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The Spellman Files: Document #1

The Spellman Files: Document #1

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The Spellman Files: Document #1

3/5 (1,168 évaluations)
423 pages
5 heures
Mar 13, 2007


From the award-winning author of The Passenger comes the first novel in the hilarious Spellman Files mystery series featuring Isabel “Izzy” Spellman (part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry) and her highly functioning yet supremely dysfunctional family of private investigators.

Meet Isabel “Izzy” Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors—but the upshot is she’s good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family’s firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people’s privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman.

Izzy walks an indistinguishable line between Spellman family member and Spellman employee. Duties include: completing assignments from the bosses, aka Mom and Dad (preferably without scrutiny); appeasing her chronically perfect lawyer brother (often under duress); setting an example for her fourteen-year-old sister, Rae (who’s become addicted to “recreational surveillance”); and tracking down her uncle (who randomly disappears on benders dubbed “Lost Weekends”). But when Izzy’s parents hire Rae to follow her (for the purpose of ascertaining the identity of Izzy’s new boyfriend), Izzy snaps and decides that the only way she will ever be normal is if she gets out of the family business. But there’s a hitch: she must take one last job before they’ll let her go—a fifteen-year-old, ice-cold missing person case. She accepts, only to experience a disappearance far closer to home, which becomes the most important case of her life.
Mar 13, 2007

À propos de l'auteur

Lisa Lutz is the author of the New York Times bestselling, Edgar Award– and Macavity Award–nominated, and Alex Award–winning Spellman Files series, as well as the novels How to Start a Fire, The Passenger, and The Swallows. She lives and works in upstate New York.

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The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz

Praise for Lisa Lutz and The Spellman Files

Almost as touching as it is funny.

—New York Daily News

In . . . Lisa Lutz’s clever debut novel, being the daughter (and junior partner) of private eyes has its ups and downs. Up: Izzy Spellman picks locks like a pro. Down: there’s no shaking Mom and Dad in a car chase.


Combines the best of snappy dialogue, cutting humor and fast-paced storytelling.

—Rocky Mountain News (Denver)

Very funny, first-of-a-series. . . . The repartee is terrific. . . . Spellman vs. Spellman is much more entertaining than the old Spy vs. Spy.

—Santa Cruz Sentinel

A gripping narrative about a (mostly) functioning dysfunctional family. . . . Lutz’s snappy style carries this book. (Even the acknowledgments are worth reading.) It’s a laugh-out-loud, quicker-than-quick read that fans of mysteries and light fiction will devour.

—San Antonio Express-News

"With a cast of endearing lunatics and an engaging plot that will make you care and have you laughing out loud, Lutz has stormed onto the literary scene with a first-rate mystery. . . . In a world where sanity may be overrated, The Spellman Files offers a touch of craziness and puts the fun back into dysfunctional."

—Richmond Times-Dispatch

Quirky, intriguing, and thoroughly enjoyable, I can’t wait to read more about Izzy and her charmingly peculiar family.

—Tri-City Herald (Washington)

A welcome addition to mystery collections of all sizes, and sure to be enjoyed by fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and Meg Cabot’s Heather Wells.

—Library Journal

A spirited, funny debut . . . a rush of humor and chaos . . . casual, swift, and hip. . . . A fresh story that works real issues through an offbeat premise.

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Cracking the case can get complicated and outrageously wacky when a family of detectives is involved, but Lutz has a blast doing it in her delicious debut. . . . Stay tuned as a dynamic new series unfolds.

—Publishers Weekly

It’s a testament to Lutz’s well-developed characters and brisk tone that you believe their oddball quirks.

—USA Today

It’s not the mystery of how these cases ultimately resolve that will pull readers through, but the whip-smart sass of the story’s heroine, ace detective of her own heart.


"Fast-paced, irreverent, and very funny, The Spellman Files is like Harriet the Spy for grown ups."

—Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep

"Hilarious. My enjoyment of The Spellman Files was only slightly undercut by my irritation that I hadn’t written it myself. The funniest book I’ve read in years!"

—Lauren Weisberger, New York Times bestselling author of Everyone Worth Knowing

"The Spellman Files is hilarious, outrageous, and hip. Izzy Spellman, P.I., is a total original, with a voice so fresh and real, you want more, more, more. At long last, we know what Nancy Drew would have been like had she come from a family of lovable crackpots. Lisa Lutz has created a delicious comedy with skill and truth. I loved it."

—Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of Big Stone Gap


For David Klane


San Francisco, Night

I duck into the parking garage, hoping to escape. But my boots echo on the slick cement, broadcasting my location to anyone listening. And I know they are listening. I make a mental note to myself not to wear these shoes again if there is a chance I’ll get involved in a pursuit.

I start to run up the spiral driveway of the garage, knowing they’ll never match my pace. The sound of my strained breath now masks the echo of my footsteps. Behind me, I hear nothing.

I stop in my tracks to listen more closely. One car door, then another, shuts and an engine turns over. I try to predict their next move as I scan the lot for Daniel’s car.

