Surveillance Report:
    Vivien Blake

    I do my job. I watch. I take notes. I snap pictures and record video. I document subjects’ activities through a filter of twenty years of disassociation. I don’t judge. I don’t manipulate the evidence. I simply report my findings to the client. The client can use the information however they see fit. At least that’s the line I feed them. But the truth is always a murkier business.

    November 2
    2330 hrs

    Female subject, 5’5”, 125 lbs, dark brown hair, wearing blue jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt over a dark green military jacket, exits a San Francisco apartment building at Twenty-sixth and Noe. She walks east down the street, scanning the parked cars. She presses a remote key and looks for a flash of headlights. A BMW winks in the distance. Female subject spins in a circle, checking her perimeter; approaches car; gets inside; and starts the engine. She drives east down to South Van Ness Avenue and makes a left turn, stopping on the corner of Seventeenth and South Van Ness at the establishment of Oscar’s Auto. Subject drives vehicle into covered garage. Unable to establish a visual on subject for fifteen minutes.

    2345 hrs

    Subject and an unknown male (midforties, heavyset, wearing blue mechanic’s jumpsuit with the Oscar’s Auto logo embroidered on the breast pocket) exit the office of establishment. They approach a tow truck with the same logo painted on the side. Subject slips an unidentifiable object into her pocket and jumps into a truck with unknown male. Investigator follows subject vehicle to a liquor store. Unknown male enters the store and leaves three minutes later with a large brown bag (about the size of a six-pack of beer).[1]

    The tow truck returns subject to the residence on Twenty-sixth Street where she was previously seen exiting. Subject rings the buzzer. (Could not establish unit number.) Female subject then enters the building and all visual contact is lost.

    The preceding events would appear innocent enough to the naked eye, but let me enlighten you as to what the naked eye missed just a few hours earlier that evening: Female Subject met the owner of the BMW in a bar; Female Subject was not of legal drinking age; Female Subject was not the owner of the vehicle taken to Oscar’s repair shop. Finally—and how could you know this?—Oscar’s Auto is a well-known chop shop, doing an arthritic limbo under the radar of the law. Subject, based on my three weeks of surveillance, was a regular menace to society, masquerading as a high-achieving coed.

    My phone rang just as I was about to end the surveillance and head home. The caller ID said “The Tortoise.” Someone had been tampering with my phone.

    “Hello,” I said.

    “Where is everyone?”

    “I don’t know, Dad.” For the record, I wasn’t withholding information. I really didn’t know.

    “I’m tired of always being alone in the house.”

    “You’re not alone.”

    “Other than You Know Who.”

    “Why doesn’t You Know Who have a nickname yet?” I asked.

    “I think we’re going with ‘You Know Who’ as a nickname.”

    “Kind of messes with our animal theme, don’t you think?”

    “Sometimes you got to break protocol.”

    “True,” I said. I couldn’t have agreed more.

    “I’m lonely.”

    “Sorry to hear that, Mr. Tortoise.”

    “And I hate my nickname. I should be able to come up with my own.”

    “Did you call for a chat?”

    “Dinner did not go over very well.”

    “The roast?” I asked.


    “And that’s something coming from you. Did Mom blame me?”

    “No, she took full responsibility.”

    “Where is she?”

    “Origami or pie making, I don’t remember.”

    “Those are two very different things, Dad.”

    “Any action tonight?”


    “Are you there?” Dad said. I could hear him tapping his finger on the phone, like it was an old transistor radio.

    “I thought we were no longer sharing information.”

    “Only on cases we’re working separately. So, any action?” Dad repeated.

    “Not unless you consider studying or watching TV—or both—action.”

    “Good. Can you drop by the house on your way back? I need the surveillance camera for tomorrow.”

     “What’s tomorrow?”

    “You know better than to ask questions like that.”

    I waited outside the Noe Valley apartment for another five minutes, gathering my thoughts. Female subject peered out of the window, checking the empty street, and then defenestrated herself, hanging from the window frame and dropping four feet to the ground. She then sauntered down the street in the direction of her apartment, just over a mile away.

    After my conversation with the Tortoise, I made a quick U‑turn and watched female subject through my rearview mirror. I had to ask myself whether I was doing my job or if I was an accessory after the fact.

    At home, I found my father staring at a stack of paperwork that had to be filed. Filing always made him sad, borderline depressed, and since he thought he’d seen the end of those days, to have them return only stoked his sadness. He pressed the intercom button when he saw me.

    “The Gopher has landed,” he said.

    “I really wish you’d stop that,” I said.

    “I can’t,” he helplessly replied.

    “Where’s Mom?” I asked.

    “The Eagle[2] is on the tarmac.”

    “It’s just pathetic,” I muttered as I left the room.

