or the quirks that make her an enjoyable character.

The novel's plot seems secondary to the character development and, while this would drive a lot of readers insane, I didn't mind it. In the beginning you learn that Rae has disappeared and the police believe Izzy is somehow connected. Through interviews and case reports, Izzy goes back and constructs the family dynamic that exists among the Spellmans. After working for so long in the PI business, they are all paranoid and hyper-sensitive to plots, treachery, and falsehoods, which lead to intrafamily battle royales over real and presumed betrayals. This is a family that loves each other, but they have strange ways of showing that love (it's nothing in the Spellman family for a relative to bug your room, put a wire tap on your phone, run a background check on your current boyfriend, pick the lock to your apartment, put you under surveillance, etc.) The methods used by the Spellman parents to make sure their children are on the straight and narrow often lead to hilarious results and the banter between the Spellman children seems authentic and real. There's no real suspense here and what little there is can be easily pieced together, but that's not the real point of the novel anyway--this is a quick, light read about the bonds that hold even the most unconventional of families together.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder
Profile Image for Tea Jovanović.
Author 411 books663 followers
June 29, 2014
Zauvek ću pamtiti kako me je ova knjiga "kupila" kao urednika :) Dobila sam od njenog agenta rukopis knjige mesecima pre nego što je objavljena... odštampala sam je i ponela papire sa sobom na Sajam knjiga u London, da čitam usput... Te godine sajam je bio izmešten na Doklends i gotovo sat vremena putovali smo metroom od hotela do sajma i obrnuto... I ja sam vukla papire sa sobom, čitala, cerebečila se i svaki cas cimala za rukav vlasnika Lagune i prepričavala mu urnebesne scene iz teksta... posle dva dana drndanja metroom i mog stalnog cimanja, kapitulirao je i rekao, ok, kupujemo prava!

Zamislite situaciju da ste rođeni u porodici gde majka i otac vode svoju detektivsku agenciju, a vi radite za njih... imate mlađu sestru napast i starijeg uštogljenog brata... i imate dosta budućih bivših frajera br. taj i taj... a roditelji vam svakog momka detaljno provere...

Nažalost Laguna je objavila samo prvi naslov, a Dosije Spelmanovih doživeo je vec nekoliko nastavaka a sprema se i ekranizacija...
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,259 reviews2,943 followers
August 7, 2020
Oh, that wacky Spellman family! I first read this book almost 5 years ago and I just finished it for the second time. I rarely reread books so that's a testament to how much I love this author and her crazy cast of characters.

Twenty-eight year old Izzy Spellman is a private investigator working for her parents' firm, Spellman Investigations. She has a straight-laced, lawyer brother and a fourteen year old sister named Rae. Spying on people and digging up dirt is what this family excels at and those skills (as well as wiretaps) come in handy when you need to snoop on a family member. But after being surveilled by Rae in an effort to get the goods on her dating life, Izzy has had enough. She thinks getting out of the family business will put her on the path to a more normal life. She agrees to take on one more job for her parents before she leaves, a fifteen year old missing person case.

It was an interesting experience rereading this book, knowing what happens in the rest of the books. It's cool to see how the author laid the groundwork in this book for future plot points. While I definitely like this book, I wouldn't say it is the strongest or my favorite of the six books. It does provide a good introduction to the Spellman family and is certainly very funny.

I've described this series as being similar to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, but with clever humor and actual character development. Not to knock the Plum books as they can be fun reads but you do start to have a sense of déjà vu if you have read 5-10 of them. I think with the Spellman series you get more of a payoff as a reader.

