Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book 19 – The Spellmans Strike Again

By Lisa Lutz

The fourth installment of The Spellman series!

Hardcover was published earlier in March, pristine copy discovered at fave thrift shop Chainon (Olman was there as I gasped aloud in delight upon sighting it) and reading commenced the next day. After weeks of reading and only getting halfway through a 600+ page novel, TSSA was a welcome break.

If you recall, the first installment was The Spellman Files followed by Curse of the Spellmans. The third in the series, Revenge of the Spellmans was reviewed just last February.

The latest Spellman book does not bring anything startling new. As our protagonist and narrator Isabelle Spellman explains:

I suppose the most defining characteristic of my family is that we take our work home with us. If your family’s job is investigating other people, you inevitably investigate each other. This single trait has been our primary point of conflict for most of my life.

This single trait is also what makes the continuing saga so entertaining and is the primary source of humour (and misery) in this dysfunctional family saga. Isabelle is busy as ever juggling cases both paid and pro bono, getting dirt on her enemies (and family), keeping current boyfriend from becoming Ex-Boyfriend #12 while appeasing her mother by embarking on a series of “lawyer dates”. Not only that. In order to prove to her mother she actually went on said dates, she has to ask her “date” if she can record part of their conversation.

The purpose of the recordings was to prove that the “dates” had the feel of dates – the uncomfortable, bio-swapping, dead-silent, ice-clinking, dread-filled feel of a date. As far as I could tell, I only had to be myself to bring about all that and more.

And that’s not even reaching the first half of the book. After the halfway point, our (anti)heroine “can barely keep track of the galaxy of investigations, deceit, turmoil, clashes, and chaos that [she travels] through every day…” At some point, she even resorts to making a to-do list, itemized in descending order of urgency:

• Free Merriweather.
• Destroy Harkey.
• Discover Mrs. Enright’s angle.
• Solve the doorknob conspiracy at Spellman headquarters.
• Find out what dirt David has on Rae to explain extra gardening.
• Take shower.

Yes, this latest edition is not short on the usual comic hijnks we’ve seen in previous installments, nor any of the usual pop culture references, such as Get Smart and Doctor Who, not to mention some witty homages to Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and The Wire.

But at 32, we finally see Isabelle starting to grow up, just a little, both personally and professionally (since for the Spellmans there is no separation between the two). Although Isabelle has gazed at her obsessive-compulsive abyss in the past, she has never really confronted or gotten over it, despite the court-ordered therapy sessions. Not only that, her dear old friend (old as in he was an octogenarian) Morty succumbs to “the cancer” at the same time everything else seems to be falling apart. Then her younger sister Rae locks her up in a filing room all night, and she kind of has an epiphany. It sounds messy and all over the place, but eventually, Isabelle ends up solving her cases and tying up some of her personal loose ends -- but in her own terms.

In case you’re curious, I didn’t tell my parents the whole story. They like to keep their cases out of the gray area. You serve the client and the client only. But I lived so many years of my life in that land where rules exist only to be broken that I still sympathize with those who can’t seem to follow them all, including the law breakers. I was one of them once. I guess, if you think about it, I still am. I know that a world of people ignoring absolutes could create a society that cannot function, but I am so sure of my ideals that I make this choice. If, one day, I notice the world slipping and feel that I am truly part of it, I’ll snap back in line. Until then, this is how I’m going to play the game.

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