The Short Version: Things in the Spellman family / at Spellman Investigations have reached a sort of (relative) status quo. Of course, that’s obviously too good to be true and, before long, the family is up to its usual shenanigans – but nobody is getting any younger and the question arises: what, exactly, does Izzy Spellman want out of her life?
The Review: It feels like an eternity since I last read a proper Spellman novel. I suppose it is, really – I was just out of college, still at the law firm in PA, when The Spellmans Strike Again was first released. And then they rejacketed the books (brilliantly!) and I considered holding off until I could see the whole series in rejacketed paperback…. but I couldn’t resist, I couldn’t wait any longer – especially knowing that there was another book coming so soon (this summer!) and that it could be the end – although I hope not.
Anyway, I recalled the pertinent details of the family as I picked up this book but found that I could only somewhat recall certain plot particulars. I was saved, of course, by the always reliable appendix (with character synopses) and by Lutz’s joyous footnotes – reminding me of when something happened (if not articulating exactly what that something was). But then mostly, I was refreshed and ready to go within 20 pages – everything just flooded back to me. That’s an oft-overlooked quality in series writing: the ability to evoke a ‘world’ and set of characters so easily – make them so real and so relatable – that it takes barely any time at all to jump back in, even after years and years apart. Much as I love George R. R. Martin, he could take notes here.
The best part of the Spellman novels, other than (I say again) Lutz’s irrepressible voice, is not that they’re mystery novels – and the mysteries are well-plotted, interesting, and genuinely surprising – but that they’re family novels that happen to feature mystery. The family-PI firm thing is terrific and I truly appreciate the fact that Lutz doesn’t skimp on the mystery bits – but this novel is wholly about Izzy finally (sort of) growing up. In fact, it’s about the whole family growing up. David – or should I say, New David – is being a dad and kind of crazy about it, Rae is determining what she wants to do in this world, her parents are coming to terms with the fact that they’re both on the plus side of sixty… and Izzy has to figure out what’s next for her. The scenes between her and Henry – good old reliable Henry, the poor bugger – in this book are crushing and beautiful. They added such lovely shading to two characters we’ve come to love over the five books thus far – and, perhaps even more importantly, they’ve shed more light on Izzy than another author might’ve done. In the wrong hands, Izzy could easily stay the vaguely immature wisecrack she started as – but she’s matured and developed in very human ways over the series thus far. Her growing pains have felt very real.
The true actual-reading joy of a Spellman novel comes, of course, from the aforementioned voice and footnotes. Few people do footnotes better than Ms. Lutz and the humor (both on the page and footnoted) is consistently laugh-out-loud. Some of it, yes, might seem ridiculous – I acknowledge that a reader new to the series might stand agape at the Rae/David/Sydney thing – but in the context of this family? It’s no crazier than anything your family’s probably done. Or, well, maybe a bit, but it’s not really out of the realm of possibility. Think of your weirdest friend, maybe, and their family: bet they could do it.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. A really solid entry into the series, if the mysteries felt a little bit appended this time around – but they were, moreso than ever, not at all the point of the book. This book is about that crazy Spellman family and takes them all several huge leaps forward, in impressive fashion. Lutz has matured as a writer and this is a series that can consistently be relied on for just a damn good time.