I reviewed the first of the Spellman books three years ago and gave it four out of five stars in my calibre database. I'm happy to report that that's the last Spellman book with such a low rating. The second book in the series by Lisa Lutz, Curse of the Spellmans, ups the ante to a five-star rating as you see the maturation of the author.
Curse still has the artsy-fartsy layout, a mish-mash of reports, notes, footnotes and a lot of prose. But it all works because of familiarity with the form. And with Lutz's habit of starting somewhere around the middle, then jumping back to the beginning of the mystery.
The mystery this time out is John Brown, a new neighbour and somebody who should be beyond investigation by just about anybody. Unfortunately, HIS new next door neighbours are the Spellmans, a family of detectives who live together and bedevil each other with such extreme invasions of privacy that you honestly can't think of a limit they haven't crossed. Multiple times.
Isabel 'Izzy' Spellman, the 30-year old wild child is the most fascinated by Brown, who's normalcy seems too good to be true. So she picks and picks away at the landscaper, sure she's putting the clamps on a serial killer of women. No proof, just her instincts. Little sis Rae seems more interested in cultivating her weird friendship with cop Henry Stone, who's more the father she apparently doesn't have then her real one. In fact, both Mom and Dad Spellman are off on vacation through much of the book (called disappearance in Spellman speak). And the good kid, David, continues his descent into normalcy, coming off the pedestal everybody in the family has him hoisted upon.
Now, that would be a lot if that was all the mystery that there was in this book. There's more, much more. Plus, Lutz does two things that make these Spellman books treasures. First, they are funny. Laugh out loud funny. And, the dialog between the siblings rings as true as any writer I've read in a long time. Sure, some of the elements are just plain crazy, like the Rae-Henry friendship. But crazy or not, it's still funny.
IF I had a negative about the book, it is that I don't think it's best read on a Kindle. At least the Kindle3. If you aren't prepared for the formatted layout and footnotes, then it would probably be a chore to read this book. An iPad, a KindleDX or somesuch larger reading environment? Sure. But the best way is probably the hardcover. I haven't seen the paperback version, so I can't comment, but I'd find it hard to believe that Simon and Schuster wouldn't get around the footnote issue there.
Whatever the format, get yourself a copy of The Spellman Files and then continue on with Curse of the Spellmans. And here's a hint, I think Revenge of the Spellmans and The Spellmans Strike Again are better still. They're like certain kinds of potato chips. You just can't have just one.