Definitely recommend checking out this series if you enjoy reading books with humor, hi jinks, and heart.
Profile Image for LJ.
3,156 reviews313 followers
August 10, 2007
THE SPELLMAN FILES (Private Investigator, Izzy Spellman, San Francisco, Cont) – Poor
Lutz, Lisa – 1st book
Simon and Schuster, 2007, US Hardcover – ISBN: 9781415432392
First Sentence: I duck into the parking garage hoping to escape.
*** Izzy Spellman is a private investigator from a family of private investigators. Her parents sent Izzy and her brother David out on their first official surveillance when they were 12- and 14-years old respectively. Izzy eventually decides to quit the family business but is told she must take on one last case—a fifteen-year-old cold case of a young man who’d gone missing.
*** I know I often complain about lack of character development, but not this time. The entire book was character development with, oh yes, a plot, as a minor secondary aspect over half-way through the book. The book starts out with some funny scenes but quickly degrades to mildly amusing and finally to downright boring as the story plays its single theme over and over. It is redundant in the extreme. I found myself not particularly liking the characters as they quickly become the poster family for the dysfunctional and the protagonist seems proud of her periods of indiscriminate sex and drugs and inability to form a relationship. The cold missing-persons case was interesting but by the time it’s introduced into the story, I found myself skipping everything else around it to find out what happened with the case. The book wasn’t awful, but I'm sorry I wasted my money on it and know I shan't read any more in the series.
Profile Image for Silver.
83 reviews7 followers
May 1, 2022
Beach read.
Funny read.
I-want-to-be-this-character read.

Lisa Lutz, if you ever read this, please don't take it the wrong way. By beach read I mean that I was completely entertained, laughed out loud a couple of times, and didn't want to move while I read it. Your book sucked me in and kept me there. When I had to put it down, the story and characters stayed with me enough so it was easy to pick back up. Izzy Spellman reminded me of Thursday Next ( The Eyre Affair) and Jane Charlotte ( Bad Monkeys). I have the galley of the follow-up ( Curse of the Spellmans) and am starting it today! Thank you, Lisa, for Izzy, Rae, and the whole Spellman family!
Profile Image for Jadranka.
229 reviews128 followers
February 8, 2017

Ovo je jedna od onih knjiga do koje ne bih došla da nema Goodreads-a, što bi bio veliki propust.
Zabavna, uzbudljiva, opuštajuća, duhovita knjiga koja mami osmeh na lice od prve strane.
Pratimo svakodnevnicu porodice Spelman, oni vode porodični biznis - oni su privatni detektivi, njuškala, zovite ih kako hoćete.
A Spelmanovi su mama, tata, ujka Rej, Dejvid, Izi i mala Rej.
I have a confession to make :) ja sam ista, preslikana Rej Spelman, da klinče od 13-14 godina, to sam JA. Kako sam počela da čitam Spelmanove setila sam se jedne u nizu avantura iz detinjstva. Imala sam negde oko 13 godina, baš kao Rej. Bio je letnji raspust, jedan od najlepših ikada. I tokom tog letnjeg raspusta, moja 2 godine mlađa sestra, najbolja drugarica i ja smo bile zaluđene jednom knjigom. Reč je knjizi koja je kod nas prevedena kao "Harijeta uhoda", možda je još neko od vas čitao? Evo linka do nje https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...
U svakom slučaju, pod utiskom te knjige u kojoj glavna junakinja piše tajni dnevnik, uhodi školske drugove i sl. nas tri smo tog leta osnovale Tajno društvo BROŠ (ne pitajte zašto to ime, suviše je duga priča). Vodile smo tajni dnevnik, izmislile naše šifrovano pismo, imale posebne broševe kao znak pripadanja Tajnom društvu, i najbolje od svega...pratile nepoznate ljude svako veče ceo raspust! Zato sam ja Rej Spelman, a vi knjigu u ruke i uživajte!
Profile Image for Anne.
3,872 reviews69.2k followers
October 17, 2011
As a mystery novel? No.
As a cute and funny chick-lit novel? Yes.

I asked my librarian to help me find a book that was good, but not sad, violent, or about animals (What? I don't like sappy books about animals.) I wanted something mind-numbing to pass the time. Something kind of funny maybe?
She gave me this book and told me, "My mother really loved it!". I really tried to smile at her when she said that. There's a possibility it looked more like a grimace. But I took it anyway, because it's just been one of those weeks.
Well, I guess I need to send a Thank-You note to her mother, because it was exactly what I was looking for.

