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Revenge of the Spellmans

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About The Book

From the award-winning author of The Passenger comes the third novel in the hilarious Spellman Files mystery series featuring Isabel “Izzy” Spellman (part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry) and her highly functioning yet supremely dysfunctional family of private investigators.

Private investigator Isabel Spellman is back on the case and back on the couch—in courtordered therapy after getting a little too close to her previous subject, leaving Izzy on hiatus from Spellman Inc. But when her boss, Milo, simultaneously cuts her bartending hours and introduces her to a “friend” looking for a private eye, Izzy reluctantly finds herself with a new client. She assures herself that the case—a suspicious husband who wants his wife tailed—will be short and sweet, and will involve nothing more than the most boring of PI rituals: surveillance. But with each passing hour, Izzy finds herself with more questions than hard evidence.

Meanwhile, Spellmania continues. Izzy’s brother, David, the family’s most upright member, has adopted an uncharacteristically unkempt appearance and attitude toward work, life, and Izzy. And their wayward youngest sister, Rae, a historic academic underachiever, aces the PSATs and subsequently offends her study partner and object of obsession, Detective Henry Stone, to the point of excommunication. The only unsurprising behavior comes from her parents, whose visits to Milo’s bar amount to thinly veiled surveillance and artful attempts (read: blackmail) at getting Izzy to return to the Spellman Inc. fold.

As the case of the wayward wife continues to vex her, Izzy’s personal life—and mental health—seem to be disintegrating. Facing a housing crisis, she can’t sleep, she can’t remember where she parked her car, and, despite her shrinks’ (yes, plural) persistence, she can’t seem to break through in her appointments. She certainly can’t explain why she forgets dates with her lawyer’s grandson, or fails to interpret the come-ons issued in an Irish brogue by Milo’s new bartender. Nor can she explain exactly how she feels about Detective Henry Stone and his plans to move in with his new Assistant DA girlfriend.

Filled with the signature side-splitting Spellman antics, Revenge of the Spellmans is an ingenious, hilarious, and disarmingly tender installment in the Spellman series.


Revenge of the Spellmans THE PHILOSOPHER’S CLUB Tuesday
An unknown male—approximately fifty-five years old, with an almost full head of gray hair, a slight build, an even slighter paunch, and a weathered but friendly face, garbed in a snappy suit and a not-unpleasant tie—walked into the bar. He sat down at the counter and nodded a silent hello.

“What can I get you?” I said.

“Coffee,” Unknown Male replied.

“Irish coffee?” I asked.

“Nope. Just the regular stuff.”

“You know, they got coffee shops, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

“It’s three in the afternoon,” Unknown Male replied.

“It’s still a bar,” I responded, and poured a mug of the stale brew. “Cream and sugar?” I asked.

“Black,” he answered. Unknown Male took a sip and grimaced. He pushed the mug back in my direction and said, “Cream and sugar.”

“Thought so.”

Unknown Male put a five-dollar bill on the bar and told me to keep the change. I rang two dollars into the cash register and put the remaining three into the tip jar.

“You Isabel?” Unknown Male asked.

“Who’s asking?” I replied.

“Ernest Black,” the less-unknown male said, stretching out his hand. “My friends call me Ernie.”

I shook it, because that’s what you do, and then picked up a dishrag and began drying some glasses, because that’s what bartenders do.

“I heard you used to be a detective,” Ernie said.

“Where’d you hear that?”

“I was in here the other day talking to Milo.”

“You and Milo friends?” I asked.

“We’re not enemies. Anyway, Milo said you used to be a detective.”

“Private investigator,” I corrected him, and dried some more glasses.

There was a long pause while Ernie tried to figure out how to keep the conversation going.

“It looks like you’re a bartender now,” Ernie said.

“So it seems.”

“Is this like a career path or more like a rest stop on a longer journey?” he asked.

“Huh?” I said, even though I understood what Ernie was getting at.

“I’m just wondering, are you planning on doing this bartender thing long-term or do you think you might go back into the PI business somewhere down the line?”

I casually put down the glass and the dishrag. I reached over the bar and grabbed Ernie by the not-unpleasant tie he was wearing and leaned in close enough to smell his stale coffee breath.

“Tell my mother that if she wants to know my plans for the future, she should ask me herself!”
My dad walked into the bar. Albert SpellmanI is his name. I’d been expecting him. Three o’clock on Wednesday is his usual time. He likes an empty bar so he can speak freely.

“The usual,” Dad said, mostly because he likes feeling like a regular. Dad’s usual is a five-ounce glass of red wine. He’d rather order a beer or whiskey or both, but his heart condition and my mother prohibit all of the above.

I poured the wine, slid the glass in his direction, leaned on top of the bar, and looked my dad in the eye.

