May 3, 2007

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The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster, 2007, 358 pages)
Reviewed by Lucas Lund news@hippopress.com

Lisa Lutzís first novel introduces an exotic family of private investigators. The eldest daughter, Isabel, narrates this story in search of a mystery. Story meets mystery twice: once on page 48 when we find out Isabelís little sister, Rae, is missing, and again in the middle of the book when Isabelís parents attempt to keep her in the family business by reactivating one of their cold cases. The case of the missing sister is dropped for most of the rest of the book, but I didnít mind the missing mysteries in the first half because the characters are so entertaining. Additionally, the circular timeline created a need to know that drove me into the story Ö but there are too many bumps in this narrative arc.

Every subplot has a handwritten title, many with numbers. The book reads like a scrapbook. For a while this is charming, but I kept getting thrown out of the story to check the order ó did ďcar chase #3Ē really come before numbers 1 and 2? By the middle of the book, the technique seemed intrusive. By the end of the book, the amount of time the family members spend investigating each other defies belief, even for fiction. Finally, I found two typos, not the usual misspellings and grammatical errors that haunt contemporary books, but typos with big consequences. One throws the timeline off by 12 years; the other has a dead guy making a phone call.

This book is the first in a series, but if Lutz does not come up with a smoother ride, I have no plans to read the rest of the series, despite her deliciously odd cast of characters. B-