The plot is...hard to explain, and the mystery isn't really all that engaging. It's basically just a story about a nutty family of Private Investigators, and all of the good-natured damage that they do to each other. It may not sound like much, but I really enjoyed reading it.
Definitely going to check out the rest of the books in this series!

Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
March 24, 2015
I still haven't forgiven this book for looking so appealing on my own, personal (also, in my bedroom) bookshelf that my daughter, who was about 12 at the time and a precocious reader, snitched it from my shelf and read it. I didn't find out until after she was finished. It's not the worst thing in the world that she could have read at that age, but it has some adult content that, let's just say, I wasn't quite ready for her to be exposed to yet. And yes, it was totally the book's fault and not mine. Although now I do tend to hide my adult content books in harder-to-find places.

Anyway, this was a fairly enjoyable, humorous read about a quirky family of private investigators, the latest mystery they're trying to solve, and their relationships with each other and with other people. The MC, Isabel ("Izzy") Spellman, age 28, is the middle child and a former juvenile delinquent:
My teenage years were defined by meetings at the principal’s office, rides in squad cars, ditching, vandalism, smoking in the bathroom, drinking at the beach, breaking and entering, academic probation, groundings, lectures, broken curfews, hangovers, blackouts, illegal drugs, combat boots, and unwashed hair.
Izzy has now straightened out, mostly, and has a job with her parents' PI firm, but is thinking of striking out on her own. But first she needs to solve an old missing person mystery that may have something to do with a problem in her own family. It was fun read, but not really my thing. I've since dumped the book on PBS, and I didn't feel any compelling urge to go read any more books in this series.

And not just because I would have had to find a better hiding place for them.

Content Advisory: Scattered F-bombs, a (non-explicit) seduction, and descriptions of drug use and teenage misbehavior (aka Things I Didn't Want My 12 y/o Reading Yet).
Profile Image for Marty Fried.
957 reviews92 followers
October 22, 2019
I had mixed feelings about this one. I think it would be better as a TV sitcom perhaps, mainly because there's not that much happening other than character development and humor. I liked the humor, but after getting close to half way, I started to get bored; it seemed to be going nowhere, and even though it was enjoyable, I wondered whether I wanted to finish it. But finish it I did, and I liked the second half better - either because there was more of a story, or I got to know the characters better. Getting to know them was a little complicated by the fact that two of them had the same name. The youngest of the siblings was named after their uncle who was on death's bed at the time, dying of cancer, but apparently it wasn't his time quite yet.

The premise and story were completely unbelievable, but once you accept that, it gets better. One telling part is that the main character's favorite thing in the world was the old TV sitcom "Get Smart", from the late 60s, which was somewhat the same type of humor as this book. With Mel Brooks as one of the writers, you can imagine how goofy it was, even the musical score. Of course, not too many people will have even heard of this series, much less have seen it.
Profile Image for Jenne.
1,086 reviews658 followers
October 11, 2010
Annoying people doing stupid things does not automatically equal funny.
Profile Image for Dennis.
356 reviews36 followers
June 1, 2011
Every once in a great while I stumble across a writer who just gets it, one who possesses The Humor – that elusive knack for expressing razor-sharp wit by fusing language and wordplay with insight into human nature and the ironies surfacing in relational complexity. Lisa Lutz looms large in this category. This opening entry in her series about the Spellman family introduces a spirited line-up of family members whose San Francisco private investigation business facilitates honing inquiry skills on each other through surveillance, background checks, and tough negotiations over everything down to the most mundane of household conflicts.

Rebellious Isabel suffers from second-child syndrome (I know something about that...), which is manifested through years of drug use, underwhelming academic performance, and a relatively directionless approach to life and career, especially when contrasted with the successes of her “perfect” older brother David who is a Berkeley- and Stanford-educated attorney. Their accidental baby sister Rae is named after her Uncle Ray who often lives in the family home, but who also frequents bars when not out carousing with ladies of the night or disappearing for days until finally tracked down debauching in casinos and seedy motels. Rae is a precocious and difficult pre-teen, but also demonstrates a quirky sense of loyalty. She quickly acquires tools for surviving in this family comprised of individuals adept at gathering intelligence and using it to their own advantage.