“Mom sent some guy into the bar yesterday to pump me for information.”

“No, she didn’t,” Dad said, looking bored.

“Yes, she did,” I replied.

“Isabel, she did that one time two months ago and she never did it again. I promise you.”II

“You have no idea what she’s doing when you’re not watching her.”

“You could say that about anyone,” Dad said.

“But I’m talking about Mom.”

“I’d like to change the subject, Isabel.”

I sighed, disappointed. I was not interested in the subject my dad had in mind.

“If you’d like to talk about the weather, I’d be alright with that.”

“Not the weather,” said Dad.

“Seen any good movies?” I asked.

“Haven’t been getting out much lately,” Dad said, “what with work and all. Oh yes. Work. That’s what I’d like to talk about.”

“I don’t want to talk about work.”

“You don’t talk. You just listen. Can you do that?”

“I distinctly recall you telling me that I wasn’t a good listener,” I replied. “So, apparently I cannot do that.”

“Isabel!” Dad said far too loudly, but who cares in an empty bar? “We are having this conversation whether you like it or not.”

In case you were thinking the definition had changed, a conversation usually involves two people exchanging words, a back-and-forth, if you will. My dad provided a brief lecture that went something like this:

“You are a licensed private investigator. That is your trade. And yet, for the last five months, all you have done is serve drinks and collect tips.III You have refused to work at a job for which you are highly qualified, which used to give you some real purpose in life. I spent seven long, hard years training you at that job, teaching you everything I know while you talked back, nodded off, screwed up, broke equipment, slammed my hand in a car door,IV lost me clients, and cost me a fortune in car insurance. Seven long years, Isabel. I can’t get those years back. They’re lost to me forever. Do you know how much more pleasant it would have been to have hired a nice responsible college student looking for a little excitement in his or her life? Someone who didn’t insult my intelligence on a daily basis or leave cigarette butts and empty beer cans in the surveillance van, someone who said ‘Yes, Mr. Spellman’ instead of rolling her eyes and grunting? Can you imagine how my life might be different?V How my health might be improved?VI Five months ago, when you took this ‘temporary’VII job, you promised your mother and me that you would start actively thinking about your future, which is directly connected to our future, because it’s connected to the future of this business we have built not just for us, but for you. So, tell me, Isabel, after five months of serving drinks and over two months of seeing a shrink, are you any closer to making that decision?”

I’m not usually one who follows the adage “Honesty is the best policy,” but my dad’s speech exhausted even me, and so I decided to go with the very short truth.

“Nope,” I said.

Dad sucked the last drop of alcohol out of his wineglass. He searched the empty bar as if he were looking for assistance. He made brief eye contact, but he couldn’t hold it. The disappointment was evident. Even I felt some sympathy.

“Sounds like you could use a real drink, Dad,” I said as I poured him a shot of Maker’s Mark. “This will be our little secret.”
Thursday is my day off. I wake, read the paper, and drink coffee until noon. Maybe run an errand or two and surf the Internet, prowling for sites that amuse and educate. I kill time until I meet my oldVIII friend MortyIX for lunch. We used to meet at the same Jewish deli every Thursday, until I explained that, as a nonsenior citizen, I am not obsessed with maintaining unbreakable habits. Morty argued that he wanted to go to the same deli every week because he knew he liked the food and could be sure of an enjoyable meal. I argued that it’s better to mix things up. And won. A good thing, as I was getting seriously tired of Morty trying to convince me to get the tongue sandwich.

This week I persuaded Morty to meet me at Fog City DinerX on Battery Street downtown. I took public transportation, but Morty drove his giant Cadillac and was at least twenty minutes late.

“Where were you?” I asked when he finally sat down at the booth. Morty is typically five minutes early for everything, so it was the obvious question.

“Got lost on the way over,” Morty said.

“But you have a navigation system.”

“I turned it off.”


“I can’t stand that thing. Always barking orders at me.”

As Morty studied the menu with his usual dedication, I studied Morty with a more critical eye than usual.

The third button from the top dangled from his threadbare cotton shirt. The lapel sported a food stain. His hair appeared stringier than usual and his glasses reflected like a car windshield after a brief drizzle.

“Hand over your glasses,” I said.

“But then I can’t see the menu,” he replied.

“You’re going to order a tuna melt and a cup of decaf like you always do in restaurants that don’t serve pastrami.”

I held out the palm of my hand until Morty relinquished his eyewear. I dipped my napkin in my ice water and cleared the grime from the lenses. I returned his glasses and warned Morty that driving under such a condition was highly dangerous. Morty nodded in agreement the way somebody does when he wants you to stop talking. The waitress swung by our table and took our orders. Morty opted for the meat loaf and gave me a smirk of rebellion. He still ordered decaf, though.

