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“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
― Voltaire

Hopefully not, but it is a good one.

The Last Word  - Lisa Lutz

As usual, Isabel Spellman is having a rough time. After staging a hostile takeover of the family business (previously described in book document #5), she’s discovering being the boss is harder than she thought. Her parents are protesting the new management (she’s lucky if her dad comes to work in pants); her newest employee is spending all her time on a personal vendetta; Rae refuses to report in on her cases; D., her employee of the month twelve months running seems to be lying about his research to Maggie, his former lawyer and Isabel’s sister-in-law; and the accounting software is so confusing that Isabel has taken to hand-writing out company checks. Then there’s the investigations for the firm’s major client and Isabel’s benefactor, Edward Slayter. To add insult to injury, he wants to hold his business meetings while jogging. Finally, there’s her chaotic personal life: her parents are hiding something, she’s worried that Slayter’s Alzheimer’s disease is worsening, Henry seems to be stalking her, and her brother keeps trying to trick her into babysitting.

 

Light on the detective element, the ‘mysteries’ largely surround the people Isabel knows and loves acting in unusual ways. Unfortunately, she’s spread too thin to resort to her usual stalking investigative techniques, and tends to bounce from issue to issue as she tries to understand what’s going on. At heart, this is a story about relationships with people we love but don’t always understand. What I enjoyed most was the humanity and the reality threading through the book. Lutz manages to balance the frustration and worry with moments of comedy, achieving a great narrative that is as prone to making me say, “oh, Isabel” with sympathy, as it is to making me laugh out loud. There’s an emotional moment that just made me want to hug the poor girl:

 

It felt like that time I stole my brother’s LSAT prep book and he sat on my chest until I gave it back. Actually, it felt worse than that. I don’t go in for dignity all that often, but some occasions demand it. It’s not just for you but for the other person.

 

‘Congratulations,’ I said, and I wanted to mean it, which is good enough.

 

Steady chuckles were heard during all the sections with brother David and Maggie’s toddler daughter, the horrific Sydney, aka “Princess Banana.” Once Rae had been banished from babysitting, after causing the overuse of the word”banana” through a devious child psychology experiment, Granny Spellman had been allowed a turn. Unfortunately, she was highly skilled at programming the princess to behave “like a lady,” frequently using Isabel as an example of all bad behaviors. Isabel, however, has her own idea of values children need to learn:

 

‘Did you have the snitch talk with Claire?’ David asked.

 

Meanwhile, Maggie was doubled over, laughing convulsively, trying to keep her beer from expelling through her nose…

 

Since I was indeed responsible for this nonsense, I decided to come clean.

 

‘I did briefly touch on the topic of snitching, but with Sydney, not Claire. I gave the girls some cookies.’ I would rather not get into how many. (1) ‘Apparently Claire took one more than was allowed and Sydney ratted her out. I said to Sydney, ‘Don’t be a snitch.’ For the record, this isn’t the first time I’ve had the snitch talk with Sydney and it’s not sticking.’

 

(1) Four, per child. They had vitamins in them or something. And Sydney only ate one…

 

Moments Isabel jogs with Slayter are often very amusing, touched with sadness at the three-word memory test Isabel gives him at the start of their run. The first time they meet in the park, Isabel doesn’t quite get what’s going on:

 

“‘Let’s get started. Have you stretched?’
‘Yes.’
‘When?’
‘Nineteen ninety-eight. August, I think.’
‘We’ll warm up first.’
‘Charlie, what’s going on”‘ I asked Charlie because I figured he’d understand my confusion.
‘Mr. Slayter likes to multitask. Sometimes he likes to do business while he runs.’
‘I see. Edward, I hate to break it to you, but I’m not a runner.’
‘Do you do any cardiovascular activity?’
‘I’m alive, aren’t I?’”

 

It seems likely that this is the last book in the Spellman series, as Lutz mentions in a blog interview. I’m sad to see the end, but I admire Lutz’ commitment to keeping her characters and authorial voice fresh (cough, cough, Janet Evanovich), and I thought she did a nice job of tying up loose ends while acknowledging that life goes on, that it’s impossible to put a bow on it and say “happily ever after.” Overall a great series. I highly recommend her if you are in the mood for some light mystery.