Isabel (“Izzy”) Spellman is a private investigator because it’s all she knows how to do (aside from drink, that is). Raised from early childhood to enter the family business, Spellman Investigations, Izzy resents her career but can’t really picture her life without it. The same goes for her family – bosses Mom and Dad, lawyer brother David (hobbies include being perfect, negotiations, having perfect hair, and being perfect), little sister Rae (hobbies include eating copious amounts of sugar and sneaking out of the house to conduct “recreational surveillance” on strangers) and drunk Uncle Ray.
Recovering from an adolescence filled with marijuana use and “creative vandalism” alongside her best friend, Petra, Izzy is now a slightly more mature 28-year-old who has (more or less) accepted her lot in life and her nutty family – until she snaps, having grown tired of Mom and Dad tracking her in an effort to find out the details about her new boyfriend. Having had enough, Izzy turns in her notice and is told that she can quit after she solves a 15-year-old disappearance which her parents believe to be an impossibly cold case. Izzy, however, isn’t deterred. She agrees to work on the case for four months, during which time she begins to believe it can be solved. But as Izzy closes in on her quarry, someone much closer to her disappears and the family begins to unravel.
I’d heard The Spellman Files described as “Harriet the Spy for adults.” Since I loved “Harriet the Spy” I was all in. Reviews were mixed on Goodreads, but I can honestly say that I really, really enjoyed reading about the crazy Spellmans – most of all the charming, maddening little Rae. They have more than their share of issues – this is one dysfnctional family – but underneath the surveillance, the taillight-smashing, the room-bugging and the lock-picking, this is a family that really loves one another. Every character is deeply flawed, but none in such a way as to make them unsympathetic. Izzy, described by one of her short-lived dates as “a cross between Dirty Harry and Nancy Drew,” is the obvious star of the book, but she can only be who she is because of Mom and Dad, David, Petra, Uncle Ray and especially little Rae.
The main complaint about The Spellman Files (at least, among Goodreads reviewers) seems to be that the plot really only starts to move about halfway through the book. That’s true – the first part of the book is heavy on character development, light on plot. I have two things to say about this: first, this is the first book in a series and series authors always get off to a slow start while they set up multi-book storylines and introduce supporting characters; and second, I have a high tolerance for character development and for me, these characters were entertaining enough that I was perfectly happy to read their backstories for half the novel. I do hear that the plots start moving much more quickly in subsequent books, which is great, but I wasn’t bothered by the slower pace of this one at all.
Great literature The Spellman Files is most certainly not. But what it is… is pure, riotous, car-chasing, background-checking fun. I’d recommend The Spellman Files to anyone looking for a light summer read or wanting to check out mentally and spend a few hours with a truly nutty family (and trust me, yours won’t seem so bad after you read about Izzy’s parents bugging her apartment). I’ll be seeking out the rest of the books in this series.
Get the book! The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz (not an affiliate link)