Why???? we all asked when my father broke the news. A family disappearance/corporate retreat/camping trip all rolled up into one. Surely it was a bad idea, I suggested. The sentiment was reaffirmed by Rae with her constant references to the Donner Party and repeated inquiries as to which one of the Spellmans plus guest would most likely be consumed first (should it come to that). The third time this particular line of inquiry rolled around, my mother sent Rae to her room.
If all of this is confusing you, perhaps I should give you a quick refresher course on the Spellmans. Although I highly recommend reading the first three documents if you want a true understanding of what is really going on here.
My father is Albert Spellman, a onetime cop turned private investigator who really likes lunch. He is happily married to Olivia Spellman, my mother and co-owner of Spellman Investigations. Mom is an extremely attractive woman--although lately people have been adding the disclaimer “for her age,” which has started to get under her skin. Other than my mom’s mild vanity, her most obscene characteristic is that she seems to think meddling in her children’s lives is an Olympic event. Her training regimen is positively brutal.
Albert and Olivia have three children. The oldest, my brother David, 34: Formerly a poster-boy for the all-American corporate male, currently an out-of-work human being. I’m the middle child. Isabel, 32, if you didn’t catch it already. My M.O. from fifth grade until my mid-twenties was that of the problem child. The “student” who the principal knew by name, the neighbors feared and the pot dealers counted on to stay afloat. Also, in the interest of honesty, there were a few arrests thrown into the mix--two (or four depending on how you’re counting) as recently as two years ago, which I guess means that I can’t argue that my problem years were confined to my youth or even my twenties. But it’s important to note that I’ve come a long way. Therapy helped, and I’m big enough to admit it was court-ordered.
About six months ago, after years of doubt about my future with Spellman Investigations, I committed to the job completely and agreed to slowly begin taking over the business from my parents so they can retire and learn to macramé or something. My father likes to say the seeds of adulthood have been planted. He’s just waiting for them to take.
There’s only one other Spellman to speak of—Rae—and I’ll mostly let her speak for herself because you might not believe me otherwise.
I suppose the most defining characteristic of my family is that we take our work home with us. If your job is investigating other people, you inevitably investigate each other. This single trait has been our primary point of conflict for most of my life.
Finally, to round out the players on this unfortunate camping trip, I should mention Maggie. Maggie Mason, girlfriend to brother David. Maggie is a defense attorney who used to date Henry Stone (that’s a whole other story I don’t really want to get into right now, okay?) who happens to be the “best friend” of my now seventeen-year-old sister, the briefly aforementioned Rae. Henry is a forty-five-year-old police inspector and Rae is a senior in high school. They’re an unlikely duo. Rae met Henry when she was fourteen and I guess she decided that they were kindred spirits. However, on the surface (and beneath the surface) they have nothing in common. At the start, Henry endured Rae. Then he got used to her. Then, when Henry was dating Maggie and Rae went to supernatural lengths to sabotage their relationship, Henry cut Rae off completely. Now they have found peace. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I don’t get involved anymore.
After Maggie and Henry broke up, over half of the Spellman clan vetted Maggie and determined that she was a quality human, the kind of person that the Spellman circle sorely needed. After an appropriate amount of time passed, the matchmaking plans for Maggie and David were successfully enacted. The couple had only been together about two months at the point of this camping trip, but since Maggie is the only person we know who can make fire from a flint, pitch a tent, use a compass and actually owns bear spray, we thought it wise for our own personal safety to bring her along. That and David refused to come unless she accompanied him.
Now picture me in the pre-dawn hours, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of the Russian River, in the middle of nowhere, sharing a tent with my much younger sister, Rae, who had spent the past two days either trying to get cell phone reception, complaining about the mosquitoes, or “sleeping”, during which time she carried on lengthy conversations about. . . well, honestly I couldn’t tell you. I caught phrases like: “I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” “Not in this lifetime,” and “you’ll find the treasure at the bottom of the gorge.” I might have been able to sleep through her babbling if she weren’t a nighttime thrasher and kicker. And so, once again, there I was, sleep-deprived, trapped with family, waiting for the nightmare to come to an end. My life in a nutshell.