“How’s Ruth doing?”

“Fine, I suppose.”

“As her husband, shouldn’t that be something you know?”

“She’s in Florida for the week.”

“Doing what?”

“Visiting her sister.”

“Why didn’t you go with her?”

“What’s with the third degree?”

“I’m making conversation, Morty. These are all reasonable questions.”

“I’m not moving to Florida!” Morty suddenly shouted.

“Who said you were moving there?” I asked.

“There’s no way in hell.”

“Got it.”

“Now let’s change the subject.”

“Does Ruth want to move to Florida?” I asked, not changing the subject at all.

“She wanted to move to Italy twenty years ago and that didn’t happen,” was his response.

“What have you got against Florida?”

“Don’t get me started,” Morty replied.

The conversation pretty much ended there. Morty picked at his meat loaf and sulked his way through lunch.

As we exited the diner Morty offered me a ride home and I accepted. I noticed a dent on his Cadillac’s front left fender and asked what happened. He shrugged his shoulders in a What-difference-does-it make? kind of way. He then pulled out of the parking space without checking his rearview mirror and just missed a cyclist who swerved in the nick of time. Morty didn’t notice a thing. A few minutes later, he completely ignored a stop sign, and a short time after that, he started two-lane driving on Van Ness Avenue, until someone in a Mini Cooper laid into the horn. Morty’s response was, “Relax, we’ll all get there eventually.”

After Morty dropped me at the house, I debated how soon I should contact the authorities. If today was an accurate representation of Morty’s driving, he was a regular menace to society. I opted to give him one more chance; everybody has an off day.
A middle-age man walked into the bar followed by a teenage girl. The man appeared angry, the teenager defiant. Meet my sister, Rae, and her “best friend,” Henry Stone.XI

Three bar stools divided them. Henry unrolled the New Yorker magazine he was carrying under his arm and began reading. Rae dusted off the already-dusted-off counter and said, “The usual.” Her usual is a ginger ale followed by a reminder that she’s not actually supposed to be in a bar since she’s only sixteen (and a half!) years old. I poured Rae’s ginger ale and served Henry his usual club soda. I waited for the unusual stretch of silence to end. Rae watched Henry out of the corner of her eye. He studied his magazine with rapt attention, uninterested in—or at least pretending quite well to be uninterested in—the rest of the room. As an act of what appeared to be mimicry, Rae pulled out her geometry textbook and gave a performance of rapt attention. Hers failed where Henry’s succeded. She checked him out of the corner of her eye, waiting for some acknowledgment of her presence. Rae downed her ginger ale and smacked the glass on the counter, making her presence impossible to ignore.

“I’ll have another,” she said.

“Does somebody want to tell me what’s going on?” I asked as I served her second round.

“Nothing. Henry just needs to chillax,” said Rae.

“Do you have any response to that?” I asked Henry.

“Isabel,” he said, “this is a bar. Not a soda shop. Adults come here to get away from children. I could have you shut down for serving minors.”

“Rae, go home,” I said, sensing that Henry needed some space.

“I don’t think so,” was Rae’s response.

“I tried,” I said, turning back to Henry.

Henry finished his club soda and asked for something stronger. I suggested 7UP, but he had bourbon in mind, which meant my sister had done something terribly wrong. I was intrigued.

“What did you do?” I asked Rae after I served Henry his Bulleit.

“Tell Henry,” Rae said, “that what I did, I did for his own good.”

“Did you hear that?” I said to Henry.

He looked up from the magazine and said, “Hear what?”

“Um, Rae said that what she did, she did for your own good.”

“Well, you can tell your sister that it was not her decision to make.”

“What did he say?” Rae asked, even though Henry’s response was perfectly audible.

“You’re kidding me, right?” I asked.

“What did he say?” she insisted.

“He said it was not your decision to make.”

“Tell him he’ll thank me later.”

Henry returned to his magazine and continued pretending that Rae existed in some parallel universe where only I could see and hear her. I decided to play along for the time being, since I had to admit I wanted the scoop.

“She said you’ll thank her later.”

“Tell her I won’t. Tell her she’s forbidden to come to my house ever again.”

“You can’t be serious,” she said. Apparently my translating skills were no longer required, because this was directed at Henry’s back.

“Oh, I’m very serious,” he replied, finishing off the last of his bourbon. I was shocked when he pointed to his glass and asked for another, but I assumed this meant further information would be forthcoming, so I served the drink and eagerly awaited the rest of the story.