    The Eagle was indeed on the tarmac (or the couch, as it is commonly known), watching the evening news.

    On the drive to Spellman headquarters I debated, as I have over the last three months, how much information I should divulge. I’m a spectacular liar (“magician of the truth” is the new phrase I’m working with). I’ve studied deception enough to know the universal tells, and I can embody honesty to virtually anyone, except a member of my family. With them I have to turn my behavior inside-out, assume a liarlike demeanor at all times—toss in sarcasm with the truth. A salad of honesty and deception is the only way I can get away with an untruth. My point is that I was planning on lying to my parents about the evening’s events and there is a particular way to go about it.

    “Did the Sparrow flee the nest at all this evening?” my mother asked, staring at the evening news.

    The Sparrow did indeed flee the nest, and another nest, and then she stole a car. With the right delivery, I could both manage a lie and have it read like the truth.

    “Not unless you count a study break of grand theft auto,” I sarcastically replied.

    “Write it up,” said Mom. “I think it might be time to tell the Blakes that this surveillance is merely a drain on their bank account.”[3]

    “Maybe we wait just a little bit longer,” I replied.

    “Why?” my mother asked suspiciously. “That doesn’t sound like you.”

    “It’s finals week. She could be distracted.”

    I fetched a beer from the fridge and sat down on the couch next to my mom.

    “Don’t forget to write the report,” Mom said. “It’s always better to do it when it’s fresh in your mind.”

    “‘Subject remained in her apartment for five hours studying.’” I spoke as if into a tape recorder. “It shouldn’t take very long to type that up.”

    Silence finally set in.

    Television is the perfect anecdote for unwanted conversation. I don’t know how humans ever survived without it.

    After a few bars of the grating evening-news theme song, an earnest middle-aged man related a story about a brutal triple-murder-followed-by- suicide in Vallejo. He looked appropriately grave for two full seconds and then turned to his female counterpart.

    She nodded, furrowed her brow, and said, “A tragedy . . . And now, I believe we have some breaking news about the tree sitters in Berkeley.”

    The camera shifted to the image of a khaki-and-windbreaker-clad newscaster in front of the oak grove on the UC Berkeley campus. Over the hum of protesters and bullhorns, the newscaster shouted into the microphone.

    “For a week now, tree sitters working in shifts have lived on the three hundred- year-old oak tree in protest of a campus development project that would require the trees’ removal. Negotiations began last week but have stalled . . . University officials are once again at odds with the environmental activists who have proven to be worthy adversaries in the past . . .”

    Just then my father entered the room and planted himself next to me on the couch. “You have to admire their dedication,” he said.

    “I want to know when they use the restroom,” my mother said.

    “That’s what the bucket is for,” I said.

    The newscaster continued his report.

    “. . . The tree sitters have managed to maintain a constant vigil by working in shifts. In the middle of the night there was a changing of the guards, when the police were called away by a disturbance in the sculpture garden . . .”

    The camera panned over to one of the grand old oaks and closed in on the tree sitter du jour. The reporter continued. “Currently the police are trying to find a safe and peaceful way to end the standoff. We will keep you posted on the latest developments.”

    The news cut to an Ivory Soap commercial. My mother picked up her cell phone, pressed number three on her speed dial, and waited until the voice mail kicked in.

    “Rae. This is your mother calling. Get the hell out of that tree right now!”

    Part 1

    The Man In The Library

    For reasons that will forever remain a mystery, my sister scheduled the client meeting at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library—specifically, the government section, which is low traffic, offering privacy for a new client intake. The file was left on my desk with all the relevant details, including the time and place of the meeting and a brief description of the client: male, five feet eleven, brown hair, brown eyes, fortyish, average in every way (apparently his own description). The only other detail in the newly minted file was the client’s contact information and his name: Adam Cooper.

    I arrived early, sat down at one of the glass-encased study desks, and read the same page of a chess theory book that I had been reading over and over again. When I heard footsteps approach, I immediately stuffed the book in my bag. The last thing I needed was to get ensnared in a longwinded discussion on chess strategy when I don’t know any.

    Adam Cooper was indeed average in every way—the kind of guy who could confound a police lineup by virtually blending into the wall. That’s not to say that Mr. Cooper’s face was entirely void of character, but the character surfaced at unsuspected times. The only other thing worth mentioning was that he wore a navy-blue sweater vest. Any time someone under the age of sixty wears a sweater vest it’s worthy of comment.

    “Are you the Gopher?” he asked me with an ironic grin.

    “Excuse me?”

    “The woman who confirmed the appointment said that I should ask you that question to be sure I was meeting the right individual.”

    “You are meeting the right person,” I said.

    I’d never been asked that specific question before—“Are you the Gopher?”—but I had a feeling where it originated from. And I can assure you that the originator was going to suffer the consequences.