The Spellman Files focuses principally on the characters, but a secondary story unfolds about an unresolved disappearance case. Other readers may be seeking a more plot-driven narrative, but far more interesting to me are the people and their interactions, their back stories, and the humor generated through the author's astute and clever observations. This book is at least as much about the Spellmans as it is a whodunit, and that strikes just the right balance for a mystery novel in a genre I find to be otherwise humdrum.

The chapters often bear a structure resembling private investigation files wherein Isabel catalogs detailed lists of information and documents transcripts of conversations as though she is filling out investigative reports. My favorite storyline is Isabel's relationship with Future Ex-Boyfriend #9, Guatemala-born dentist Daniel Castillo DDS, with whom she shares a common interest in the 1960s crime series Get Smart. (I love that Isabel's parents share a strong distaste for and suspicion of dentists and prefer that their daughter date lawyers.) Their differences, however, reflect in Daniel's childhood dream of working for CONTROL, the American counter-espionage agency, whereas Isabel's lifelong fantasy is working for its nemesis, KAOS.* This coupling's future is precarious at best.

From start to finish, Lutz demonstrates a quick-witted humor and intelligence that immediately drew me in and captivated my attention all throughout. This fantastic initial entry into the Spellman series has me convinced to continue on, and with anticipation I look forward to reading more.

* The International Organization of Evil.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,247 reviews385 followers
December 24, 2021
I read it back in 2017, liked it but for some reason didn't continue with the series. it still a 4 stars now in my reread and I'll try to finish the series but getting distracted by other books is easy...
Profile Image for Lois Bujold.
Author 161 books37.6k followers
August 9, 2013

My casual reading didn't used to come with homework...

Anyway, that was fun. If required to succinctly sum up the mode, I'd dub it family dramady. An... alternatively-functional family of P.I.s in contemporary San Francisco combine variously to drive each other around the bend. The main character reminded me of that tune of Sheryl Crow's, which I mentally dubbed "the borderline-personality girlfriend song", the title of which escapes me just now -- might have been "Man Enough to Be My Man".

That poor dentist... (aka "ex-boyfriend #9").

Meanwhile, back at the meta level, I was impressed by how cleverly the writer used the potential flexibility of first-person memoir to structure the tale and control the pacing.

There are more volumes in the Spellman series. If I didn't have 6 other books in my TBR pile right now, I would follow up; we'll see if the impulse survives to next month.

Ta, L.

Profile Image for Nina.
767 reviews152 followers
May 6, 2022
Sometimes a bit funny, but mostly just silly, like watching children on a playground
Profile Image for Catherine.
523 reviews538 followers
August 19, 2010
Well, I can honestly say that I have never read anything quite like this. This family was insane! Hilarious for us, but quite dysfunctional.

Pretty much everyone in the family, except the odd man out, David, works as a private investigator for the family company. Privacy is an alien concept to the Spellmans. To keep information to yourself in this family you'll need to lie, dodge tails, and constantly check for bugs. It's an interesting lifestyle, but it's getting exhausting for Izzy.

Izzy had an interesting childhood. She ran wild constantly and worried her family. I didn't mind hearing about her previous escapades, but I did find it odd that her parents were so accepting of her alcohol and drug use while she was still a minor and living in their house. I also found it odd that Izzy seemed to fondly reminisce about those memories like the "glory days."

I loved the author's style of writing. The lists and numbers referring to her ex-boyfriends were hilarious! I was pretty surprised at the book's format, although it wasn't an unpleasant surprise. I thought it was really nice that we got to see so much back story on the family. Even though Izzy is the narrator, the family itself seems to be the main character, not a single person.

I couldn't believe the outcome of the kidnapping at the end. I know that we were prepped for it from the first page, but I was still surprised! And then to see how it all turned out... I was really surprised that Izzy took it so well. I wouldn't have.