I’ll spare you the long, drawn-out argument and give you the basic facts. Henry, for the last five months, had been dating a public defender for San Francisco County named Maggie Mason. Maggie has an apartment in Daly City—not the quickest commute to the superior court building on Bryant Street. Henry lives in the Inner Sunset. It’s only natural that Maggie would spend time at Henry’s home and not the other way around. Two months ago, she got a drawer in his house; one month ago, she got a shelf in his pantry.XII Last week Henry made a copy of his key and gave it to her in a jewelry box. My sister, convinced that Henry wasn’t really ready to take the next step, took it upon herself to change the locks in his apartment a few days later. How my sister had access to his home and how this act of subterfuge went unnoticed by the neighbors, I cannot explain. Suffice it to say she did not deny her role in this particular drama. I’m sure you can imagine what happened next: Maggie arrived at Henry’s house after a long day of work. She tried her key and it failed. She interpreted events the way any woman might: Henry gave her the wrong key, which was a subconscious or passive-aggressive communication that he was simply not ready. What had not occurred to Maggie was that my sister was playing saboteur in their relationship. Certainly there had been moments of tension between Maggie and her boyfriend’s odd version of a “best friend,” but Maggie had failed to see Rae’s outright hostility. None of this escaped Henry’s notice.

“Tell your sister,” said Henry, “that she is no longer welcome in my home.”

“We’re back to that again?” I asked.

Rae’s response was not the wisest. “I have a key,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“I had the locks changed this morning!” Henry replied to my sister at a volume I did not know his voice was capable of.

“Total waste of money,” Rae replied.

Henry finished his second drink, stood up in a huff, and said in his most threatening tone, “Mark my words, Rae: This isn’t over.” Henry nodded a silent good-bye to me and left the bar.

Rae nervously folded her cocktail napkin in quarters, then eighths, and attempted sixteenths. Her defiance softened and worry lines crinkled her smooth brow.

“He’s really angry, Rae.”

“I know,” she replied.

“I’ve met Maggie. She seems nice. What do you have against her?”

“Nothing,” Rae said. “It’s just that if somebody doesn’t do something about it, he’s going to marry her.”
Saturday 1400 hrs
A lawyer walked into the bar. Sorry, there’s no joke here. It was my brother, David,XIII sporting three-day-old stubble and casual attire—cargo pants, sneakers, and a GUINNESS IS GOOD FOR YOU T-shirt, which I’m almost positive was mine. My point is, David’s ensemble was in direct conflict with his usual dress code. It was as if he were wearing a costume for someone planning a day at the park. Instead of ordering what was advertised on his shirt, David asked for a Bloody Mary, just to make me work. I added extra Tabasco and pepper, just to make him suffer.

“What are you doing drinking on a Saturday afternoon?”

“My vacation starts today.”

“Some vacation,” I replied, scanning the surroundings for emphasis.

“I leave for Europe on Monday.”

“For how long?”

“Four weeks.”

“Nobody tells me anything,” I said.

“It’s a last-minute thing,” David replied.

“You traveling alone?” I asked.

“No,” David said in a way that indicated the discussion was over. I, of course, did not agree to the inexplicit request.

“So, who are you traveling with?”

Familiar with my questioning tactics, David stayed his course. “I was thinking I should have someone watch my place while I’m gone, and since you live in a dump,XIV I figured I wouldn’t have to pay you.”

“Not that you couldn’t afford to.”

My brother handed me an envelope, leaned across the bar, and kissed me on the cheek. “The key and instructions are in there. I leave for the airport around ten A.M. on Monday. Don’t enter the premises until at least ten thirty, in case I’m running late. I will return exactly four weeks later in the afternoon, so make yourself scarce by noon of the third Monday from this Monday. Got it?”

“Don’t you want me to hang around so you can bore me with all your travel photos?”

“Not really,” David replied. “Now, behave while I’m gone,” he said, raising a stern eyebrow. Then he left.

I cracked the envelope the second David exited the bar. As promised, it contained a key and a typewritten sheet of paper.


Do . . .

• Take in the mail every day.

• Take out the trash when the bag is full. Put garbage bins on the sidewalk Thursday evening.

• Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Try to make this world a better place.

• Sleep in the guest room.

• Sophia cleans on Tuesday. Tidy up before she comes.

• Water all indoor plants. There are instructions next to each plant.

Do NOT . . .

• Mess with the sprinkler system. It’s on a timer.

• Add porn sites to the Favorites list on my computer.

• Use my electric toothbrush. I don’t care if you buy a new head.

• Throw any parties.

• Sleep in my bed.

• Move any furniture.

• Drink any of the following boozeXV:

—J. Walker Black Label

—Glenlivet 18 Year

—Grey Goose Vodka

—Rémy Martin VSOP

After I recovered from the insult of the list, I phoned David to clarify a few matters.

“Did you forget to include your itinerary?” I asked.

“No,” David replied. “I’m not sure where I’ll be.”

“How will I reach you if there’s an emergency?”

