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Literature / Spellman Files

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The Spellman Files is a series of books by Lisa Lutz, which features a family of private investigators in San Francisco. They're all very obsessed with their work. Wackiness Ensues on a regular basis.

The books so far are:

  • The Spellman Files
  • Curse of the Spellmans
  • Revenge of the Spellmans
  • The Spellmans Strike Again
  • Trail of the Spellmans

The main characters are:

  • Isabel Spellman: our narrator, who's been a PI since age 12 and has never done another job. A former juvenile delinquent, she's only somewhat reformed in her behavior, and is an obsessive investigator. Either lives with a family member, or in some divey place, or wanders around homeless. Has a dicey dating history as well. The series seems to be a Coming of Age Story for her, as she slowly starts growing up at around age 30.
  • Albert and Olivia Spellman: the parents/owners of Spellman Investigations. Brought their children up to be PI's and to spy on each other.
  • David Spellman: oldest and only son of the Spellmans, the "good kid." Got out of the family business and became a "straight" lawyer. Then he starts to break down...
  • Rae Spellman: the "surprise" child, now a teenager. A master manipulator even in her teens, she's an entirely different form of trouble than Isabel. Has adopted Henry as her "best friend", which her parents allow because he's the only good influence on her (as well as that's going to work). Smarter than she lets on.
  • Ray Spellman: a former cop who's prone to "Lost Weekends" where he goes on benders. Has an...interesting...relationship with his namesake.
  • Inspector Henry Stone: unfortunately, he meets Rae when she fakes her own disappearance. She promptly adopts him and won't leave him alone since, much to his dismay. Isabel later develops an unrequited crush on him.
  • Petra: Isabel's best friend, who marries and later divorces David. She's a lot wilder than he is.
  • Daniel Castillo: Isabel's ninth ex-boyfriend, who remains in their lives even after she traumatizes him by dating him.
  • Maggie Mason: a nice lawyer that Henry dates, and that the Spellmans like despite themselves.
  • Morty Schilling: Isabel's eightysomething lawyer friend.
  • Milo: Owner of Isabel's favorite bar, The Philosopher's Club.
  • Connor: bartender at The Philosopher's Club, Isabel later dates him.
  • Fred Finkel: Rae's boyfriend later on.
  • Demetrius Merriweather: a TV thief who was wrongly convicted of murder, Isabel and Maggie worked to free him.

The Spellman Files series contains examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Uncle Ray. Isabel possibly, as she does drink like a fish recreationally (if not all the time).
  • The Beard: Isabel is forced to pretend she's engaged to Henry in book 2 when the child welfare authorities start asking about his and Rae's friendship.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Isabel fixing up Petra and Gabe, Rae/Isabel fixing up Maggie and David.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: What happens to Rae in book 4.
  • Corruption by a Minor: Rae decides on her own recognizance to help out the vice squad.
  • Dark Secret: Many members of the Spellman household spend much of the books busily hiding their various dark secrets, while other members equally busily try to figure them out.
  • Defective Detective: Isabel has just hit her 30's and really, really needs to start growing up. And to get her own place instead of sponging off others. And to have a less frightening dating life. And while she's a good detective, she doesn't really have an "off" switch, and doesn't listen to people telling her to cool down.
  • Everyone Can See It: That Isabel has a crush on Henry, even though she'd like to keep it secret.
  • False Soulmate: Isabel and Henry are doomed once he decides he wants a family, and she's the least maternal person on the planet.
  • Helipcopter Parents: Albert and Olivia have resorted to some fairly appalling meddling even beyond the usual spying on their children.
  • Homeless Hero: Isabel drifts in and out of various housing arrangements, from a room in her parents' house, to her own apartment, to her car, to her brother's basement (without his permission.)
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Don't even ask how Rae got admitted to Yale. Kinda subverted when Rae elects to go to UC Berkeley so she can live at home instead.
  • Just Friends: Teenage Rae adopts a 40something Henry Stone as her best friend. She genuinely doesn't have a crush on him, nor is he a pervert. Though in his case, he has a lot more issues with the forced friendship than she does. Really, she's The Cat Came Back to him in that he can't get rid of her.
  • Left Hanging: The fate of Demetrius Merriweather, still not freed yet in book 4. He's out in book 5.
  • Maybe Ever After: Rae and Fred at the end of book 5.
  • May–December Romance: Does not happen between Henry and Isabel, though she'd like it to. Henry changes his mind in book 4.
  • Mid-Life Crisis Car: David gets one, but goes in a different direction than you were expecting.
  • Secret Chaser: The Spellmans in general, Isabel most of all. Hell, she gets nicknamed "The Gopher" for it.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Henry Stone in for Uncle Ray— Olivia points out that Rae seems to think of him as a cleaned-up version of her uncle.
  • Sweet Tooth: Rae is always eating something sweet. David actually hides candy away from himself in his own house, to keep himself from eating it.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Rae, so often that Henry frequently calls Isabel to get her to extract Rae from his house. Rae also pulls this at Isabel's favorite bar. Isabel pulls this on David herself in book 3.
  • There Are No Therapists: This changes in book 3 when Isabel is forced into court-ordered therapy. She ends up liking it.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: By book 4, Henry and Maggie have figured out how to manipulate the Spellman clan by using their techniques.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Disappearance" is used in lieu of "vacation" in the Spellman household, "Lost Weekend" equating to "Uncle Ray has a drunken bender."