Then I spot it—a midnight blue BMW—eclipsed on either side by two enormous SUVs. I rush to the newly waxed four-door sedan and put the key in the lock.

The scream of the car alarm hits me like a punch in the stomach. I’m breathless for a moment as I recover. I had forgotten about the security system. I drive a twelve-year-old Buick that unlocks with a freakin’ key! the way it’s supposed to.

My thumb fumbles with the remote device until the siren stops. I can hear the other car inching up the driveway, moving slowly just to torture me. I finally press the button that unlocks the door.

Car Chase #3

The nondescript Ford sedan cuts past my vehicle, giving me enough time to screech out of the parking space before it blocks my path down the driveway. As I zoom out of the garage, I check my rearview mirror and see the Ford right on my tail.

I shoot across the street, making a sharp left. My foot hits the floor. I am surprised by the smooth, rapid acceleration of the luxury vehicle. I realize there are reasons people buy these cars beyond concerns of vanity. I remind myself not to get used to it.

The speedometer reads 50 mph in no time flat. The Ford is about a hundred meters back, but closing in. I slow down to get them close on my tail and then overshoot the right turn onto Sacramento Street, but they know all my tricks and stay right behind me.

Speeding over two hills, the BMW, followed by the Ford, reaches downtown in record time. I check the fuel gauge. Maybe an hour of high-speed driving left. I turn right into an alley and sweep through to the other side, making a left turn onto a one-way street, going the wrong way. Two cars sound their horns and careen out of my trajectory. I check my mirror, expecting to have made some headway, but I can’t shake them.

Driving south of Market Street, I accelerate one last time, more as an act of showmanship than an attempt to escape. I follow it up by slamming on my brakes. I do it just to rattle them, just to remind them that I am still in control.

The Ford screeches to a halt about ten feet behind the BMW. I turn off the ignition and take a few deep breaths. I casually get out of the car and walk over to the sedan.

I knock on the driver’s-side window. A moment passes and the window rolls down. I put my hand on the hood of the car and lean in just a bit.

Mom. Dad. This has to stop.



Seventy-two Hours Later

A single lightbulb hangs from the ceiling, its dull glow illuminating the spare decor of this windowless room. I could itemize its contents with my eyes closed: one wooden table, splintered and paint-chipped, surrounded by four rickety chairs; a rotary phone; an old television; and a VCR. I know this room well. Hours of my childhood I lost in here, answering for crimes I probably did commit. But I sit here now answering to a man I have never seen before, for a crime that is still unknown, a crime that I am too afraid to even consider.

Inspector Henry Stone sits across from me. He places a tape recorder in the center of the table and switches it on. I can’t get a good read on him: early forties, short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, crisp white shirt, and a perfectly tasteful tie. He might be handsome, but his cold professionalism feels like a mask. His suit seems too pricey for a civil servant and makes me suspicious. But everyone makes me suspicious.

Please state your name and address for the record, says the inspector.

Isabel Spellman. Seventeen ninety-nine Clay Street, San Francisco, California.

Please state your age and date of birth.

I’m twenty-eight. Born April 1, 1978.

Your parents are Albert and Olivia Spellman, is that correct?


You have two siblings: David Spellman, thirty, and Rae Spellman, fourteen. Is that correct?


Please state your occupation and current employer for the record.

I am a licensed private investigator with Spellman Investigations, my parents’ PI firm.

When did you first begin working for Spellman Investigations? Stone asks.

About sixteen years ago.

Stone consults his notes and looks up at the ceiling, perplexed. You would have been twelve?

That is correct, I respond.

Ms. Spellman, Stone says, let’s start at the beginning.

*  *  *

I cannot pinpoint the precise moment when it all began, but I can say for sure that the beginning didn’t happen three days ago, one week, one month, or even one year ago. To truly understand what happened to my family, I have to start at the very beginning, and that happened a long time ago.

Part One



My father, Albert Spellman, joined the San Francisco Police Department when he was twenty and one-half years old, just as his father, grandfather, and brother had done before him. Five years later he made inspector and was transferred to vice. Two years after that, while telling his informant a joke, Albert tripped and fell down two flights of stairs. The fall left him with an unreliable back that would cause him to collapse in pain without warning.

Forced into early retirement, Albert immediately went to work for Jimmy O’Malley, a onetime robbery inspector turned private investigator. The year was 1970. Although Jimmy was nearing eighty, O’Malley Investigations was still pulling in a respectable caseload. With my father on board, the business took off. Albert has an unusual gift with people, a goofy, affable charm that elicits immediate trust. His sense of humor is purely cheap vaudeville, yet everyone falls for it. Some of his routines—like sneezing Eastern European names—he never grows tired of. Only his children have suggested he work up some new material.

At six foot three and two hundred twenty pounds, you might imagine his physique would intimidate, but his easy gait always masked the strength beneath. His face seemed to defy description with features so mismatched, they looked like a collage of other faces. My mother used to say, If you stared at him long enough, he was handsome. And my father would continue, But your mother was the only one who had the patience.

