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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 SimonandSchuster.com. (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 http://lisalutz.com/bio 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.
Lisa Lutz is the author of the New York Times bestselling, Edgar Award– and Macavity Award–nominated, and Alex Award–winning Spellman Files series and the novels How to Start a Fire and The Passenger. She lives and works in upstate New York.