I don't do this very often, but in the interest of making sure they both are reviewed in a timely manner (the back-up of reviews right now is embarrassing), I'm going to do a joint review in this post. I recently listened to THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN and TRAIL OF THE SPELLMANS back to back, what a treat. Here are my reviews:
First lines: "Why???? we all asked when my father broke the news." (Note: this is the first line from Part 1; I skipped over the Prologue)
The fourth document of the Spellman files finds Isabel "Izzy" Spellman juggling a few cases for the family PI business. On her own, she's trying to find the dirt on Rick Harkey, an ex-cop and the Spellman's main competition.
Additionally, she's been tasked with tracking down a script that was supposedly co-written by a couple who subsequently broke up. The young man wants to make sure his ex-girlfriend isn't trying to sell the script on her own and leave him high and dry. This case involves much garbology.
Izzy is also looking into a missing person's case. For this job, she recruits her friend Len to go "undercover" and act as a butler. Len, an unemployed actor, decides to employ a bit of method acting that doesn't sit well with his partner, Christopher.
Meanwhile, Isabel's younger sister Rae is doing an internship with Maggie, a lawyer who is dating their older brother David. Are you keeping up with this? I hope so, because Rae becomes obsessed with her internship tasks. Maggie is deciding on a pro bono case to accept and Rae is helping her comb through files. When they decide on a case, Rae goes all out and suddenly everyone is wearing "Free Schmidt" t-shirts.
And all of this is taking place while in the Spellman house: Isabel is being blackmailed by her mother who doesn't want her to date the Irish bartender, fixtures in the house are disappearing (door knobs, light fixtures, etc.), and David is seeing a strange woman in the middle of the day.
If that seems like a lot for one book, I can assure you I had no trouble keeping up with anything through Christina Moore's narration for Recorded Books. She handled various dialects seamlessly and the footnotes--for those unfamiliar with the Spellman Files, there are footnotes--are included in a fashion that provides their content but is not disruptive to the flow of the story.
Lisa Lutz infuses her characters with life. They are hilarious without being insultingly stupid. They are also compassionate and complex. There are a lot of events that take place, but there are also a lot of layers. Moore is attuned to those aspects of the book, and the distinct characteristics of each player in this story comes through loud and clear.
THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN made a 6+ hour long drive fly by and I didn't even mind Chicago traffic because I spent most of the time laughing. But be careful because Lutz may provoke you to cry as well.
First line: "For reasons that will forever remain a mystery, my sister scheduled the client meeting at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library--specifically, the government section, which is low traffic, offering privacy for a new client intake." (Again, I'm skipping over the very beginning and starting at Part 1)
Document Five advances a bit from the end of Document Four. Rae is a college student, David and Maggie are parents, and Demetrius "D"--a man Isabel helped free from death row--is working for Spellman Investigations.
Spellman Investigations is hopping with business. Walter Perkins is a math professor with a bit of an OCD problem. He hires the firm to check in on his apartment, whenever he thinks he may have left something turned on, plugged in or unlocked.
Then a slew of distrustful family members hire the Spellmans: first there is the case of the college student. Her parents hire the firm to follow the young woman to make sure she isn't getting into trouble. Then there's Adam Cooper who has hired the firm to follow his sister. And finally there's Margaret Slayter who has hired the firm to follow her husband. It's a trio of suspecting family members.
And speaking of family, Grammy Spellman moves into the Spellman household, provoking Isabel's mother Olivia to take up a plethora of "hobbies" that get her out of the house. And Henry, Isabel's significant other, gets an extended visit from his mother, Gerty. Needless to say, both new family members stir up their fair share of trouble. Meanwhile under suspicious circumstances, David evicts Rae who had been living with him and Maggie. Isabel can't figure out why, but she's determined to solve that case as well.
Lisa Lutz hasn't lost a thing with the Spellmans. Each book is better than the one before. THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN was a hard book to top, but TRAIL OF THE SPELLMANS may have done just that.
As with all of the Spellman books, Lutz creates a wide array of colorful characters, mocking stereotypes and peeling back layers. Demetrius is one of the best characters I've experienced this year. His addition to the series is brilliant.
Lutz has an uncanny knack with dialogue. Regardless of the character she's depicting, the dialogue is spot on and flows naturally and almost always hysterically. Again Christina Moore narrates the unabridged audiobook, and her appreciation of Lutz's dialogue is evident in her delivery. Moore obviously understands each character's unique persona and switches from one to the other with what sounds like effortlessness.
Another one of Lutz's strengths is her imagery, which is very noticeable in an audiobook, since there aren't even words to visualize as the story moves along. From the M&M tree (watered by kool-aid) to the nursery school Columbo to bananas, Lutz will have you looking at everything in a brand new light.
As I mentioned with THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN, this isn't a book that's insultingly stupid. The humor is smart and rich. The plot is layered with meaning and emotion. The characters exude complexity. I keep hoping they'll move in next door to me. The Spellmans remind readers that dysfunctional IS normal, and the more we can laugh at ourselves, the healthier we all will be.
The one drawback to the audio in this case is that you can't fully experience the fully-illustrated (albeit black and white) children's book that appears in the TRAIL OF THE SPELLMANS.
THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 9781416593416) from Simon and Schuster. TRAIL OF THE SPELLMANS is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781451608120), also from Simon and Schuster. The unabridged audio of both books can be downloaded from Audible, iTunes or Simon & Schuster Audio.