In 1974, during a routine insurance-company surveillance that concluded in Dolores Park, Albert spotted a petite brunette lurking behind a set of bushes flanking the Muni tracks. Intrigued by her unusual behavior, he dropped his paid surveillance detail to follow this mysterious woman. Within a short time, Albert determined that the suspiciously behaving brunette was doing some surveillance of her own. He came to this conclusion when she pulled a camera and an enormous telephoto lens out of her purse and began taking snapshots of a young couple embroiled on a park bench. Her camerawork was unsteady and amateurish and Albert decided to offer some professional assistance. He approached, either too quickly or too closely (the details are now a blur to both parties), and got kneed in the groin. My father would later say he fell in love as the pain subsided.

Before the brunette could plant another debilitating blow, Albert rattled off his credentials to subdue the surprisingly strong woman. The brunette, in turn, apologized, introduced herself as Olivia Montgomery, and reminded my father that sneaking up on women is both impolite and potentially dangerous. Then she offered an explanation for her amateurish spying and solicited some advice. It was revealed that the man still entangled on the park bench was Ms. Montgomery’s future brother-in-law. The woman, however, was not her sister.

Albert played hooky the rest of the afternoon to aid and instruct Ms. Montgomery in her surveillance of one Donald Finker. Their efforts began at Dolores Park and ended at an Irish pub in the Tenderloin. Finker was none the wiser. Olivia would later call the day a great success, although her sister Martie would not. Several bus tokens, cab fares, and two rolls of film later, Olivia and Albert managed to catch Donald in the arms of three separate women (some he’d paid) and slipping money in the pockets of two separate bookies. Albert was impressed with Olivia’s acumen and discovered that having a petite, quick-on-her-feet, twenty-one-year-old brunette working a surveillance job was an invaluable asset. He didn’t know whether to ask her out or offer her a job. Too torn to make that decision, Albert did both.

Three months later, Olivia Montgomery became Olivia Spellman in a small Las Vegas ceremony. Martie caught the bouquet, to her great astonishment, but thirty-three years later would still be unmarried. A year after that, Albert bought the business from Jimmy and changed its name to Spellman Investigations.


David Spellman was born perfect. Eight pounds even, with a full head of hair and unblemished skin, he cried for a brief moment right after his birth (to let the doctor know he was breathing), then stopped abruptly, probably out of politeness. Within two months, he was sleeping seven hours straight and occasionally eight or nine.

While Albert and Olivia automatically considered their first child the picture of perfection, it wasn’t until two years later, when I came along to provide a point of comparison, that they realized how flawless David really was.

David grew more attractive the older he got. While he bore no real resemblance to anyone in my family, his features were a collection of my mother’s and father’s best attributes, with a few of Gregory Peck’s thrown in. He never suffered through an awkward stage, just an occasional black eye brought on by a jealous classmate (which somehow looked fetching on him). David excelled in school with little or no effort, possessing a brain for academics that has not been duplicated anywhere in our entire family tree. A natural athlete, he declined being captain of just about every sports team in high school to avoid the covetous backlashes that would often ensue. There was nothing sinister in his ungodly perfection. In fact, he possessed modesty beyond his years. But I was determined to kick out the legs of every chair he ever sat on.

The crimes I committed against my brother were manifold. Most went unpunished, as David was never a snitch, but there were others that could not escape the careful scrutiny of my ever-vigilant parents. As soon as I developed language skills, I began to document my crimes, not unlike a shop clerk logs inventory. The record of my crimes took the form of lists, followed by relevant details. Sometimes there were thumbnail sketches of a misdeed, like, 12-8-92. Erased hard drive on David’s computer. Other times the lists were followed by a detailed rendering of the event, usually in the case of crimes for which I was caught. The details were necessary so that I could learn from my mistakes.


That is what we came to call it, but it was, in fact, our unfinished basement. Contents: one lightbulb, one table, four chairs, a rotary phone, and an old TV. Since it had the lighting and spare furnishings of a noir film, my parents could not resist staging all of our sentencing hearings in this primitive space.

I held a long-term reservation on the room, being my family’s primary agitator. Below is a sampling of my basement interrogations. The list is by no means exhaustive:

Isabel, Age 8

I sit in one of the unbalanced chairs, leaning to one side. Albert paces back and forth. Once he is certain that I am beginning to squirm, he speaks.

Isabel, did you sneak into your brother’s room last night and cut his hair?

No, I say.

Long pause.

Are you sure? Maybe you need some time to refresh your memory.

Albert takes a seat across the table and looks me straight in the eye. I quickly look down but try to maintain my ground.

I don’t know anything about a haircut, I say.

Albert places a pair of safety scissors on the table.

Do these look familiar?

Those could be anyone’s.

But we found them in your bedroom.

I was framed.

In fact, I was grounded for one week.

