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Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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If you think plot is the most important thing in a novel, leave now. This book is not for you. For those of you that enjoy movies like The Royal Tenenbaums or T.V. shows like Gilmore Girls or the Rockford Files, read on.
The Spellman Files is a very good, but not great debut. It has a plot that thinner than an Olsen Twin on a vomit diet and if it hadn’t been so funny, there would have been multiple times where the book would have crashed and burned. Having said that, it is entirely worth your time and money.
The Spellman Files is about a family, as dysfunctional as any regular family, except this one is also a family of private investigators and they take dysfunctional to a whole new level where they bug the rooms of family members, discreetly tail them to see who they’re dating or what they’re doing, and they even set up the basement to look like a police interrogation room for when one of the younger Spellman’s causes trouble, and when a Spellman causes trouble, they do it in style.
Our protagonist is oldest daughter Izzy Spellman. Former wild-child, lover of Get Smart, un-able to hold a boyfriend and deeply un-able to function in normal relationships because her whole life has been immersed in the private investigation business. She works for her parents as a P.I. and she is very good at it, but at the cost of not knowing where the line invading privacy is and often having a difficult time explaining her occupation to friends and boyfriends.
The book has a terrific sense of humor. Izzy’s brother David is the black sheep of the family. Not because he has troouble with drugs or a job, quite the opposite. He’s perfect. He left the family business and became a successful corporate lawyer, but once a Spellman, always a Spellman. He often deals with the problems Izzy has and gives his family quite profitable jobs to do. Rae is the youngest daughter at fourteen and is actually the most interesting. Izzy knows how much the P.I. business can ruin somebody’s ability to trust and damage their personality, but her parents think she can make her own choices on the family business. It’s an interesting battle for her soul and Rae often made me laugh the loudest, be it her revenge schemes on school bullies or blackmailing family members to keep a secret or get out of summer Camp.
The narration by Izzy is great. It’s a nice and smooth conversational style as she tells stories about her family and sometimes, Terry Pratchett style, there are foot-notes to explain certain things in the text. All the characters have a unique voice, there’s the gruff but sweet father Albert Spellman who often gets the job of interrogating the Spellman children, and his wife Olivia is great as well. You can qualities of both Rae and Izzy in her, and she has no qualms about wiretapping, blackmailing, or tailing her children. Finally, much of the drama comes from Uncle Ray, a tragic figure who was once a clean-cut officer of the law until he got cancer and beat it. Reasoning that a clean life almost made him die, he embraced cigars, booze and drugs to a heavy extent. The closest comparison I can make to him is The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Uncle Ray often goes on what are called Lost Weekends which can last up to a mnth where he goes on a bender, either at a seedy motel or in Vegas or
Plot? There is one, but barely so. After having a relationship ruined by her family’s cynical and paranoid ways, she quits, but her mother makes her take on one last case, a sub-zero temperature cold case about a man that went missing on a camping trip twelve years ago. It’s not nearly as good as the parts about the Spellman family and it would have made the book much better had it been stronger, but I liked it for what it was. There were some decent twists and it shows us how good of an investigator Izzy really is. After all, P.I. work is almost always mundane, consisting mostly of computer credit checks, tailing someone on boring stake-outs, and lots of paperwork. A possible murder case is rare in her line of work and she follows every possible lead and it’s a fun ride for what it is.
The book does come to a screeching halt when Izzy’s dentist boyfriend shows up and his scenes are the slowest in the book, but it has a very funny pay-off, so I forgive the author. The real meat of the book comes from how the Spellmans act as a business and a family.
So thin plot and all, I happily endorse The Spellman Files because it’s a darkly funny novel that understands the dynamics of family in a way that most movies and television and books don’t. It’s refreshing to have a comedic book on my shelf this funny and honest and smart.
8.5 out of 10
NOT AS GOOD AS: Donald E. Westlake
BETTER THAN: Janet Evanovich
READ IF YOU LIKE: The Royal Tenenbaums