April 08, 2010

BOOKS: The Spellmans Strike Again, Lisa Lutz (2010)

Fourth, and (sadly) final, volume in the Spellman series.

I commented on the first two volumes (here and here), and have essentially the same reaction to this one. Lutz's characters, a family of private eyes, are delightful, and Izzy is a lively and entertaining narrator; the plotting is thin at best, serving as little more than a lightweight framework for the amusing anecdotes and conversations among the family members and their friends; and overall, the strength of the digressions outweighs the weakness in the plotting.

Among the story threads weaving through this one: Isabel's attempt to bring down a rival PI; a missing persons case that requires one of Isabel's actor friends to go undercover as a valet; Mom's blackmail of Izzy in an attempt to get her to dump her Irish bartender boyfriend; and teenage Rae's legal volunteer work on behalf of a man who may have been wrongly imprisoned.

The supporting characters are also as much fun as ever. The bizarre sort-of-a-triangle relationship among Izzy, Rae, and their cop friend Henry takes some unusual turns; Izzy's elderly friend, Morty, continues to offer advice and criticism, despite having moved to Florida; and Izzy's actor friends, a gay couple, find themselves unusually stressed out when one of them takes his undercover valet role a bit too seriously.

It's the final volume in the series, so a lot of ongoing relationships are neatly tied up; by the end of the book, all of the Spellman kids are romantically happy, at least for the time being. I think the series could have gone on for a few more volumes without getting stale, and I hope that Lutz might return to the Spellmans someday, perhaps to tell stories from other family members' point of view. Imagine a sequel about Rae's first year of college, or a flashback to the days when Mom and Dad were more actively working as investigators themselves, while trying to raise three difficult children.

But at least we have these four books, and even if the plotting isn't as elegant or as tight as I'd like, the Spellmans are a charming family, and I've enjoyed spending time with them.

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