Trail of the Spellmans: Document #5 by Lisa Lutz (Simon and Schuster, $25.00, 373 pages)
I decided that sitting in a stairwell all night eavesdropping on a conversation in my own home was undignified, so I searched the office for a recording device that I could plant just outside the door. Then I could listen from the luxury of the office. Much more dignified.
Wacky, ironic, self-aware and irreverent are adjectives that sum up Isabel Spellman who is the narrator of the rather rambling and highly-entertaining journal of her family’s detective agency activities. Their headquarters at 1799 Clay Street in San Francisco, California, also happens to be the family home. Although this address is not really that of a home in San Francisco (a check of Google Earth confirms this fact), there are ample real locations in The City to validate Ms. Lutz’ familiarity with the locale. She even goes so far as to disguise the name of a bakery in the Mission that has long lines in the hope that its fame will not be expanded by disclosure in the book. My bet is that she’s referring to Tartine Bakery & Cafe at 600 Guerrero Street.
A family business like the Spellman’s presents opportunities to create intrigue and internal clashes. The mix is enlivened by the presence of Demetrius Merriweather, a recently-released and wrongfully-convicted 43-year-old man, whose freedom after 20 years of incarceration is attributed to the efforts of the Spellmans. When Grammy Spellman moves in, the family dynamics are tweaked beyond their usual passive-aggressiveness.
Lisa Lutz has enhanced the charm of this, her fifth book of the Spellman series, with illustrations and an appendix that includes background information on the characters, as well as documents referenced in the body of the story.
This reviewer caught herself laughing out loud on numerous occasions while reading this book. Perhaps it’s time to read the rest of the series. Hearty laughter is always a welcome accompaniment to a clever tale.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. The full title of the single from R.E.M.’s Document: R.E.M. No. 5 album is “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” Another hit from that album was “The One I Love.”