Sunday, November 17, 2013

Curse of the Spellmans. Lol.

Lisa Lutz

2008 by Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Carol
three and a half stars

Lisa Lutz‘ Isabel Spellman series is a little like Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum. Not the recent ones but the early ones, the ones that made me laugh out loud before they got progressively more absurd and recycled the same plots. The Spellmans, however, are a family team and the nature of the family business means they can’t really escape each other, although they may periodically try. Book two, Curse of the Spellmans, was just as much fun as the first and perhaps even a smidge better. I found it to be an enjoyable, light read that was a load of fun on a sick day.

Plotting is typical Spellman craziness.  Rae accidentally runs over her police detective friend, Henry, who has to stay in the hospital with a mild concussion. A new neighbor moves in, equal parts cute and mysterious, and Isabel finds herself wondering if he has ex-boyfriend possibilities. Bernie is back from Vegas after his wife left him, so Isabel finds herself crowded out of her sublet by his all-night poker games and is forced to return home. Mom and Dad are trying out their own series of vacations, aka ‘disappearances;’ neighbor Mrs. Chandler wants Isabel to discover who’s re-creating her childhood pranks with her elaborate lawn displays; and Isabel’s best friend Petra is strangely out of touch. Eventually, Isabel gets arrested four times (but #2 and #4 don’t count) and learns some lessons, although perhaps not the ones she should.

This time the mysteries were more interesting, perhaps because with so little initial information, Isabel’s problem solving stays pretty true to real life. Unfortunately, her unsanctioned techniques result in a string of arrests, resulting in a legal needs. As brother David is AWOL, she turns to the octogenarian Morty, former D.A., who meets clients (she’s case #2) in his unfinished garage. Or the deli. Isabel has to call him to bail her out:
“‘I brought you a sandwich,” Morty said, and then handed me the abused paper bag. ‘It’s your favorite. Pastrami on rye.’
‘No, Morty, it’s your favorite, which would account for why there’s only half a sandwich left.’”

One of the interesting aspects of the Spellman series is Lutz’ unusual storytelling. The latest devices are chapters on “Suspicious Behavior Reports,” transcripts from Morty’s “Law Offices,” chapters peppered with footnotes and frequent taped conversations between Henry and Rae that become known as the “Stone and Spellman Show.” I don’t mind the footnotes, which are used well enough that they don’t break the rhythm of the story. Many of them reference book one, The Spellman Files. As far as series recap, that’s a nice way of saying, “find info here if you missed it,” while reminding current readers who might have forgotten and not annoying other readers with better memories.
Isabel’s voice is interesting. She has plenty of wry observations, but only shares them with the reader. I got a giggle out of Morty’s wife offering them an extensive list of refreshments, all of which Isabel politely declines. But then Morty interrupts:
“She’d like a cocoa,’ Morty said to Ruth, apparently placing his own secret order.”  

Isabel is self-aware enough that there are times when she realizes she’s pushing boundaries or obsessed, yet she still can’t let go. So far her awareness is interesting and adds possibilities for personal growth:
“On those occasions I may cross some ethical boundaries to reach my goal, simply to get answers to questions that won’t go away. I have many flaws, but I suppose the only one that truly damages my life is that I believe all questions have answers and I believe that I am entitled to those answers.”

Isn’t that the truth?

The Henry and Rae interludes are fascinating. Isabel’s mom encourages Rae’s association with Henry, figuring he’s probably the best role model she could find. Isabel finds herself playing chaperone to them, acting as the beard so they aren’t accused of an improper relationship, and taping the conversations at her mom’s request. Henry’s the straight foil to the general weirdness of the Spellmans, and Isabel just might be falling for him. An episode from the Stone and Spellman Show called ‘Henry’s Choice’ cracked me up:
Rae: Did you read any of that organ-donation material in the hospital?
Henry: Yes. It’s very sad.
Rae: More people need to donate their organs.
Henry: I agree completely….
Rae: Henry, if you ever needed a kidney, you could have one of mine.
Henry: Thanks, but I think you’re too young to be donating kidneys.
Rae: So you wouldn’t take it?…
Henry: So, I wouldn’t want to take a kidney from either of you.
Rae: But you have to pick. That’s the game.
Henry: I’m unaware of any such game existing.
Rae: I just made it up. It’s called Choose Your Organ Donor.
Henry: I don’t want to play that game.
Rae: Please.
Isabel: Just answer the question, Henry.

Absurd, misguided, melancholic with a touch of romance and a dollop of fear. I’ll check out the next when I need a light read, hoping that Lutz can manage some character development for Isobel while continuing interesting storytelling.

Cross-posted at

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