Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Spies Like Us

Forever Young Adult Presents: A review of Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Spies Like Us

BOOK REPORT for Trail of the Spellmans (Spellman Book 5) by Lisa Lutz

Cover Story: Party Like It's 1989
BFF Charm: Yay!
swoonworthy scale: 3
Talky Talk: Neat, With A Chaser
Bonus Factors: Veronica Mars, Whiskey, Footnotes
Relationship Status: New Boyfriend

Cover Story: Party Like It's 1989

The cover's in keeping with the previous books -- simple and graphic, with a PI theme. There's just something about the black and neon that reminds me of a windsuit I wore back in 1989.

The Deal:

This is the fifth installment of the Spellman files series, but since I don't know how many of y'all have actually read these, I'll try to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible. I'll be using footnotes for those of you who are up to speed and those who don't care about spoilers; for the rest of you, sorry if the review reads like this: So there's a woman, and these people, and they do stuff. It's great.

Isabel Spellman has worked for her parents' PI firm for 22 years -- since she was 121. She and her parents are investigating three mundane cases that suddenly become more than they appear, her mother has inexplicably taken up hobbies as a hobby, her sister is doing things2 and her brother is doing things3. Her relationship with her boyfriend4 is a little rocky, especially since his mother came to town and became Isabel's new drinking buddy. All in all, it's a normal year for Isabel, who does things.5

BFF Charm: Yay!

I'd happily give Isabel my BFF charm, even if the only way to get her to take it is if it's accompanied by a bottle of bourbon and a signed contract describing the terms of our friendship (I promise never to stop by without calling first, I'll be happy to provide a couch to crash on, and here's my last name, DOB, and city of birth for a background check). I don't even care that she's kind of a terrible friend -- a professional avoider, manipulative, and impossible to keep secrets from. She can usually be counted on to be up for a drink, and understands the importance of coffee in any well-balanced diet. She also has a wicked sense of humor.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Isabel's relationship6 in this book is very grown up, but sadly, I don't mean in the sexytimes way. There are Important Talks, avoidance, and hard decisions, which don't make for much swoon (if you want that, go for books 3 and 4). I do give it points for the mere existence of Henry Stone, the straight-laced, slightly OCD police inspector, about whom I may or may not have wished (more than once) was real, and also my boyfriend. Because he's incredibly sexy -- he irons, cooks, has hilarious house rules (I don't mind reading an hour for every hour of TV watched), and is surprisingly patient. I'm also guessing he's great in the sack. I have to guess, since the books don't share this information, which is probably for the best, since he's (unfortunately) a fictional character.

Talky Talk: Neat, With A Chaser

All of the Spellman books are embarrassingly funny, and not ideal for reading in public if you like to go unnoticed. Isabel's habit of starting stories in the middle lets Lutz slowly tease out the story and its various mysteries, both on the clock and off. Including transcripts7 and case reports allows the story to break out of simple first-person narration, although the first-person point of view provides the best look at Isabel's evolution as a human being, one of the series' standout characteristics. Yeah, the books are hilarious, but they also -- this one especially -- don't shy from tangling with major real life problems8.

Bonus Factor: Veronica Mars

Isabel is like a grown up Veronica Mars -- one who drinks too much, still hasn't figured out boundaries and privacy, and had a more rebellious and less traumatic adolescence.

Bonus Factor: Whiskey

Izzy knows a good whiskey, especially if someone else is buying. She also knows a good beer, vodka tonic, bad whiskey, and gin.

Bonus Factor: Footnotes

The book is peppered with my favorite device9, footnotes.

Casting Call:

I get to cast grownups (yes, what I really mean is I get to cast Jon Hamm). SCORE. I had a hard time casting Isabel, but the supporting players were a piece of cake.

Jon Hamm as older brother David

Jon Hamm as older brother David

Why two different pictures? Just read the books, ok?

Kelly Bishop as Olivia Spellman

No one does meddling mother better. (And Lauren Graham might be able to pull off Isabel, but I'm afraid of too much associative casting10, so I won't cast her).

Elle Fanning as younger sister Rae

Either of the Fanning sisters will make a great Rae, but I think Elle can really pull off Rae's near-sociopathy.

Meshach Taylor as D

Just because he played that other guy on that other show11 doesn't mean I'm typecasting here. I really think he could pull of this guy's12 long-suffering patience and dedication to domesticity, even though he's about 20 years too old for the part now.

Relationship Status: New Boyfriend

This book and I are still in the never-leave-the-house period of our relationship. I read almost the whole series in about 2 weeks, and had no time for other books, friends, or family members because ALL I could think or talk about was this book (I did manage to remember to feed the dog and the baby, but that's it). It's still the honeymoon stage, and I'm sure my friends are all sick of me talking about the book on the rare occasions they drag me away from it, but I can't help it. It's just so GREAT! And we're so IN LOVE. I know it's The One. I mean it this time. Oh, it sent me another cute text -- you have got to see this. Isn't it great? It's SO AMAZING.


1 She's part owner now, and the handoff of power from her parents to herself isn't going very smoothly.
2 Rae is in college and suspiciously absent from Spellman Investigations' offices
3 New David (see second casting picture) is living the life of a stay-at-home dad to 18-month-old Sydney, which means he regularly sports food stains and pajamas, and irregularly showers. He's still stingy with the good booze, though. Maggie happily does the breadwinning.
4 The Mr. Knightly-esque Henry Stone, who really should call me.
5 Mainly practice the Avoidance TechniqueTM on Henry, disobey her parents' instructions, and spy on everyone. Oh, and drink her way to self-actualization.

Back up

6 With Henry. He's gone from being referred to as "Husband #1" to "Ex-boyfriend #13", which never bodes well.
7 Not as hilarious as my favorites, The Stone and Spellman Show from book 2 (Curse of the Spellmans), but still funny.
8 Growing up, wrongful incarceration, responsibility, heartbreak. The usual.

Back up

9 Yes, I stole it for this review.
10 I made that term up.
11 Anthony Bouvier on Designing Women, who also endured a period of "unfortunate incarceration".
12 Demetrius Merriweather, ex-television thief freed from prison after his wrongful conviction for murder is overturned by Maggie and Isabel in book 4, now works part-time for Spellman Investigations and full-time at being awesome.

Back up

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Simon and Schuster. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Trail of the Spellmans is available now.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.