Aunt Agatha's Logo

American/Cozy Mysteries

The Spellman Files, Lisa Lutz, Simon and Schuster, $6.99.

" I love you,' she said with an awkward, deadpan delivery. She said it as if she thought I might have forgotten. The truth was, I never doubted for a moment that my parents loved me. But love in my family has a bite to it, and sometimes you get tired of icing all those tooth marks."
—from The Spellman Files

I am very late to this party — Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files has been nominated for several major mystery awards, and after having read it and wiped off the tears of laughter, I now know why. I now know what to recommend to readers of Janet Evanovich who ask "Who else should I read while I am waiting for #15?" This book is every bit as funny as an Evanovich tome and in some ways, sweeter, which to me makes it more memorable. It's an original set up and Lutz has an original way of telling a story. The Spellmans are a somewhat dysfuntional/functional family (kind of like the one on "Malcolm in the Middle"). Basically, they all love each other, but they also all drive each other crazy. The Spellman parents run a P.I. agency and have three children — David, who is perfect; Izzy, our heroine, who was a screwup but who now is an efficient employee of Spellman, Inc; and Rae, a terribly precocious 14 year old. Rae is named for Uncle Ray who disappears on numerous lost weekends after a lifetime of healthful living ended up with heart trouble.

The way Izzy tells the story — she jumps around a bit before you begin to sense the central conflict, but any deviation she takes getting to her main story is so funny and so well done you won't care. For example, she goes through a list of ex-boyfriends and the reasons why they broke up with her. My favorite: "You ran a credit check on my brother?" Because the Spellmans (all except for perfect David) are all in the family business, they all have bedrooms with deadbolts and think nothing of tailing one another or running a credit check on a new acquaintance. The back and forth of the family dynamics adds spice to the story, and at the heart of it is Rae, Izzy's love for her, and Rae's fierce love and loyalty for her family. This sounds corny but in Lutz's capable hands it's far from it. She has a skillful, deft way of painting her characters, telling her story and magically making your care about the people she's writing about.

This is the kind of book you pick up, inhale while laughing, and then are eager for the next one. Izzy is such an interesting — and obviously not completely formed — character that there are many turns ahead in her path. I can't wait to read about them.

bullet hole

To browse more reviews, use the navigation links at the top of the page.