The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

I read this book because Publishers Weekly said that the main character, Isabel, “could easily pass as Buffy or Veronica Mars’s wiser but funnier older sister.” Veronica Mars? I’m in.

And I did read this book with Veronica’s voice in my head. I pictured her tailing people and doing surveillance and climbing in and out of windows. It’s a good comparison, I think – both Veronica’s toughness and her vulnerability are evident in Isabel. Isabel is tough in different sorts of ways, is more of a bad girl than Veronica, but the similarities are definitely there. The big crime in this book, the missing person case that Isabel has to solve? I had it figured out way before Isabel, all thanks to an episode of Veronica Mars.

This is, I believe, the first in a series featuring Isabel Spellman and the rest of her family – her parents, her brother, her younger sister, and her Uncle Ray. All of them, except for her brother, are involved in the family business: private investigation. They use these skills not only on clients, but also on each other. No boyfriend is safe, no little sister can expect to get away with anything. It’s hard to keep a secret.

I found the way that they were always spying and pranking each other a little bit frustrating, a little bit tiresome. I could accept it better as the setup for the rest of a series, though. It read more like a setup than anything else – the big mystery came fairly late in the book, after we spent a fair amount of time establishing the characters and how they interact. It was a funny book, very noir in tone. The text is often organized like we are reading Isabel’s notes, which was a fun stylistic choice and which made it easy to get through. I don’t give it a wholehearted recommendation, but I do think Veronica Mars fans will enjoy it, and people who enjoy mysteries or noir that focuses on 20- and 30-somethings will probably also find something to appreciate. While I was reading it, I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d read another in the series, but something that happened at the end hooked me, and I look forward to checking in with the Spellman family again.

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