Isabel, Age 12

This time my mother does the pacing, carrying a laundry basket under her left arm. She puts the basket on the table and pulls out a wrinkled oxford shirt in a shade of pink so pale it is clearly not its intended color.

Tell me, Isabel. What color is this shirt?

It’s hard to say in this light.

Hazard a guess.


I think it’s pink. Are you willing to give me that?

Sure. It’s pink.

Your brother now has five pink shirts and not one white shirt to wear to school. (The school uniform code strictly says white shirts only.)

That’s unfortunate.

I think you had a hand in this, Isabel.

It was an accident.

Is that so?

A red sock. I don’t know how I missed it.

Produce the sock in ten minutes. Otherwise, you’re paying for five new shirts.

I couldn’t produce the sock, because it didn’t exist. However, I did manage to get the red food coloring out of my bedroom and into the neighbor’s trash can without detection in that time frame.

I paid for those shirts.

Isabel, Age 14

By now my father has been permanently elected interrogator. Frankly, I think he was just missing his cop days; sparring with me kept him fresh.

Fifteen minutes pass in silence as he tries to make me sweat. But I’m getting better at this game and manage to look up and hold his gaze.

Isabel, did you doctor the grades on your brother’s report card?

No. Why would I do that?

I don’t know. But I know you did it.

He places the report card on the table and slides it in front of me. (These were the old handwritten cards. All you had to do was pinch a blank one and solicit the services of a decent forger.)

It’s got your fingerprints all over it.

You’re bluffing. (I wore gloves.)

And we had the handwriting analyzed.

What do you take me for?

Albert sighs deeply and sits down across from me. Look, Izzy, we all know you did it. If you tell me why, we won’t punish you.

A plea bargain. This is new. I decide to go for it, since I don’t want to be trapped at home all week. I take a moment to respond, just so the confession doesn’t come too easily.

Everyone should know what it’s like to get a C.

It took some time, but eventually I grew tired of trying to dethrone King David. There had to be a better way to pave my own path. No one could deny that I was a difficult child, but my true life of crime did not begin until I met Petra Clark in the eighth grade. We met in detention and bonded over our mutual (and fanatical) love for the 1960s sitcom Get Smart. I couldn’t begin to estimate the number of hours we spent, stoned, watching repeats on cable, laughing so hard it hurt. It was only natural that we would soon become inseparable. It was a friendship based on common interests—Don Adams, beer, marijuana, and spray paint.

In the summer of 1993, when we were both fifteen, Petra and I were suspected of committing a string of unsolved vandalisms in the Nob Hill district of San Francisco. Despite the numerous Neighborhood Watch meetings in our honor, none of the cases could be proven. At the time we would reflect upon our transgressions the way an artist might admire his own paintings. Petra and I challenged each other to push the boundaries of our misdemeanors. Our crimes were childish, yes, but they possessed a kind of creative energy that was absent from your everyday vandalism. The following is the first co-list Petra and I created; however, many more would follow.


Our staple activity was what we called the drive-by. When lack of inspiration limited our nightly activities, garbage night provided a backup plan. It was simple, really: We’d sneak out of our homes after midnight. Petra would pick me up in her mom’s 1978 Dodge Dart (which Petra had stolen), and we’d sideswipe trash cans left out for the garbage truck. It wasn’t so much the rush of destruction that appealed to me and Petra, but more the narrow escapes. By the end of summer, however, my luck had run out.

I found myself in the interrogation room once again. This time it was different, since it was a real interrogation room in a real police department. My father wanted me to give up my source and I refused.


The crime: Six hours earlier, I had snuck out of the house past midnight, hitched a ride to a party in the Mission, and picked up a guy who wanted to score some blow. Although cocaine wasn’t my thing, the guy was sporting a leather jacket and a Kerouac novel and I have a weakness for tough guys who read. So I told him I knew a dealer—for reasons I’ll get to later—and I made a call, asking if I could cash in on that favor. Driving to my source’s house, I made the leather jacket guy from the party as an undercover cop and demanded he drive me home. Instead, he drove me to the police station. When it was established that I was the daughter of Albert Spellman, a decorated ex-cop, Dad was called in.

Albert entered the Box still groggy with sleep.

Give me a name, Izzy, he said, and then we can go home and punish you for real.

Any name? I asked coyly.

Isabel, you told an undercover police officer that you could score him some blow. You then made a phone call to a man you claimed was a dealer and asked if you could cash in on a favor. That doesn’t look good.

No, it doesn’t. But the only real crime you’ve got me on is breaking curfew.

Dad offered up his most threatening gaze and said one last time, Give me his name.

The name the cops wanted was Leonard Williams, Len to his friends, high school senior. The truth was, I barely knew the guy and had never bought drugs from him. What I did know I pieced together through years of eavesdropping, which is how I learn most things. I knew Len’s mother was on disability and addicted to painkillers. I knew his father had been killed in a liquor store shooting when Len was six years old. I knew that he had two younger brothers and the welfare checks did not feed them all. I knew Len dealt drugs like some kids get after-school jobs—to put food on the table. I knew Len was gay, and I never told anyone about it.