“Just call my cell phone.”

I hung up the phone without any more answers than when I started. There was only one thing I could say for certain: David was lying to me. About what, I couldn’t say.

As I contemplated my brother’s suspicious behavior, the afternoon regulars began to arrive.

Clarence Gilley strode in shortly after four. He pretends he’s on a schedule when it comes to drinking. Four o’clock is his start time and if he shows up any time after that he says, “Sorry I’m late. It won’t happen again.” I like Clarence. He tips well, tells me a single joke each visit, and then he remains silent, studying the sports section of the Chronicle for the next four hours.

Saturday’s joke: An amnesiac walks into a bar. He asks, “Do I come here often?”
1700 hrs
MomXVI walked into the bar. Whatever my father lacks in good looks, my mother makes up for it. Mom is petite and elegant with long auburn hair that comes straight out of a bottle. From a distance, she appears years younger than her age. In fact, Clarence whistled when my mom entered the bar. (Although I can’t say for sure that he was responding to her and not to some alarming news from the world of sports.)

Like my father’s, Mom’s “casual” visits to the Philosopher’s Club were thinly veiled interrogations. To my parents’ credit, though, they managed to mix things up just a bit. This is a close approximation of my conversation with my mother that day:

ISABEL: What can I get you?

OLIVIA: A daughter with a purpose in life.

ISABEL: Sorry, we’re all out. What’s your second choice?

OLIVIA: I can’t decide between a club soda and a real drink.

ISABEL: I’d prefer you had a real drink.

OLIVIA: Fine. I’ll have a gimlet.

ISABEL: But just one drink. Then I’d like you to be on your way.

OLIVIA: I’ll leave when my business here is done.

[The drink is served; the patron takes a sip and grimaces.]

OLIVIA: It needs more booze.

ISABEL: When I serve it to you with more booze, you say it needs more lime juice. Has it occurred to you that you just don’t like gimlets?

OLIVIA: I used to love them.

ISABEL: Sometimes we need to accept change.

OLIVIA: Is this what you’re getting out of therapy? Learning to embrace your inner bartender?

ISABEL: I’m just doing my time, Mom. That’s all.

OLIVIA: Tell me something. Do you talk about me with Dr. Ira?XVII

ISABEL: We talk about everyone in my life at one time or another. It’s possible I haven’t mentioned BernieXVIII yet. But I’m sure it will happen eventually.

OLIVIA: Are you blaming me for all of your troubles?

ISABEL: No. Actually, I’ve been blaming David.

OLIVIA: Fair enough.

[Mother/patron crinkles nose when she takes a second sip of her gimlet.

Daughter/bartender sprays an ounce of club soda into her drink.]

ISABEL: Try it now.

OLIVIA: That’s much better. How do I order it if I need to?

ISABEL: You don’t. But if you have to, call it a gimlet watered down with soda.

OLIVIA: Very nice.

ISABEL: So, I’ll trade you one honest answer for one in return.

OLIVIA: Agreed.

ISABEL: Did you send some guy into the bar on Tuesday to drill me for information?

OLIVIA: I did that once two months ago. Will you let it die already?

ISABEL: So, that’s a no?

OLIVIA: Yes, it’s a no. My turn?

ISABEL: Shoot.

OLIVIA: Are you dating anyone right now? [Long pause.]

ISABEL: No one to speak of.

OLIVIA: What are you hiding? [Another significant pause.]

ISABEL: Milo and I hooked up a few weeks ago. It’s been awkward ever since.

OLIVIA: That’s so gross, it’s not even funny.

ISABEL: Yeah, you’re right. I thought it might be funny, but when I said it, I just felt nauseous.

OLIVIA: In what direction are you heading, Isabel?

ISABEL: Nowhere, at the moment.
Milo walked into the bar, which isn’t all that unusual, what with it being his bar and all. I usually cover my afternoon shifts solo so Milo has more time off, but Sunday afternoon we always work together and take stock of the inventory. I’ve known Milo going on ten years now; he’s been my employer for only five months of those. Bar owners’ expectations differ from other employers’: Show up on time, don’t steal, make the right change, and don’t be too generous with the booze. Most nights, I’m at least three for four.

While I cleaned glasses, Milo did the San Francisco Chronicle’s crossword puzzle, which he considers to be some form of actual work. (Something about keeping his mind sharp being good for business—don’t quote me, I wasn’t paying attention.)

“What’s a four-letter word for a lunch staple?”

“Beer,” I replied, because how is Milo staying sharp by asking me to do his crossword puzzles for him?

“That’s not it. It has to be something you eat.”


“It’s not fish. Fish isn’t a lunch staple in any place I know.”

“I still think it’s fish.”

“Soup!” Milo shouted as if it were a different four-letter word.