    “Why do they call you the Gopher?” he asked, smiling. And here, a spark of character surfaced, teeth short and crooked in a way that made him seem friendlier. Maybe it was the sweater vest he wore, or the goofy boat shoes, or the way his bangs hung a little too low on his face. If pressed at the time, the one word I would have used to describe Adam was “harmless.”

    “Call me Isabel,” I replied.

    “Is that your real name?”

    “No. It’s ‘the Gopher.’ But I use ‘Isabel’ professionally,” I said.

    “That makes sense,” Adam replied, taking a seat.

    “So, Mr. Cooper.”

    “Call me Adam.”

    “Adam, how can I help you?”

    “I want you to follow my sister.”

    The Woman in the Navy-Blue Raincoat

    A scrap of paper rested on the floor next to the trash bin. Sloppy script sliced between the ragged edges. I was about to toss it in the trash when I caught a glimpse of a flurry of borderline-illegible words, followed by a phone number.

         Margrt S. (sounds like alligator)
         Not suspicious
        Maybe nothing
        September 33rd—high noon

    I found my mother and Demetrius[4] in the kitchen reviewing a list of baking classes at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America; there certainly is an unusual cross-section of organizations that also use that acronym—see appendix).

    “I’m thinking about taking a pastry-making class. What do you think?” Mom said.

    “I’d rather you didn’t,” I replied.

    “Show your mama some respect,” D said.

    “Respectfully, I wish you wouldn’t. Now I am changing the subject."[5]

    “I found this scrap of paper on the floor,” I said, tossing it on the table.

    “I want to make sure it’s okay to chuck it.”

    Mom pushed her reading glasses down to the bridge of her nose and studied the note. “Rae phoned the client to verify. I think she left the file on your desk.”

    “What is it?” I asked.

    “I took a call after my root canal. Clearly I was on more drugs than I thought. It’s under the name Slayter.”

    “That’s a weak rhyme with ‘alligator,’” I said. “And I can’t remember the last time September had thirty-three days.”

    “Since most of the call was a blur, I can’t comment,” Mom replied.

    “Maybe you shouldn’t answer calls when you’re on narcotics,” I suggested.

    “Sounds like an excellent company policy,” Mom replied.

    “You know what else might be an excellent company policy? Getting some work done,” I said. I had noticed in recent weeks my mother growing increasingly slack on the job.

    “I’ll get to it later,” Mom said. “Now, if you could excuse me, I have to decide between taking a master class on pies and one on cupcakes.”

    “Do they offer Toast-Making 101?” I asked, heading back into the office.

    There was indeed a Slayter file on my desk, generated by our seasonal employee, and my sister, Rae. While her notes were more organized, they were almost as baffling as my mother’s.

    Client: Mrs. Margaret Slayter
    Contact Info: [redacted]
    Meeting Time: September 3, noon.
    Location: Botanical Gardens, GG Park
    Description: White female, midforties, navy-blue suit
    Slayter: The rhododendrons are nice this time of year.
    Reply: So are the azaleas.
    Notes: Client will sketch out details in person. Most likely a
    domestic case.

    I promptly picked up the phone and dialed.


    “‘The rhododendrons are nice this time of year’?”

    “That’s what she says,” Rae replied. “You say the other thing.”

    I read off the sheet: “ ‘So are the azaleas’?”


    “I don’t get it.”

    “Rhododendrons and azaleas are the same flower.”

    “I don’t care if they’re man-eating plants.”

    “Those are a myth.”

    “Does the case relate to horticulture?”

    “You know that word?” Rae replied with mock enthusiasm.

    I opened the middle drawer of Rae’s desk, extracted a two-pound bag of M&M’s, and poured the contents of said bag out the window.[6]

    “Why are we taking client meetings with lunatics?”

    “I spoke to her for fifteen minutes. She’s completely sane.”

    “Then why are we having a summit in the botanical garden and talking about flowers?”

    “I thought you could use the fresh air and the code phrase is so you know you’re meeting the correct individual.”

    “How about names and a handshake?” I suggested. “Why the cloak and dagger?”

    “Dad’s running an experiment.”

    “What kind of experiment?”

    “He thinks if we add a layer of cinematic intrigue to our client meetings—code phrases, exotic locales—we could charge more.”

    “Are you serious?”

    “Yes. And he might be onto something; it already worked on the Bloomsfield case.”

    “This is ridiculous,” I said.

    “Maybe,” Rae replied. “But if it works, who cares? Plus, Dad said I can come up with the code phrases, so I’m totally in.”

    “I’m totally out,” I replied.

    “Take it up with Dad,” Rae said.

    “You can count on it.”