I have the feeling that this series is going to be a wild ride filled with hijinks and sleuthing and hilarious situations. I can't wait to read the next book!
Profile Image for Cheryl.
922 reviews
September 6, 2016
The book's first half spent way too much time on the family's background story. At first, the actions of the characters were mildly amusing; but then the author repeated the same humorous actions over and over until they became predictable and boring. This is the first book in a mystery series, but no mystery appears until half-way through the book. After that, the story gets a little interesting. I doubt I will read the next book in this series. A quick read, but nothing special.
Profile Image for Kristijan.
215 reviews66 followers
April 17, 2014
Izuzetno lagana i lepršava knjiga. Moram priznati da mi nije privukla pažnju sve dok nisam primetio da je dvoje prijatelja sa Goodreads-a (J. i V. hvala na preporuci!!!) čitaju i uživaju u njoj. Šteta je što izdavačka kuća nije malo poradila na sinopsisu i promociji knjige, ovako je nezasluženo završila u zapećku, zanemarena zbog nekih drugih romana koji ne zaslužuju ni upola pompe koju dobijaju (što od izdavačke kuće, što od čitalaca).
Roman "Dosijei o Spelmanovima" je pravo osveženje, knjiga koja razvedrava ovo tmurno i kišovito vreme...
Šta reći nego da su Izabel i Rej carice i da čitalac prosto ne može da ne uživa u njihovim glupostima i nestašlucima.
Jedva čekam nastavke!!!!
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,318 reviews4,844 followers
October 12, 2019

In this humorous mystery, the Spellmans - mom, dad, and two wacky daughters - run a private detective agency. The main character is the older daughter Izzy Spellman. She and her kooky family run surveillance, bugging, and info collection for their job AND on each other. There's no privacy in THAT family. Pretty fun book.
Profile Image for RJ McGill.
240 reviews45 followers
November 5, 2018
Lisa Lutz’s first novel, “The Spellman Files,” introduces readers to the lovable, albeit highly dysfunctional Spellman family. Be prepared to adore this zany cast of characters, that will butt their way right into your heart and have you laughing along the way. A strong female protagonist with a meddling family may, at first glance, seem a bit blase’, but don’t be fooled, the writing, narrative, and perspective work together like a well-oiled machine generating the ideal reading experience…

Secrets, scheming and sneaking are all part in parcel of a good days work for a private investigator. Albert and Olivia Spellman have been spying on people for a living since shortly after they wed and their three children have been immersed in this environment all their lives. Even though David, the Spellman’s oldest son, left the family business to pursue a career in law, he can’t avoid occasionally being lured into one of his parent's schemes. The youngest daughter, Rae, has been honing her spy skills from the tender age of six when she convinced her parents to allow her to tag along during surveillance operations. Now a mischievous teenager, she utilizes this unique knowledge to conduct “personal surveillance,” on her friends.

Isabel, 28, is the stereotypical middle child still trying to rebuild the bridge of trust destroyed during her rebellious teens. A sure-footed investigator, with sound judgment, when it comes to business; however, the same cannot be said for her choices in men. Criticized by her perfect older brother, emulated by her younger sister and hounded by her parents, Izzy’s life borders on the edge of insanity, which she desperately wants to escape.

Sharp-tongued, Izzy Spellman has even reduced her failing love life to a list of wise-cracking facts- name, age, relationship length and ‘famous last words.’ Izzy discovers potential ‘ex-boyfriend #9′ while working the case of Daniel Castillo. Izzy is quite smitten with the Guatemalan dentist and knows the importance of keeping her family in the dark about her new love interest. And in a family of snoops, that’s impossible! When she discovers her parents have Rae following her, it is the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and Izzy quits.

Of course, this hard-nosed, scheming family isn’t going to just wither-up and go away, so they offer Izzy a deal…solve this one last case and she is free of her contract. Catch? Oh certainly- there’s a big catch…The case they choose is that of a missing teen from Marin County that disappeared near Lake Tahoe some twelve years ago. Izzy hoped her grit and determination would light a fire under this cold case and thus dissolve the contract that had held her hostage in the family business. So she literally throws herself into this decade-old case. However, while digging into the unsolved case, her little sister, Rae goes missing. She seems to have vanished into thin air and although Izzy and Rae bicker, as do all sisters, she loves the nosey little hellion and will stop at nothing to find her.

