Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz: A review

I've been reading some dark books lately. It was time for something light and frothy. Lisa Lutz's second entry in her saga of the dysfunctional, but highly functioning, Spellman family, Curse of the Spellmans, filled the bill nicely.

How to even begin to sum up this story?

The Spellmans are a family of San Francisco private detectives. The head of the family, the father, is a former cop. The mother is a hot size 2 dynamo who attempts to keep a tight rein on her family's shenanigans. The oldest child, David, is the perfect son, and is now (in his thirties) only tangentially involved in the family business. He is a successful lawyer, now married to his sister's best friend, Petra. The middle child, Isabel (Izzy) is the narrator of these stories and the focus of the action. The youngest child, teenaged Rae, may actually be the best detective in the family and she has adopted Inspector Henry Stone of the San Francisco Police Department as her best friend, much to his chagrin.

Izzy has finally, at age 30, moved out of the family home and is subletting an apartment, but she returns to the family home every day because that is also the family business office. She notices a new next door neighbor moving in and, learning that his name is John Brown (obviously made up!) and because she is naturally suspicious of everybody, she is convinced that he is up to no good. She starts an obsessive surveillance of him.

Meantime, in the course of a driving lesson, Rae manages to run over her "best friend" Henry Stone and put him in the hospital. Izzy is assigned the case of the copycat vandals, miscreants who are vandalizing the holiday displays of a neighbor, Mrs. Chandler, in the same manner that Izzy and her friend Petra did many years earlier. And David and Petra seem to be separated, although David doesn't want to talk about it and Petra has disappeared. Last but not least, both of the senior Spellmans are behaving in a highly suspicious manner, prompting their middle child to initiate an investigation of them, also.

Throw into this mix an octogenarian lawyer named Morty who comes to Izzy's aid when she is arrested on four different occasions in a matter of weeks and a morose bartender at Izzy's favorite drinking hole, The Philosopher's Club, and you've got all the basic ingredients for this madcap adventure of misdirection and misunderstanding.

This was a fast and fun read. Lutz writes with a light and humorous touch and she has created characters in the Spellmans that may be slightly crazy, but in a good way, and are very sympathetic. One wants them to win. And although they may appear to be completely dysfunctional, they do manage to get the job done. Often with a little help from Henry Stone. I look forward to reading more about the Spellmans' in further entries in this popular series. 


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