“Congratulations,” I said. Frankly, I was happy to know he could get at least one clue in the puzzle. Another minute passed in peaceful silence. But then it was over.

“I was talking to a friend of mine the other day,” Milo said as he hung his coat on a rack behind the bar.

“Fascinating story.”

“Give it time. It gets better.”

“And then what happened?” I asked with rapt interest.

“He was telling me about this time he went into a bar, was making casual conversation with the bartender, and the next thing he knows, the bartender for no good reason tries to strangle him with his own tie and accuses him of having some kind of conspiratorial relationship with her own mother.”

“I’m sure he’s recovered by now.”

“Not completely. There are a few lingering side effects.”

“For instance?” I asked, playing along.

“He’s got a closet full of ties—a regular clotheshorse, this one—and yet he’s afraid to wear all of them. Used to be his signature look. Now he’s got to figure out a whole new thing.”

“Tragic story.”

“Izz, he don’t know your mother. We were conversing the other day, he has a situation, he needs a detective, he’d rather not pay an arm and a leg like your parents charge, so I mentioned you might be able to help him out.”

“I have a job, Milo.”

“This isn’t a career, Izzy.”

“For you it is.”

Milo tossed his newspaper on top of the bar and sighed dramatically. “I’m cutting your hours to three days a week. It’s time for you to get back in the game or find an entirely new game that doesn’t involve serving booze.”

“How much are my parents paying you?”


“I don’t approve of your random use of Spanish.”

“Ernie’s gonna drop by again today. He’s gonna tell you about his problem. You’re going to offer him your services. You’ll both negotiate a reasonable price. You’ll do a good job for my friend.”

“And if I don’t want to?”

“I’ll trim your hours some more.”
1800 hrs
As promised, Ernie Black returned to the bar.

His problem was the kind of problem you hear about all the time, at least in my line of work—or my previous line of work. Scratch that. In every line of work I’ve known,XIX the suspicious wife (or husband) comes up often.

At the age of fifty, Ernie met the woman of his dreams. She applied for a receptionist position at the muffler shop he co-owns with his brother, they dated for six months, decided to test their relationship on a four-day vacation in Reno, Nevada, and by the second day, decided to wed. Her name was (and still is, I presume) Linda. Maiden name: Truesdale. She has red hair, brown eyes, and is covered in freckles. I took note of this fact because redheads are easy to follow. Depending on Ernie’s financial situation, I thought I just might cut him a break.

This was Ernie’s first marriage and he wanted it to work. But women had always been a mystery to Ernie and so he tried to solve the mystery through cheap self-help books. When I first met with Ernie (well, the second time) he was reading a battered paperback titled Women: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know and More. He had recently finished a chapter on secrets and realized that his wife had a few.

I asked for the hard facts first, not wanting to be influenced by Ernie’s interpretations. To begin with, his wife would often disappear for hours at a time and use a flimsy excuse for her absence. Ernie never pressed her on this issue because he didn’t want her to feel smothered. Then there were the expensive items of clothing and perfume that would show up after these unexplained excursions, with no dent on their mutual credit card. The money had to come from somewhere. Those hours that passed without him—she had to be doing something. Ernie had a feeling he didn’t like in the pit of his stomach, but he told himself that he was imagining things. It wasn’t until last weekend, when he cleaned out the garage and found a shoebox full of $3,000 in cash, that he decided to look at the matter more closely.

I then asked Ernie what he thought might be going on and he handed me a handwritten sheet of paper that listed, in descending order of preference, his list of possibilities:

A) Nothing’s going on. Everything has a simple explanation.

B) Linda has a shoplifting problem.

C) Linda is having an affair with a man who gives her money and gifts.

D) Linda is having an affair and she has a shoplifting problem.

While I was no expert on Linda, I decided that Ernie should leave with at least a shred of hope. I told him that option D was extremely unlikely. Then I asked him a question my mother always asks whenever we consider taking on a domestic case.

“Ernie, if we do find out that your wife is having an affair, what will you do?”

Ernie consulted his shoes for the answer: “We’d have to go to marriage counseling, I guess.”

His reaction was calm, which was what I was looking for. You can’t predict human behavior, but I would’ve bet a week’s wages on Ernie being a peaceful man. So I decided to take the case.

Then we talked money. Ernie didn’t have much of it, so it was a short conversation. I would be on call for the next time his wife planned an excursion. I cut my usual rate by half, which is 75 percent less than what my parents would charge for the same work. Ernie was getting a deal, but the job seemed easy enough.

It didn’t mean anything to me—I’ll tell you that right now. So don’t get any ideas. There was no significance in me doing a favor for a friend of Milo’s. A few hours of watching a redhead didn’t mean I was back in the game. That’s what I told myself, at least.