Sassy, witty and loaded with sarcasm, this fast-paced story swirls around the outrageously dysfunctional Spellman Family. Even in a house where it’s normal to find triple locks on bedroom doors, the Spellman’s hide their fair share of secrets. Lisa Lutz’s debut novel, “The Spellman Files” explores the inner workings of the family dynamic, from Izzy’s perspective. Revealing how just below the surface stuff… the snooping, scheming and wiretaps, there’s a deep, heartfelt sentiment. Cleverly layered throughout the story is that familiar ”something” we can all recognize…that “thing” bonds and unites families despite all the shortcomings and misunderstandings. “The Spellman Files: A Novel” is an entertaining read that unfolds with deliberate precision. Kick and crunch action is followed by off-the-wall, whip-smart punch lines that will have you laughing out loud more than once. Original, kooky and delightfully dysfunctional, Lisa Lutz gives readers a fresh new way to enjoy comedic crime novels. And readers can rejoice, there’s more zaniness to follow. So get acquainted with the Spellman’s and settle in for a truly enjoyable series.

Happy Reading!
Profile Image for Carolyn.
440 reviews1,143 followers
September 1, 2015
4.5 Stars

This is the first book in the Spellman Series and I absolutely loved it. I found it refreshing and funny and although the Spellman family is bizarre, weird and bordering on completely insane, I simply adored this dysfunctional family.

Isabel, who is the main protagonist and tells the story from a first person narrative, is such a great character. She's strong, feisty and a teeny bit nuts. Brought into the family business, a private detective agency, and the life of a PI at the age of twelve meant that Isabel's teenage years were far from normal. She didn't help the matter by becoming a delinquent, and, with the help of her best friend Petra, causing complete havoc. From knocking over garbage bins on bin night and being hauled down to the police station, at the embarrassment of her father, who used to be a police inspector, to re-landscaping a neighbours back garden with a pair of garden scissors.

Isabel rebels against her family, and this is in part a coming of age story, and although most of it is told in a series of flashbacks by Izzy, aged twenty eight, it really gives you an insight into her past and that which molded her into the person she is today. Izzy is also the complete opposite to her perfect, grade-A student brother, David, and so thinks that to keep the equilibrium, she has to be at the other end of the spectrum: not so perfect and a complete pain in the arse. Isabel's sister, Rae, is also a fantastic character. With witty retorts and an edge to her personality beyond her twelve years, Rae is funny and endearing.

Isabel is a very smart cookie, although sometimes she has a skewed outlook on life, like lying to the new man in her life, Daniel, by pretending to be a teacher. From changing the way she dresses to more 'teacher-like' and rushing to a school to intercept him, when he is popping by to take her to lunch. Izzy knows this is not the best way to impress her new man, but thinks it's better than the alternative... knowing that she is a PI and worse, meeting her family.

The writing is very clever and flows well. At times it is so fast-paced I could barely keep up. The story is great and gets even better with the introduction of the Snow Case and the mysterious disappearance of a boy called Andrew Snow. We then got to see Isabel doing her job: sleuthing. But when she decides that her family and her job are interfering with her having a 'normal' life, madness ensues. The Spellman's follow each other, bug one another's rooms, listens in on each other's phone calls and interrogates each other, which ends the story on a climax that's satisfying and part of which is also rather sad.

Isabel is a quirky character but immensely likable, as were the other characters in the book, even David, who could be a pompous arse at times. To have Isabel as a friend would be a riot and life would definitely not be boring.


The Spellman Files is a fantastically fun and light-hearted read, but by no means fluffy. There is substance here and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Spellman's Curse, and finding out what other mischief Isabel and her family can get themselves into.
Profile Image for Terry.
85 reviews21 followers
August 6, 2008
Just to make one thing clear--I read this book, I didn't listen to the audio CD, but goodreads didn't have the hardback book (?!). Amazon has done this to me too...I'm confused, and unlike some I'm not a fan of audiobooks, so it irks me. Enough of this tangent though--on to the review.

