To paraphrase John Lennon, cases are what happen to Izzy Spellman while she’s busy making other plans. The San Francisco private detective, who has been the heroine of six Lisa Lutz novels already, has her hands full running her office, keeping her personal life from falling apart, and navigating the quirks and foibles of her family, who all work at the firm.
And then the mysteries start rolling in. I think that’s the heart of the appeal of Lutz’s novels; they seem less like mystery novels and more like novels that have mysteries within them. The plotting is good, but the appeal is Izzy’s weary, wry voice as she figures out how to juggle all her personal and professional responsibilities.
In “The Last Word,” the primary mystery involves her benefactor, tycoon Edward Slayter, who hires her to vet a firm he’s thinking of acquiring. Izzy finds a sexual harassment suit in the firm’s past that was mysteriously buried, and tries to dig deeper. But she’s distracted when someone at Slayter’s firm is trying to make him look incompetent, including embezzling money and hiding it — in Izzy’s bank account.
That’s two of — if I’m counting correctly — seven mysteries large and small that Izzy has to negotiate. What I love about Lutz’s books is that they’re all written in Izzy’s voice, and often in a cheeky, self-aware tone that suggests she knows she’s a character in a mystery novel. (“I don’t want you to get excited thinking this story is going to take some organized-crime angle,” Izzy warns at one point. “That’s so 1990s.”)
The novel is also replete with footnotes that basically function as winking asides to the reader. The result is that rare mystery that doesn’t take a linear path, but zigzags back and forth among several overlapping storylines, propelled by witty dialogue.
This sixth novel also shows Izzy starting to get burned out on the entire private investigation game, and one wonders if it mirrors Lutz feeling a little creative exhaustion as well. “I remember when it had to be me who solved the case, who figured out the riddle,” she says. “Now I didn’t care who did it, how it came about, just as long as it was over. I’m tired of seeing all the rotten things one person does to another person.”
Izzy seems to look enviously at her younger sister Rae, who has taken on a sideline as a “conflict resolution specialist,” who not only investigates wrongdoing but dispenses a little street justice as well.