I gave up on sleep, knowing that this was my last full day in the wild. When I exited my tent, my father was trying to make coffee and failing miserably. He appeared glad for company since my mother was still slumbering in their tent.
“What am I doing wrong?” he asked.
“Strong-arming your family into a cruel and unnecessary nature excursion,” I suggested.
“No,” Dad replied. “What am I doing wrong with the coffee?”
“You don’t stick the coffee in the pot and boil it with the water, Dad. Are you brain-dead? You just boil the water first and use the French press Maggie brought. Weren’t you watching her yesterday?” I replied with too much hostility.
My father tried to lighten the mood with the only joke he had in his arsenal this weekend.
“Why don’t you take a hike?” he said for about the thirtieth time.
“I’m going to dig a grave for that line and you’re going to bury it, Dad. I swear to you if you say it one more time—“
“Maggie!” Dad shouted, with way too much enthusiasm for waking hours. “Thank God you’re awake.”
Maggie smiled, approached the campfire, and took over the coffee-making. Already the morning had improved. But the purpose of the trip had not yet been realized and, eventually, we had to accept that this wasn’t simply a bonding experience for the Spellmans and friend, but something even more bizarre.
I should mention that no Spellman child had gone AWOL (or refused to participate in the excursion since “business” was not to take place until the final day and, frankly, we all wanted our voice to be heard, even if it was heard above the buzz of mosquitoes. Also, I should mention that my parents refused to give raises to anyone who didn’t participate in this bonding exercise. As for David, he was only there because he thought Maggie needed more quality time with the family, as a kind of cautionary lesson.
I suppose it’s time we get to business.
 The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans – all available in paperback!
 The parental unit claims to have plans for their retirement, but so far none sound even remotely plausible.
 Her words; not his.
The Spellmans Strike Again
First among her priorities as head of Spellman Investigations is to dig up some dirt on the competition, slippery ex-cop Rick Harkey—a task she may enjoy a little too much. Next, faced with a baffling missing-persons case at the home of an aging millionaire, Izzy hires an actor friend, Len, to infiltrate the mansion as an undercover butler—a role he may enjoy a little much.
Meanwhile, Izzy is being blackmailed by her mother (photographic evidence of Prom Night 1994) to commit to regular blind dates with promising professionals—an arrangement that doesn’t thrill Connor, an Irish bartender on the brink of becoming Ex-boyfriend #12.
At Spellman headquarters, it’s business as unusual. Doorknobs and light fixtures are disappearing every day, Mom’s been spotted crying in the pantry, and a series of increasingly demanding Spellman Rules (Rule #27: No Speaking Today) can’t quite hold the family together. Izzy also has to decipher weekly “phone calls from the edge” from her octogenarian lawyer, Morty, as well as Detective Henry Stone’s mysterious interest in rekindling their relationsh . . . well, whatever it was.
Just when it looks like things can’t go more haywire, little sister Rae’s internship researching pro bono legal cases leads the youngest Spellman to launch a grassroots campaign that could spring an innocent man from jail—or land Rae in it.
The Spellmans Strike Again is hands down the most hilarious, thrilling, and moving book in this bestselling, award-nominated series. And it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Isabel Spellman, no matter how much she matures, will never be able to follow Rule #1: Act Normal.
Bestselling author Lisa Lutz Introduces Herself
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
The wacky family of investigators is back for another installment of spying, secrets and sleuthing. In the fourth installment in the Spellman series, we find Isabel Spellman a little more grown up, moving into a shareholder role within Spellman investigations. Still, she faces opposition from an enemy PI, a nosy mother with a secret, a bothersome sister who always gets into trouble and many more colorful characters that Spellman fans have come to love.
The Spellmans Strike Back is the fourth installment in the critically acclaimed, bestselling, Edgar- and Macavity-nominated series by Lisa Lutz. The Spellman family is in the midst of another wild investigation, trying to maintain their private investigation business while at the same time keeping tabs on each other. This time, however, all of the Spellmans will have a little bit of growing up to do as they wrestle with issues of trust, family, life and death.
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