What do you get when you combine a dysfunctional family composed of people who are more than normally weird with a detective agency and two missing person cases? It's a recipe for laughs, hurt feelings, unbelievable double crosses, and unusual solutions. I recommend The Spellman Files to those who would like some more zaniness with their mysteries.
Mom and Dad run a detective agency that has employed their children as operatives since they were quite young. The perfect older brother, David, has escaped into "normal" life as a well-paid lawyer . . . but the family's web of intrigue keeps pulling him back into the chaos. He's also a good source of business for the detective agency, so it's all right . . . as long as he pays on time.
Uncle Ray is Dad's brother (an ex-cop), and he's lonely. But Ray's attraction to the family's company is more than offset by his need for a good card game, lots of booze, and ladies who rent by the hour. When Ray indulges, these lead to dozens of lost weekends where it takes a detective to track him down.
Ray is also the bane of young Rae's life, the 14-year-old surveillance-obsessed daughter, who loves her candy and sugary cereals. Rae is growing up a little too fast for her own good, and the tension between her world-wise ways and her emotional needs adds a lot to the story.
But the center of the action (and the book's narrator) is 28-year-old Isabel (Izzy) Spellman who shares some of Ray's love for the bottle and Rae's angst about their family. Izzy has problems with men, exemplified by the fact that she sees them as future ex-boy friends before she's been on a first date. She is also pretty dependent on her family.
Are detectives likely to leave well enough alone? No! Meddling reaches a new height of weirdness as the family snoops on one another.
As the book opens, Rae is missing and Izzy is being grilled by the police about Rae's disappearance. That grilling continues in episodes throughout the book with the rest of the book as a flashback about how Rae came to be missing.
Izzy is having a hard time becoming a mature adult. She needs more space from her family, but really isn't ready for handling the space. Mom and Dad worry and meddle accordingly. Annoyed, Izzy regresses into childish pranks. Rae wants to be close to her sister, something that's hard to do when they are so far apart in age.
In the middle of this family sniping, Izzy reluctantly agrees to work on a cold missing person's case. It's clear that something is fishy about how the person came to be missing, and Izzy turns up a lot of suspicious activity surrounding the event. But few would ever solve this mystery from the clues provided, even though they are fair ones. While the case is seemingly simple, it's not quite what it appears. For excellence of this mystery, I upgraded the book to be above average.
I found the humor to be overdone in the book. The spying-on-one-another gags wear thin after a while.
Rae, however, is a very interesting character and I look forward to reading more about her. I suspect this would have been a better book with Rae as the narrator than with Izzy as the center of attention.