*  *  *

It was the night of Unpunished Crime #3. Petra and I broke onto school property to steal from the phys ed storage closet (I was convinced that a secondhand sporting-goods business would solve our cash-flow problem). I picked the lock to the storage closet and Petra and I moved the inventory into her car. But then I got greedy and remembered that Coach Walters usually kept a bottle of Wild Turkey in his desk drawer. While Petra waited in the car, I returned to the school grounds and caught Len and a football player making out in Coach Walters’s office. Because I never said anything, Len thought he owed me. What he didn’t know was that I was good at keeping secrets, having so many of my own. One more made no difference to me.

I am not a snitch was all I ever said.

My father took me home that night without uttering a single word. Nothing happened to Len. They had only a nickname to go on. As for me, I got off easy, at least compared to my father, who endured endless jeering from his former colleagues; they found it infinitely amusing that Al couldn’t crack his own daughter as an informant. Yet I know that for a man who spent years working the streets, he understood the codes that criminals live by and to a certain extent respected my silence.

*  *  *

If you can imagine me without my litany of crimes or my brother as a point of comparison, you might be surprised to find that I stand up all right on my own. I can enter a room and have its contents memorized within a few minutes; I can spot a pickpocket with the accuracy of a sharpshooter; I can bluff my way past any currently employed night watchman. When inspired, I have a doggedness you’ve never seen. And while I’m no great beauty, I get asked out plenty by men who don’t know any better.

But for many years, my attributes (for what they’re worth) were obscured by my defiant ways. Since David had cornered the market on perfection, I had to settle for mining the depths of my own imperfection. At times it seemed the only two sentences spoken in our household were Well done, David and What were you thinking, Isabel? My teenage years were defined by meetings at the principal’s office, rides in squad cars, ditching, vandalism, smoking in the bathroom, drinking at the beach, breaking and entering, academic probation, groundings, lectures, broken curfews, hangovers, blackouts, illegal drugs, combat boots, and unwashed hair.

Yet I could never do as much damage as I intended, because David was always undoing it. If I missed a curfew, he covered for me. If I lied, he corroborated. If I stole, he returned. If I smoked, he hid the butts. If I passed out on the front lawn, he moved my lifeless body into my bedroom. If I refused to write a paper, he wrote it for me, even dumbing down the language to make it believable. When he discovered that I wasn’t turning in his work on my behalf, he took to delivering the papers directly to the teachers’ mailboxes.

What was so infuriating about David was that he knew. He knew that—to a certain extent—my failure was a reaction to his perfection. He understood that I was his fault and he genuinely felt contrite. My parents would occasionally ask me why I was the way I was. And I told them: They needed balance. Added together and divided evenly, David and I would be two exceedingly normal children. Rae would eventually throw everything off balance, but I’ll get to that later.

¹ Petra, having a way with scissors—even the garden-variety kind—created a topiary that resembled a hand with an extended middle finger.

² Paid homeless man to buy beer.


The Spellman residence is located at 1799 Clay Street on the outskirts of the Nob Hill district of San Francisco. If you walk half a mile to the south, you’ll reach the Tenderloin—San Francisco’s heterosexual red-light district. If you head too far north, you’ll land in some variety of tourist trap, whether it’s Lombard Street or Fisherman’s Wharf or, if you’re really unfortunate, the Marina.

Spellman Investigations is conveniently located at the same address. (My father loves to joke about his commute down the stairs.) The building itself is an impressive four-level Victorian, painted blue with white trim, that my parents could never have afforded had it not been passed down from three generations of Spellmans. The property itself is valued at close to two million, which means my parents threaten to sell at least four times a year. But those