The Spellman Files could have been fantastic! The setup was smart and right up my alley--family of private investigators who snoop on each other more than on strangers. Like The Thin Man, the dialogue was (intermittently) witty and some parts were downright hilarious (the whole interaction with Abigail Snow for example). And I love a good mystery.

Unfortunately, the mystery (what little of it there was) was more played for comedy. The second mystery was also depressingly simple and led back to the messed-up-family drama that the novel is, rather than expand it into a realistic world of PI investigations. Messed-up-family drama would have been fine if a) the characters had really been fleshed out (the real cipher is dad; mom is one-note; some of the other characters (Rae) fare a bit better); b) the plot had been less jumbled (the author deliberately starts about 4 plots at once, and, although I was drawn in, it's a lot to ask of a reader to keep waiting and waiting patiently for the mystery to start while the main character deals with relationship issues. Here's another snippet (2 pages) of mystery, now another 25 about this guy she's dating); c) the characters weren't so mean to each other--the author's dialogue crosses the line between funny and mean too many times...and I think it's meant to be all humorous; d) the scenes were more believable (the first encounter between Izzy and Daniel and the scene at the dentist's between Petra and Daniel are two examples of glaringly (almost put down the book and stop reading) bad dialogue); e) she didn't end every chapter with some version of the following : "Months later, when I had time to reflect on the events that had transpired, I tried to find that precise moment in time that altered all future events..." So frustrating to the reader--the equivalent of "I have a secret, but I can't tell you what it is..."

Despite the harsh words above, I didn't hate the book--it was just depressing to see such a good book within. Lots of editing, reorganization, and more of an actual PI case (for the protagonist and the reader) would have made this book a great read.
Profile Image for John Matsui.
Author 6 books49 followers
October 8, 2016
The Spellmans are a collection of quirky, self-possessed psychopaths in a family that operates a detective agency.
The main character is 28-year-old Izzy [Isabel] who tries to leave the family and the business to find a more normal life. In the process, she uses every underhanded, snooping, spying and lying PI technique to make the break. Her parents and younger sister Rae, 14, tap the same arsenal to track her because they feel she may slip back to her former hard-drinking ways.
Running parallel to the main plot is the bizarre saga of Izzy's love-life. While on a case, she spies on Daniel Castillo DDS, who captures her heart when he purposely loses a tennis match to a less talented opponent who needed a spirit-lifting win.
She determines he's to be ex-boyfriend #9 and runs the background check that's customary for her potential paramours. Of course, Daniel doesn't step up as her boyfriend willingly, especially after her brother David, a member of the club and the sole "normal" member of the Spellmans blows her cover.
A reluctant Daniel is lured back via a full-court press of spy techniques, visits through his apartment window and unrelenting persistence.
The Spellmans kept me spellbound and laughing out loud. I loved the writing, the characters and the over-the-top cat and mouse game the Spellmans played more with each other than anyone under investigation.
At one point, Izzy smashes the headlight of the car her mother was driving. An aghast Daniel asked why. A broken headlight makes it easy to tell if her mother is tailing her, she explains as if it were an obvious way to shake a parent.
In terms of a mystery, don't expect this first book in the series by Lisa Lutz to match Sherlock Holmes. In other respects, it's one of the most refreshing and wonderfully entertaining reads I've come across in years.
Profile Image for Mauoijenn.
1,127 reviews108 followers
September 7, 2015
This one was okay. A few parts a heck of a lot better than others but not as good as I was hoping for. This was a recommendation from my library's manager directly to me. I wish it had been better as there are more books that come after this. I don't know if I will read them at this point.
Profile Image for Brandon.
896 reviews234 followers
March 21, 2019
Between this year’s Canada Reads books and Don Winslow’s The Border, I spent the majority of the first quarter of 2019 reading some really heavy stuff. So when I put down Lindsay Wong’s The Woo Woo last week, I perused my bookshelves for something fun and light. I settled on Lisa Lutz’ The Spellman Files, a book I picked up at a used book sale about a year ago. After checking out some reviews on Goodreads promising an enjoyable read, I sat down to dig in.

