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. 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 quick 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.