I. For an incomplete dossier on Dad, see appendix.

II. Mom hired a recent graduate from the American Conservatory Theater and armed him with a tape recorder and a list of questions to casually integrate into the conversation. For example: 1) Have you ever been in therapy? 2) Is it helping you? 3) Do you plan on being a bartender forever? 4) Are you seeing anyone right now? 5) How many tattoos does he have?

III. Not true. I’ve done all sorts of other things, like go to movies, take strolls in the park, drink coffee, drink other stuff, eat food, sleep, etc.

IV. That was an accident and he knows it.

V. These kinds of questions one should never answer. So I didn’t.

VI. He’s laying it on thick now, working the guilt angle.

VII. Finger quotes.

VIII. Old in the literal sense. He’s eighty-four.

IX. Mortimer Schilling, retired defense attorney. For more information, see appendix.

X. A San Francisco landmark. Easy to locate. Serves a mean black and white milkshake.

XI. Once again, if you’ve failed to read the previous two documents—The Spellman Files and Curse of the Spellmans (both available in paperback!)—and you need further background information, see appendix.

XII. Henry’s diet veers toward extreme health consciousness. If you want any food with flavor in his house, you really must bring your own supplies.

XIII. For David’s dossier, see appendix.

XIV. Indeed I do.

XV. Namely, the good stuff.

XVI. Olivia Spellman. For brief dossier, see appendix.

XVII. Um, yes!

XVIII. See appendix.

XIX. Namely, the PI and bartender lines.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lisa Lutz. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Lisa Lutz is back with the third installment in her sleuth series, Revenge of the Spellmans.  Still reeling from the confinement of a restraining order and court-ordered therapy (See previous document, Curse of the Spellmans), Isabel Spellman finds herself removed from her investigative life, serving drinks in a Bay Area dive bar.

But when her boss, Milo, insists that she do some detective work for one of his friends, Izzy is thrown back into the business, as one curiosity leads to countless more.  What ensues is a hilarious and mysterious case of mistaken identities, dysfunctional relationships, and much-needed family therapy.

Isabel—under the pressure of inheriting the family business, taming her manipulative sister, uncovering her brother’s strange actions, and getting to the bottom of her one and only commissioned case—finds herself broke, living secretly in someone else’s apartment, and being blackmailed by an unknown assailant.

As new and old romances surface, friends leave, and jobs disappear (well, she was fired), everything in Izzy’s world is about to change, and she is left with a choice:  grow up or get left behind.

Questions for Discussion

1. The story begins and ends with a therapy session.  Do you think Isabel has made any personal progress through the narrative?  Has she simply resurrected an inclination to investigate and tail everyone she meets?  What do you make of the different approaches of her two therapists?  Is Dr. Rush going to tame the Spellmans?

2. How do you view morality throughout the novel?  Discuss, in particular, Olivia’s doctoring of Rae’s grades, the various forms of blackmail by assorted parties, Henry and Isabel’s revenge, and Morty’s exaggerated illness.

3. In the same respect, how do you feel about the seemingly endless violations of trust and privacy that Rae practices?

4. Many romantic relationships appear throughout the narrative.  Do Connor and Isabel stand a chance?  What about the underlying tension between Henry and Isabel?  The blossoming romance between Gabe and Petra?  David and Maggie?  Ernie and Sharon/Linda?

5. Continuing in the spirit of prior Spellman Files, footnotes play an important part in the reading experience of the novel.  How did they affect the flow of the narrative?  Were the helpful?  Distracting?  Purely comical?  Informative?

6. Isabel describes Connor as “one of those people,” (p. 161), referring to his ability to express his emotions without embarrassment or reservation.  Is Izzy truly irked by this, or does she envy Connor’s unflinching candor?  Look at some of the conversations and transcripts between Izzy and her various counterparts, and discuss the instances of both guardedness and full disclosure.  Consider her therapists, lunches with her father, Henry, David, Morty, and Milo.

7. How do you envision Rae’s future?  Is she the craftiest Spellman yet?  Why can’t she seem to be kept under control?

8. Who do you think is the sanest Spellman?  Or is that an oxymoron?

9. By the story’s end, the mystery has full unraveled, and all blackmailers, tailers, private investigators, and artificers are revealed.  Was there a moment in the text before the end that you uncovered the mystery?  Who was your first guess for Isabel’s blackmailer?  What did you make of the political consultant?

10. Discuss Isabel’s clandestine inhabitance of David’s basement apartment.  Was she crazy to think that she wouldn’t be caught?  Should David have been angrier?  Though we find out that David is simply having a form of MILFO, what were your hunches as to his sudden weight loss and truancy?