After finishing The Spellman Files today, I cannot think of a more perfect book for what I needed at this very moment.

Lisa Lutz’ novel about a quirky family of detectives reads like a literary Wes Anderson movie (full disclosure: this is not my description, but comes from a friend of mine who reviewed it a few years back). Having heard this comparison before going in, I began mentally matching up the characters to their actors within a few chapters. For example:

Uncle Ray – Bill Murray
David Spellman – Jason Schwartzman
Isabel Spellman – Aubrey Plaza
Olivia Spellman – Cate Blanchett
Albert Spellman – Ed Norton

It practically casts itself!

Cinematic tangent aside, this is a well-written novel with prose that lets your eyeballs slide along the page like cooking oil on a teflon pan. This is pure, digestible fiction that lends itself to long reading sessions where you completely lose track of time. It isn’t heavy and the mystery is well-constructed leaving me guessing up until the end.

My only complaint involved Isabel’s relationship with her dentist boyfriend Daniel (also named ex-boyfriend #9). I just flat out didn’t buy it. I didn’t feel there was enough chemistry between the two that warranted Isabel’s aggressive romantic pursuit. That being said, I didn’t find it offensive and it didn’t detract a huge amount from the overall story (it’s not like Isabel spends pages and pages pining over him) as Lutz’s storytelling style moves quickly without lingering on any one aspect of the plot for too long. Bottom line is that their relationship just didn’t feel authentic to me.

I’ve used this phrase before, but Lisa Lutz’ The Spellman Files is pure literary comfort food. Even the best of books can feel like a slog sometimes if they’re overly long, but at 442 pages, not once did this feel like it extended its welcome.

Bring on book two!
Profile Image for Lone rider 1.
78 reviews35 followers
March 9, 2014
Zaista se ne sećam kada sam se toliko zabavljao uz neku knjigu i odmah veliko HVALA GR-u i posebno Tei Jovanović što je (između ostalog i meni) skrenula pažnju na ovaj roman.

Knjiga je totalna forica koja će vam dizati raspoloženje od prve do poslednje stranice.

Već sam spomenuo Izi i Rej koje su više nego genijalne ali i oststak porodice Spelman ne zaostaje za njima. Svi njihovi slučajevi, međusobna praćenja, zvrčke koje su smeštali jedni drugima, Izini momci i epitafi koje su dobijali, veza sa zubarom Danijelom itd. itd..... sve to, a i mnogo više dovešće do toga da će te svaku stranicu iščitati ako ne glasno se smejući onda sigurno non stop sa osmehom na licu.

Pa kad zaželite da se odmorite od nekih "ozbiljnijih" tema, iskreno preporučujem ovu knjigu jer dobijate zaista prvoklasnu zabavu.
Profile Image for Nadine in NY Jones.
2,726 reviews214 followers
February 19, 2012
Newsflash: boring title conceals highly entertaining book!!! Thanks to Amy for giving it a rave review and piquing my interest :-)


I started out loving this book, but then ... not so much. It begins with lots of really fun character set-up, then there is a whiff of a plot, then there is more set-up, and then ... more set-up and more set-up. Finally there is a plot! The mystery was mildly interesting, but by that point I pretty much hated everyone in the book. There is dysfunctional and then there is downright wrong bordering on abusive. The lying, the mistrust (of course, due to the lying), the sneaking around ... it was too much for me. I'll give the second book in this series a try, see how it goes ...
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,861 followers
June 15, 2019
Loved this! Unfortunately after I finished the audiobook I realized it was an abridgment. What stood out to me was how well the characters are introduced. You immediately get a sense of all the key players, and I liked them all. I’ll definitely be continuing this quirky series.
Profile Image for Exina.
1,183 reviews375 followers
August 17, 2014
Boring storyline and writing style, annoying characters, pathetic, totally irritating 'heroine'.
Not recommended.
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