Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Delightfully Dysfunctional

With The Spellmans Strike Again Lisa Lutz brings a quirky mystery series to a captivating close

Lisa Lutz grew up in Southern California and spent the next decade or so college-hopping (no degree) and working a string of odd jobs, including a stint in a family detective agency: “Ten years later, I remember the job as basically me in the basement shredding old files, a lot of invoicing and paying bills, and maybe five days of doing fun investigative work.” During that time she wrote the screenplay for a mob comedy called Plan B, which was made into a movie in 2000. On her website, Lutz characterizes the film as “unwatchable.” At that point she swore off screenwriting and began The Spellman Files. Described by People magazine as “the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy,” Izzy’s life is an addictive romp from the first page of the book to the last, including all the footnotes and appendices.

Lutz brings her four-novel mystery series to a close with The Spellmans Strike Again, another outing with this delightfully dysfunctional family of detectives. The family saga is narrated by Isabel “Izzy” Spellman, whose life has been a series of bad choices, poor judgment, bone-headedness, and other deep character flaws. Fortunately for Izzy, her mother, father, uncle, sister, brother, and assorted friends and lovers are equally eccentric—and equally annoying and lovable.

Detection occurs in The Spellmans Strike Again, most of it by members of the family investigating one another. “I suppose the most defining characteristic of my family is that we take our work home with us,” Izzy explains in the first chapter. “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 mélange, reminiscent of a Left Coast Royal Tenenbaums, lives in literally armed conflict in a Victorian house in San Francisco (don’t call it San Fran), when they aren’t sulking, running away, locking each other in closets and/or trying to have a life. Through four novels, starting with The New York Times bestselling The Spellman Files—now in movie production—and continuing through Curse of the Spellmans and Revenge of the Spellmans, Lutz takes readers on a tilt-a-whirl emotional ride, but in this last volume she brings everything to a tidy conclusion. Izzy wins her true love at last, sister Rae spurns Yale for Berkeley, brother David hangs onto his great new girlfriend, Mom tears up her list of required lawyer dates, and Dad returns the missing doorknobs and light fixtures.

Most shocking of all, Izzy grows up, sort of, although it takes the death of her 85-year-old friend Mort to settle her down to earth. “Every day we get older, and some of us get wiser, but there’s no end to our evolution,” she reflects. “We’re all a mess of contradictions; some of our traits work for us, some against us. …Over the course of a lifetime, people change, but not as much as you’d think. Nobody really grows up. At least that’s my theory; you can have your own.”

Lisa Lutz will appear at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville on March 22 at 7 p.m.