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  • (4/5)
    Izzy Spellman works for her family's detective agency. That's a bland way to describe her and her family - which is markedly unusual. Trained in surveillance and spy craft from a young age, they regular spy on each other (and any potential significant others) and use blackmail as a way of getting what they want. But they just might learn the value of trusting those closest to them when the youngest member of the family Rae disappears. The question is - was she kidnapped by one of the Spellman's enemies, or is it an elaborate hoax staged by Rae herself? You'll just have to read the book to find out.I found this an enjoyable read and my book club enjoyed picking this family apart. I'd suggest it for someone looking for a lighthearted diversion with quirky - if somewhat unbelievable at times - characters and plot lines.
  • (5/5)
    good to listen to while driving to california. entertaining. not exactly lit but a good guilty pleasure
  • (3/5)
    Liked this one. Rather kooky. Will certainly get the next one in the series and see where that goes.
  • (3/5)
    The inaugural novel in The Spellman Files mystery series introduces us to the series' protagonist, the 28-year-old Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, a licensed PI in her family's detective agency. Although there are suspenseful moments when Izzy's precocious little sister, Rae, disappears or when Izzy bulldogs a 12-year-old cold missing-person's case, the primary charm and humor of the novel lies within the interactions of the eccentric family members. For example, Rae practices her surveillance skills by following and photographing various family members, including Izzy's dates and alcoholic uncle, and then blackmailing them.
  • (4/5)
    Entertaining quick read with quirky characters, first book of a series I'll be reading more of.
  • (3/5)
    Sort of cute. The premise -- family detective agency -- is fun, but the execution is overblown: the little sister is too much and the heroine's fixation on the dentist gets positively creepy. But the mysteries are sound. I look forward to the next one.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book. I already have the other three on hold at the library. It will be awhile because they are all checked out.Although they are nothing alike, Izzy reminds me of Stephanie Plum. I am sure I am not the first person to say that. As a matter of fact, that is why my friend recommended it to me . . . because she knows how much I enjoy the SP books.Izzy's entire family are private investigators. They are totally dysfunctional, but love each other anyway. The younger daughter Rae is a scene stealer. I think she is my favorite character.The book actually has two story lines. There are the cases the family are investigating and there is the relationships amongst the family members. I didn't see the ending coming for either one. To me, that is the sign of a good mystery.
  • (4/5)
    This was a enjoyable read I was surprised at it. When I picked it up at the library I was a little leery of how it would turn out, but it was great.
  • (5/5)
    I really loved this book! A great debut for Lisa Lutz. It had a comfortable feel about it, like an old "screwball" or “madcap” movie. A perfect read for a snowy day in the north. This book flowed along like a brook in flood season, finding alternate routes to its destination, with the occasional boulder or tree in its way.This is a family that works together and lives together, with the exception of the son, David, who has made a career for himself outside of the family business. To say the family is dysfunctional does it a disservice as they are not so much dysfunctional as overzealous in their protection of each other, at the same time trying to protect their individual privacy. The family business is private investigation, the only problem being that they are more apt to be investigating each other than regular clients, at least in this first book. It's a good thing there are more in the future because I found I wanted more when I was done and continued right on into the preview of the next book. That left me dissatisfied because it made me want the book right now. Fortunately, the next two are already out, “Curse of the Spellmans” and “Revenge of the Spellmans” with a fourth due out shortly, “The Spellmans Strike Again”. I’m only sorry I didn’t read “The Spellman Files” when it first came out.The characters are wonderful, right down to Milo, the bartender who constantly has to phone Isabel, the main character, to come and get her little sister out of the bar before he gets arrested. My favourite character though, at this point, is Rae, the young sister, who has learned the art "negotiation" (translation blackmail) by the time she is eight.Isabel is the rebel of the family and blames both the business and her family for all her life failures. She uses the same techniques of surveillance in her search for a boy-friend as in her search for clues. Consequently at the end of this book she has reached Ex-Boyfriend #9. This is a great read, fast and easy, funny and sad sometimes, I even loved the cover with all the pairs of eyes peeking through the newspaper. I recommend it for a relaxing change of pace.
  • (5/5)
    Having stumbled across the most recent book in the Spellman series, I had to go back and start with the first in order to be properly introduced to our heroine, Isabel "Izzy" Spellman. The sadly imperfect middle child in a family of private investigators (except for older brother David, who has joined the "normals" as an attorney), Izzy struggles with her identity, her career choice, her boyfriend choices, and her family members. Should be a sob story, but it's not. This book is original, outrageous, and hilarious. As Izzy careens from one adventure to another, she is rarely at a loss for a witty quip, often to her own detriment. And yet, among all the humor and craziness, a picture of a loving and caring family emerges. And that's what makes this book a winner.
  • (2/5)
    It was cute but I found it pretty thin. The sister was cut from cardboard, the whole family was, really- I couldn't find their motivations. I couldn't identify with anyone in the whole book, and by the end I simply didn't care.
  • (3/5)
    Izzy Spellman is a private detective who works for her parents detective company.She has bad luck with men and the family is a little dysfunctional.I was recommended this book because I enjoy Janet Evanovich.I guess I found some similarities but didn't enjoy this book as much as I was hoping to.There were funny moments ( not as humorous as Stephanie Plum) . Now that I've been introduced to the characters I may pick up the next one to see if its better and more of a mystery, there was so much else going on in this book that the case she was working on kind of got lost in the shuffle.
  • (3/5)
    Protagonist: PI (since the age of 12) Izzy SpellmanSetting: present-day San FranciscoSeries: #1First Line: I duck into the parking garage, hoping to escape.Izzy Spellman is an irrepressible 28-year-old sleuth who works for her parents' San Francisco PI firm. Members of the dysfunctional and relentlessly nosy Spellman clan include Izzy's 14-year-old sister, Rae, who engages in recreational surveillance (a fancy term for tailing people just for kicks), and her uncle Ray, a cancer survivor and recovering health-foodaddict who regularly disappears on liquor-drenched "Lost Weekends." The Spellman parents think nothing of bugging their children's rooms. Many scenes produced grins and even laughs, even though I cringed at the thought of being a member of this family. The major weakness in The Spellman Files was the emphasis on comedy and the lack of plot and suspense. If Lutz pulls it all together in the next book in the series, she could have a real winner. This was a book that I wanted to rate higher and just couldn't.
  • (4/5)
    Like another reviewer, I am at the beach, where I was laughing aloud. Smart and clever, somehow not as implausible as Stephanie Plum, but still completely over the top, despite a pretty serious, but in no way bothersome, lack of action to extend the comparison to Plum. A more intelligent cast of characters. Recommended for a light and amusing read.
  • (5/5)
    Fans of Stephanie Plum will love Izzy Spellman, the wise cracking female heroine in this tale, who both lives and works out of her parents' home and private investigation service. Izzy's life is complicated by the fact that neither she nor her family knows where to draw the line between investigating for work purposes and investigating for personal purposes.
  • (3/5)
    Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz was not very memorable. An Alex Award winner, the main character seemed flighty and not very engaging. It was a "Beach Read" - did not say anything of import but easy plot to read. If you enjoy contemporary Female detective stories, I recommend Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.
