Thursday, April 23, 2009

Under Her (Neurotic) Spell: Lisa Lutz

How I love it when I discover an author far enough along into their career that I can go back and find more of their books. This past weekend I became acquainted with Lisa Lutz, whose third novel, The Revenge of the Spellmans, kept me laughing. I needed something light as a counterpoint to all things related to the Big Read we are doing here in Houston: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, as well as Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields. I will be facilitating a book discussion of the biography on May 13th. (See hcpl.net for further details)

Ms. Lutz has a droll sense of humor and her characters are offbeat. San Francisco, where the author now lives, is the perfect city for the shenanigans of her imaginary Spellman family, all of them neurotic in one way or another. When the family business is private detection, there is lots of possible drama, especially when family members start investigating each other. (I wouldn't want to be a Spellman because there would be absolutely no privacy, even after you grow up and leave home.) The main character is middle daughter, Izzy Spellman, who in this book is (barely) participating in court-ordered therapy. I guess she is thirty-something, and in a bit of a funk. She got over-involved in a previous case to the point where her subject filed a restraining order against her. She has been avoiding detective work and getting by tending bar. Her younger sister keeps stealing her car and her brother has done a disappearing act.

I am one of those readers for whom plot is secondary, so I'm not going to get into too may plot details. There are some small mysteries due to minor cases Izzy takes on, so there is just enough suspense to keep the book ticking. Surveillance of suspects can actually be rather boring, but Lutz keeps things lively by concentrating on Izzy's relationships with her friends and family. Because the solving of mysteries is not really the main point, the book did remind me a bit of the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. There is also a similarity to Janet Evanovich and Carl Hiassen as far as sense of humor goes.

Humorous footnotes, "transcripts" of Izzy's therapy sessions, as well as an appendix of characters all add their quirky spice. I am looking forward to getting retroactive with the first and second titles in this series, The Spellman Files and Curse of the Spellmans. "If my book gets someone through a dreadful plane ride, then I've done my job," Lutz reflects in an interview on her website. Perfect airplane reading, except perhaps for the tremendous urge to laugh out loud!

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