Review: Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

I really wanted to love this book.

I definitely loved Heads You Lose, the wonderfully fun and zany novel that Lisa Lutz wrote with her ex-boyfriend. (Read my review here.) And I have to say that Trail of the Spellmans is pretty entertaining, for the most part. It’s a continuation of The Spellman Files, a series of novels about a rather dysfunctional family detective agency. Isabel Spellman, a 30-something year old detective, working for the family agency, is in the middle of several cases. Her father has a secret. Her mother is behaving bizarrely and no one seems to comment on it. Her brother and sister are feuding and neither will tell Isabel what the problem is. Her boyfriend’s mother is coming to visit and her tiny niece, Sydney, calls everything a banana. It’s enough to push anyone to a breakdown.

In this book, the cases they’re working seem chosen to play up the family drama. Her mother is taking classes — suddenly, indiscriminately studying everything from pottery to Russian literature, every day of the week, and no seems to find that remarkable except Isabel. She and her sister, Rae, are shadowing clients who may or may not be involved in illegal dealings — possibly with each other — and her parents seem very reluctant to talk seriously about the conflicts of interest they are facing. And perhaps most importantly, Isabel and her boyfriend, Henry, are facing serious problems. (I would think that the biggest problem is that she refers to him as Ex-Boyfriend #13, even though they’re still together, but that seems par for the course.) Everything seems gearing up for a giant collision.

Some of this book is laugh-out-loud funny. There is some very clever writing and I would probably try another Lutz novel, perhaps an earlier Spellman “document” (this book is Document #5). Some of it plods along, particularly in the middle. I found the family a little too precious, a little too forcibly funny, and that, of course, takes all the fun out of it. When Isabel is hiding from her boyfriend, she goes to her brother, David. But she doesn’t ring the doorbell and ask for asylum; she sneaks in a window. It just seems forced. There is quite a big deal about the secret that has caused a falling-out between David and Rae, and while the secret is definitely sufficient to cause a family feud, it just seemed so totally implausible that it sort of spoiled the fun.

All in all, it wasn’t a total loss, but I’m not convinced this was the best of the Spellman books. I am still open to trying an earlier book, but not as eager as I was right after Heads You Lose.

My copy of Trail of the Spellmans was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

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