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Lisa Lutz
The Last Word
Simon & Schuster
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-451-68666-1
Publication Date: 07-09-2013
340 Pages; $25
Date Reviewed: 08-02-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Mystery  General Fiction

Smart people always seem to have some Achilles' heel, a flaw that undermines their intellect. From her incredibly witty banter, it's clear that Isabel Spellman is extremely smart. But she is unable to "get" her family, with the result that as 'The Last Word' opens, she's actually the owner of Spellman Investigations but has no clout with the family members who supposedly work for her.

The agency is lurching forward making little progress on the bits of business it can hang onto. Lisa Lutz, on the other hand, is in full control, offering readers a hilarious comedic novel that is chock-a-block with inventive prose and storytelling. With a smile on her face, Lutz explores the darker hearts of family, friendship and minor league fraud. 'The Last Word' is a first-class example of fiction at its most fearless. Lisa Lutz is utterly unafraid to do anything, just so long as the reader is going to have fun.

'The Last Word' is a book that warrants and rewards careful reading, even though the light-hearted dialogue and prose makes you want to turn the pages ever faster. Lutz is at the height of her considerable prose and storytelling powers here, unleashing memos, dialogue, transcriptions, and even appendices to keep the reader engaged at every level. This book is simply lots of fun to read, so much so that it's easy to miss just how sophisticated it all is. Pay attention; there will be a test. For all the great jokes and funny lines, subtleties matter a great deal in 'The Last Word.'

Plotting is one of Lutz's strong points, particularly if you enjoy works that hone in on actual, regular American life at the level of the American suburb. In some ways, Lutz is the comedic mystery version of Stephen King; her economic focus is thoroughly blue-collar even when one of the major characters is stunningly rich. Lutz weaves in bits of minor crime and major familiar fights to craft suspense out of the stuff of everyday life. And make no mistake, the book lives up to its title, with a plot that takes you off the edge of the last page.

The real joys to be found in the Spellman novels are Lisa Lutz's utterly engaging characters and her resoundingly realistic character arcs. 'The Last Word' has a bit more edge, a bit more bitter in the sweet than previous entries in the series, and its stronger for this. Isabel is, against her will, growing up. Her parents are slowing down, even as they become increasingly quirky. Rae is proving to be a rather frighteningly opaque young woman, with depths that may be labeled HERE BE MONSTERS. Or perhaps "Don't tread on me." It's best to keep both in mind. And this is just Isabel's family.

It's clear that Lutz might have more Spellman files in store for readers. Or at last, enough people are left alive at the end of the novel to suggest its possible. It's hard to underestimate just how much fun these books are. Like most comedies, they're really quite re-readable. And that's what we will find ourselves doing until the next one comes out, if we're not tempted to send out memos to our family about the state of the dishes.

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