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This reading group guide for The Spellmans Strike Againincludes 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.
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.
1. Discuss the budding romance between Isabel and Henry Stone. Why do you think Henry tries so hard to get her back? Why does Isabel resist at first? What finally makes her give in?
2. In your opinion, did Olivia really think that her new dictum, the Daily Rule (p. 18), would work? Was there ever any hope for rules in the Spellman household, or do the Spellmans only respond to more subtle and obscure coercion?
3. Why do you think Connor stays around after Isabel’s mother institutes the “Mandatory Lawyer Dates”? What do we eventually discover that Olivia knew? Why do you think Connor stayed with Isabel despite the secret he was keeping from her?
4. Which is your favorite of Isabel’s “Mandatory Lawyer Dates”? Do you think she’s learned a lot about relationships by studying what not to do, or is she really as nonchalant about her love life as she would lead us to believe? Have you ever tried to botch a date to see how spectacularly wrong it could go?
5. What is the big secret of “Prom Night 1994”? Were you surprised when the story was told? Was it as big of a deal as Isabel made it out to be? Why do you think her mother still wants it to be kept a secret, even after Isabel says she can talk about it?
6. At one point Isabel states: “Every once in a while a thought hit you and you’re unprepared for it and suddenly it seems like your world is coming to an end. Most of the time it isn’t”(p.146). Discuss this quote in the context of the mystery behind what’s happening to the Spellman residence and how David, Rae and Isabel respond.
7. When talking about Jeremy Pratt, Isabel comments “Less-judgmental folk would say that he was finding himself, but some people have the luxury to look; other’s don’t” (p.157). How did Isabel find herself over the course of this book? How has she changed over the course of the series? Is it for better or for worse? Do you think she is happy with the changes?
8. Do you think that Isabel and Olivia’s scheme to punish Rae aesthetically in the chapter “The $500 Payback” (p. 291) is a fitting one? Without resorting to anything too sinister, what might you have done to teach Rae a lesson? Do you think Isabel and Olivia bond through their shared efforts to reign in the youngest Spellman?
9. Both Isabel and Rae take on wrongfully accused cases (Merriweather and Schmidt, respectively). One has a positive outcome while one has a negative one. What message do you think Lutz was sending? Is it possible that despite our best intentions, we can’t change the way things are?
10. How did you score on the quiz Isabel gave Demetrius Merriweather?
11. What do you think of Isabel’s final reflection on the book’s last page? Do you agree with her theory, or do you have your own?
Enhancing Your Book Club
1. Rae served her community service at a local garden, but you don’t have to be almost incarcerated to help out! Check out some places to volunteer around your area and see if your book club can make a day out of it!
2. Rae and Isabel get wrapped up in the cases of accused criminals Merriweather and Schmidt, respectively. Do you think our legal system leaves too much room for wrongful convictions? Research another case of someone who’s been wrongfully convicted and discuss the merits and shortcomings of the American legal system.
3. Have a mini-marathon of Isabel’s favorite shows: Get Smart, Doctor Who and The Wire. Have your book club talk about which show was their favorite and why.
4. Henry makes a habit of stocking healthy snacks, but Isabel and Rae prefer junk food. Bring either to your next book club gathering and share!
A Conversation with Lisa Lutz
1. What was the inspiration behind the Spellman family? Was the series originally supposed to be about Isabel or did you always plan on writing about a family of sleuths?
I first envisioned the Spellmans over seven years ago. And if memory serves me, which it rarely does, the entire cast of characters sort of came to me over a short period of time. The germ of the idea was always to write about a family of private investigators and how the nature of the business affected their family life. I knew that if the parents were spying on their children, they’d need a motivation. That’s when Isabel’s character took form. I figured a history of rebellion would keep the parental unit constantly on watch.
2. Isabel has an interesting relationship with her family, to say the least. Do her experiences represent any of your experiences with your parents/siblings? Or are you guys relatively “normal”?
I wouldn’t say that my family is normal. I’m not sure how many of those are left. But the Spellmans are pure fiction. They do not in any way represent my family or my familial experience.
3. Which of your characters do you feel has matured the most over the course of the series? Do you think any of them have regressed?
Isabel has matured the most. She had the furthest to go. The rest of them go through phases of regression, depending on the book. But that has always seemed to me to be normal development. People don’t move in straight lines.
4. Have you ever had any prom night shenanigans like Isabel did? We won’t tell anyone, we promise…
There was an incident the night before graduation that I was involved in. So was some toilet paper. I’m afraid I was nowhere near as delinquently creative as Isabel.
5. In each book in the Spellman series, you’ve denounced the myth that stakeouts are fun or exciting. You make them seem like tedious, time-consuming work. Have you ever been on one yourself? Are they as bad as you make them seem?
I was on a few surveillance jobs as part of a big team. I would be the person to follow the subject on foot when the need arose. But most of the time, we were sitting in a car doing nothing. Generally surveillance is a solo activity. How exciting can sitting alone in a car for hours on end be?
6. Where did you get the idea to put the footnotes at the bottom of the pages? Was it only meant to happen once or twice and you just started having too much fun?
That’s pretty much how it happened. When I was describing Get Smart, it was too easy to add a funny detail about an episode or character. And it required very little effort. I also liked the idea of Isabel adding commentary to what was already essentially her commentary.
7. You instruct readers that if they haven’t seen Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety and Young Frankenstein, they are to immediately “run, not walk, to your local video store.” Are you big fans of these movies? What is your favorite movie and why?
I am a huge Mel Brooks fan. And I do think that not seeing his canon of classics is a bit criminal or clueless. I could never really choose a favorite book, but whenever I’m asked what my favorite movie is I always say Withnail & I, a British film from 1987. It’s funny and sad and absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s the film I can watch over and over again.
8. Throughout the Spellman series, you’ve also mentioned a number of TV shows that Isabel is a fan of: Get Smart, The Wire, Doctor Who. Are you a big fan of these shows as well? Did you intend to incorporate so many pop culture references into your book or did it just turn out that way?
I love The Wire. I can’t think of a television show that I think is superior to it in any way. I was obsessed with it from the moment it came on the air. I do also love Doctor Who and Get Smart. As I’ve said before, you can learn a lot from a person’s choice of entertainment. That’s part of the reason for pop-culture references in the books. But it’s also because in real life we reference these things all the time. Far more than most books indicate. It just seems to be a fair reflection of reality.
9. Why did you decide to reignite the romance between Henry and Isabel? Was there ever a different ending to the book where they parted ways? Did you always think they were meant to be together from the moment he was introduced in The Spellman Files?
When I first wrote The Spellman Files, I had no idea that Henry Stone would turn out so interesting. He was a small character in the first book. But I didn’t want him to read as flat. So as I tried to flesh out his character, he took on a life of his own, and his various relationships with the Spellmans happened organically. I’ve written the relationship between Henry and Isabel as I’ve gone along. There was never a master plan. I just wrote what felt right.
10. What’s next for you? Are there more Spellman adventures to come?
I just completed my first non-Spellman book, which was very exciting, and now I’m ready to come back to them. So I suspect there will be a return of the Spellmans in the not-too-distant future.
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.