  • (5/5)
    This was a funny book. I was intrigued with the family dynamics, its like some horrible accident you don't want to view, but can't help looking. For me, it was like the really dark side of a Janet Evanovich story. Normally when a book is so laden with character development with only a side of plot, I don't really appreciate the story as much. However, this author carries it off, based solely on the fact that her book family is virgin territory (that is to say, hasn't been overdone to death). I would like to see the next book in the series have more plot....and now that I see its coming out in March 08, I have a reason to stop at Barnes and Noble.
  • (5/5)
    This book is hilarious and original. It was such a fun read. I have read the books that follow this one and this is my favorite. Though I did enjoy the others as well. I can see this being made into a film. I really like how they are all paranoid of one another.
  • (4/5)
    Think of one of the oddest families you know, and I bet it comes nowhere near the Spellmans. 28 year old Izzy Spellman works for her parents, private investigators, and has done since she was 12. Spellman Investigations specialise in surveillance. Of their three children Isabel (Izzy) has been without doubt the most trouble, a rebel almost since birth, and a constant subject of interrogation and even surveillance herself. Izzy's history of defiance contrasts with the apparent perfection of her older brother David, but he has managed to break away, leave home, and leads an independent life as a lawyer. By contrast Izzy's younger sister Rae began her first surveillance training before she could read, and is, at 12, in real danger of going the same way as Izzy. Life in the Spellman household is a constant war, with one battle after another between Izzy and her parents, Izzy and Rae, including also skirmishes with Uncle Ray who lives with them. Izzy's life is under constant inspection by her parents and she would like nothing more than to leave home, on her own terms. This book is lightly connected to crime fiction. Investigations are recounted, but it won't satisfy the serious genre devotee. Some have called it chick-lit, and there are elements of humour, just not really what I like to read.
  • (3/5)
    Loved the main character, didn't really like the structure in that the story starts at the end and the entire way hints at a terrible tragedy about to occur, which spoils the fun tone of the novel. I think I'll enjoy reading the other books in the series though.
  • (4/5)
    The Spellmans are a quirky family of San Francisco private investigators. The characters are funny, original, and not always angels. Looking forward to other books in this series.
  • (5/5)
    This book was so good - one of those "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime" "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" sorts of books that defies category and is really fresh and edgy without trying too hard. It was also laugh-out-loud funny, which is, of course, rare in books. Absolutely worth a read.
  • (4/5)
    This was a great book - a fast, fun read with a loveably imperfect anti-heroine. I read it during the holidays when both my time and attention were constantly being interrupted, and had no trouble following the action. And while I do like to read books that make me think, there is also something to be said for books like this one that you read for sheer pleasure.Izzy Spellman is a 28-year-old private detective who works for, and still lives with, her parents. Over the years, she has developed a very suspicious nature. So suspicious, in fact, that the slightest discrepancies in a person's behavior compel her to investigate that person, and it doesn't matter if it is strangers, friends, or even family members. She always asks potential ex-boyfriends a million extremely personal questions just prior to running a background check on them - a habit that has aided in more than one of her break-ups. She is also a life-long troublemaker who at times seems to have the rationale and decision making skills of teenager. But even so, she is still quick-witted and street smart. Some people compare Izzy to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. I guess if I stretch your imagination a little then I can see it. Both get caught up in trying to solve mysteries that should probably be left to the police. Both are "creative" with their investigative techniques, and do eventually solve the mysteries. Both are smart and funny, have trouble with men and their crazy families, and both manage to get into plenty of trouble. But that is about as far as it goes. Izzy is rather obsessive and short-sighted, while Stephanie has the ability to see the bigger picture. Stephanie also seems to have a maturity and innate luckiness that Izzy lacks. That doesn't mean that the Spellman series is not as good as the Plum series, it just means that they are unique enough to set them apart and keep them interesting. One of the other things that sets this book apart is Lisa Lutz's writing style. She has a way of bouncing around between plot lines that could almost be confusing, but ends up holding your interest. The focus of the novel doesn't center on Izzy's attempt to solve her primary investigation, but is actually more concerned with her personal relationships. Lutz also employs several uncommon techniques to add interest to the novel including lists and footnotes (I found the footnotes a little off-putting and distracting, but lots of readers like them.) I give this book a 4 because while it was better than average, it wasn't so good that I had trouble putting it down.
  • (3/5)
    Have you ever read a book in which you just didn't connect with all the characters, but still found the book entertaining? I enjoyed reading this book, it was a light mystery, very funny, which I was in the mood for. But I just couldn't feel like I was reading about a real person. Perhaps there are people like the main characters, but her voice felt so different from my experience that it didn't seem realistic to me.The main character, the first person narrative voice, is a 28-yr old woman who lives with her parents and has worked for them in their PI business since she was 12. Because she doesn't feel she can get away from her parents she does all sorts of destructive things instead. As a teenager she was every kind of trouble and as an adult she doesn't pass out on the lawn anymore, but she still acts like she is 13 in a lot of ways.It is funny, as long as I just read the book, and didn't think about her much, it was an enjoyable read. But now as I sit here and think about the family and how they worked together it is sad. Rather than get out and work out whether she wants to be a part of the family business, the main character sneaks out of windows and lies. There are more books in this series and I don't think I could stand to read them unless she starts to grow up a bit.
  • (4/5)
    Part of what attracted me to this book was a friend described it as Harriet the Spy for adults. This hilarious pseudo mystery is more about the Spellmans, a family of private investigators, than solving any real whodunits. Izzy, the middle child of the Spellman clan is 28 and has had just about enough with her family and the family business. Her parents are her bosses, her older brother a lawyer who gets them work, her younger teenaged sister is addicted to “recreational surveillance,” and her uncle is a terrible drunk but can tail a car and pick a lock like a professional. The fact that they nearly all live under the same roof and the term “privacy” is a foreign concept does not help matters. When Izzy starts secretly dating a guy her parents don’t approve of and pay her younger sister, Rae, to keep an eye on her, Izzy decides it’s time to get out. In order to leave the business, Izzy must solve one final case, but suddenly there’s a new mystery at home to solve with the disappearance of another family member. Complete with high speed car chases, stakeouts, break ins, wiretaps, and blackmail – usually involving a Spellman against a Spellman, this was a fun read and I look forward to reading more of this author.While the main character does have a rebellious past and drinking, smoking, and drug use are discussed, in comparison with some other books written specifically for teens I did not feel like the content was too adult. Though, to be honest, this didn't feel like the typical type of book most teens would want to read and probably has a better audience among the college-aged crowd.
  • (4/5)
    Quirky and humorous, The Spellman Files is not your typical mystery....
  • (5/5)
    How I wish there were more books published like this one.