Enhancing Your Book Club

1. Read descriptions and reviews of Lutz’s previous two documents at  (If you haven’t heard, The Spellman Files and Curse of the Spellmans are available in paperback).  Use these two preceding tales as a companion piece for Revenge.

2. Perform a mock stake-out (within the limits of the law, please) of a local eatery or luncheonette.  Use your novice detective skills to make Spellman-like observations about some of the passersby.  What can you discern about people through focused observation?

3. Go to and read/watch the various interviews and Q&A’s on the right side of the page.  Hear Lutz’s insight into her fictional world and discuss how this racks up against your interpretations as a reader.  Or, just enjoy a funny and smart author!

4. Possibly the most venerated of detectives/PI’s is Sherlock Holmes, the masterful discerner created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Read any one of his capers (collected in a number of anthologies) and compare the intrigue that develops with the more airy, light-hearted mystery of the Spellmans. 

5. Use old magazines to cut and paste together your own ransom note.  If you feel so inclined, make it an invitation to a friend for a trip to some cultural destination (a zoo, museum, or play).  For those with children, see if you can compose a request for a car wash.  (And fess up quickly before your loved ones think they’re REALLY being blackmailed!)


A Conversation with Lisa Lutz

1. How do you decide where you are going to insert footnotes, use the appendix, or include explanation within the body text?  Is it an arbitrary process, or do you have a certain type of idea/factoid that you like to use for each part of the book?

It’s a pretty organic process. Sometimes it’s just a detail that doesn’t fit in the main text that still seems necessary. An investigator, I would imagine, would always be obsessed with the minutiae.

2. Are we to trust Isabel?  With her proclivity for paranoia and her lack of sleep, she can come off as a relatively unstable character.   Do you intend for the reader to question her perspective?

I don’t trust Isabel, so I don’t see any reason why you should. She’s a human being with her share of flaws—paranoia being one of them. And sleep deprivation can do funny things to a person.

3. Have you ever done detective work of your own?  Do you think it’s immoral to snoop on someone?

I worked for a private investigative agency briefly. I rarely had the opportunity to snoop. I have certain rules for snooping, under which anything out in the open is fair game. But I also think, in light of some current trends in our culture, that privacy should be respected. I investigate more directly. I tend to ask a lot of questions and don’t feel satisfied until I have the answer.

4. Who do you consider to be the most cunning Spellman?  By the end of Revenge, one might be led to believe that Rae has the upper hand on the rest of her family.  Do you see Rae inheriting the Spellman legacy?

Rae is definitely the most cunning Spellman. However, in a war, Isabel would never let Rae win the final battle. As for who will inherit the Spellman legacy, I’m not sure that has been decided yet.

5. What’s your writing process like?  How do you map out the various beats and misdirections that make a Spellman novel?

My writing process is chaos. I usually start with an overarching theme. Then I establish several story threads, but I don’t outline. I just start writing and keep notes for what may come. It’s an organic process that’s usually pretty flexible.

6. Are there more documents in the works?

The fourth installment, The Spellmans Strike Again, is currently in the works.

7. Who would win a battle of wits between Sherlock Holmes, Dick Tracy, Inspector Clouseau, Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher, Isabel, and Rae?

Sherlock Holmes would definitely win in a battle of wits. But if he kept company with Isabel and Rae, his drug addiction would eventually bring him to ruin.

8. Is family therapy going to be something that continues with the Spellmans?  Is there any hope for some sort of familial evolution?  Can they trust each other?

No, the family quits therapy. But I do think they continue to evolve and will eventually build some semblance of trust. You can’t be suspicious 24/7. It’s too exhausting.

9. Is Isabel capable of maintaining a romantic relationship?  Is Connor destined to be ex-boyfriend #12? 

I think this question will be answered in future books. No need for a spoiler.

10. What advice would you give to someone squatting in an apartment that isn’t theirs?  Say, for instance, they have a friend who is away on business for an extended period of time, and that said friend has been liberal in the distribution of “emergency keys.”  Should they tell their friend, or simply wash the sheets and refill all pilfered liquor?  Your answer would be much appreciated!

Take pictures before you move in. Try to restore the place to its previous condition based on the photos. But, definitely, wash the sheets, do the dishes, and don’t eat all the food and absolutely no pay-per-view.

About The Author

Morgan Dox

Lisa Lutz is the New York Times bestselling, Alex Award–winning author of the Spellman Files series, as well as the novels The Accomplice, Heads You Lose (with David Hayward), How to Start a Fire, The Passenger, and The Swallows. She has also written for film and TV, including HBO’s The Deuce. She lives in upstate New York.

Product Details

  • Publisher: S&S/Marysue Rucci Books (February 23, 2010)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416593393

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“Another wild ride.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Irresistible blend of suspense, irony, and wit.”
--Booklist (starred review)

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