    I cannot put into words how much I loved this book. I've never laughed so hard from a book before or since. All of the the Characters were endearingly ridiculous. The fake drug deal and the final tennis match made my cheeks ache from laughing.
  • (2/5)
    It was ok. The book focused way more on the family's dysfunction than on the mystery. Most of the characters were annoying, and their fighting grew tiresome.
  • (3/5)
    Audio book performed by Ari Graynor

    Isabel Spellman is 28 years old and has always worked for her family business – Spellman Investigations. Having been trained by her parents and uncle since she was in middle school, she’s reasonably good at ferreting out the “dirt” on just about anyone, but she’s feeling rather rebellious these days. She’s met a guy she really likes and when her parents start following her and paying her little sister, Rae, to help with the surveillance, Izzy figures it’s time to leave the family business. Except, they won’t let her go … or at least not until she solves a 12-year-old missing person case that has never been resolved.

    This is a pretty entertaining read. The characters are fun and interesting, though I felt the parents could have been a bit better developed. It was somewhat reminiscent of the Stephanie Plum series, but not nearly so zany, and Isabel is competent at her job (and doesn’t blow up any cars). I like Izzy quite a lot as a main character, and I’d like to read more of the series to see what happens with her.

    I started out listening to the audio book and really liked Ari Graynor as a narrator. But I noticed a couple of disconnects and decided to check the text version to ensure I had my facts straight. Which is how I discovered that the audio was abridged (the library’s tag obscured that little fact on the cover). I read the last third of the book in text so that I didn’t miss anything important.
  • (4/5)
    I typically don't grab books from the mystery section, but I am so glad that I made an exception for The Spellman Files. The Spellman's have got to be one of the quirkiest and most memorable fictional families. Though there are a couple mystery's in this book they are only a diversion from the antics of the Spellman's who all work for the family-owned private investigators business. The nature of the business makes family members extremely suspicious, even of each other, with hilarious results. Everyone installs deadbolts on their bedroom doors, parents chase daughters in high-speed car chases, and siblings bribe and blackmail each other to keep secrets. This is well-worth reading and I am looking forward to the sequel.