     “Oh, and I almost forgot. Wear a trench coat and sunglasses to the meeting. Clients go crazy for that crap,” Rae said, and then disconnected the call.

    I wish I could tell you that I promptly phoned the client and rescheduled the meeting under more professional circumstances, but after consulting with my father, he insisted that we continue with the experiment. Only so much can be expected from a case that was born under a cloud of anesthesia.

    “The rhododendrons are nice this time of year,” said the woman in the navy-blue suit.

    “So are the azaleas,” I replied.

    The woman in the navy-blue suit swept a nearby bench with a newspaper and took a seat. She was in her midforties, but the preserved kind, like she spent her spare time with her head in a freezer. It wasn’t just her face that she’d spent a small fortune on, to lock in a single expression; her clothes were all designer from top to bottom. I learned to distinguish the difference between designer and knockoffs from a case a while back— otherwise, I couldn’t give a shit. What I can tell you for certain is that her handbag cost more than my car. While I understand the desire to have the best (single-malt scotch is indeed better than most blends), I still have to wonder what deformity of character makes someone think that a bloated leather handbag that can be ripped off your shoulder by anyone with good leverage is an item to covet. Suffice it to say, I knew the client had money and I was happy to take some of it off her hands. I sat down next to her in my snug trench coat and undid a button for comfort.

    Since her face bore no scrutable expression, I stared straight ahead. If the point was for us to blend into the scenery of the botanical gardens, we failed. Other than being Caucasian, we shared no resemblance and looked positively silly next to each other, I’m sure. I even noted that my slouch was in direct contrast to her rigid upright posture, no doubt the result of a personal trainer.

    The client’s name was Mrs. Margaret Slayter. That’s exactly how she’d referred to herself when my sister took the call.

    “Thank you for meeting me,” she said, fidgeting nervously with the buckle on her purse.

    “How can I help you?” I asked.

    “I want you to follow my husband.”

    The Girl with the Rap Sheet

    Generally when charged with a surveillance assignment, I have some historical ammunition for the job. But with the Cooper and Slayter jobs, I was provided very little information. Adam Cooper simply said that he wanted his sister followed because he was concerned about her wellbeing. When I asked him to be more specific, he said that he didn’t want to create an investigative bias. (An interesting concept, but a first in my career.) As for Mrs. Margaret Slayter, I asked her if she thought her husband was having an affair and she replied, “I simply want to know how he spends his time. It’s not important for you to know why.”

    The thing is, usually we do know why.

    A week after we took on the Cooper and Slayter cases, I found the Vivien Blake file. Her name was scrawled on the tab of a file folder sitting open on my mother’s desk. A high school photo with the requisite cloudy blue backdrop mingled with an unusual assortment of other documentation.

    The girl in the picture was wearing cap and gown and smiling the way you smile when it has just been demanded of you. Other than the reluctant toothy grin, the young brunette had the appeal of a young woman with a bright future ahead of her. Adolescents are not our typical investigative fare. Since we usually discuss active cases in our office, it was unusual that I hadn’t even heard the name on a file that was already two inches thick.

    “Tell me about the Blake case,” I said when my father eventually entered the office.

    “We took the meeting last week,” my dad replied defensively.


    “You were busy.”


    “I think you were at Walter’s.”[7]

    “I’m sure I was. Tell me about Ms. Blake.”

    “Her parents hired us.”

    “To find her?” I asked.

    “No. She’s not missing.”

    “Then why did her parents hire us?”

    “The Blakes want us to follow their daughter.”

    My father settled into his chair and made an effort to appear extraordinarily busy. Before I continued interrogating him, I decided to familiarize myself with the Blake file. It began with an e‑mail she wrote after her first month as a freshman at Berkeley.

    To: Ma and Pa Blake
    From: Vivien Blake (
    Re: greetings
    Mom and Dad,
    I hope this e‑mail finds you well. Despite your concerns before
    I left home, I have not become a drug addict, a cult member, or
    a hippie. Sadly San Francisco isn’t what it used to be. I’ll own up
    to eating too much pizza and soda, but you must allow me a few
    vices. I can honestly report that I’m attending all of my classes
    except the eight a.m. world history seminar. I tried to get into the
    noon one, but it was overenrolled. I just buy the notes later. You
    can do that, you know. I think it’s also worth pointing out that I got
    an A on the first world history exam.
    As for church, I haven’t made it there yet, but it’s on my to‑do
    list. I would go if it started at noon. I don’t know why they haven’t
    implemented late-riser services yet. It’s a niche most religions
    have failed to tap into.
    I do have a favor to ask, aside from more pizza money, if you
    think of it: If you’re concerned about me, call me. Not my roommates.
    Sonia found that last phone call a bit . . . how do I put it?
    Awkward. Most parents don’t do that sort of thing. Just so you
    Not much else to report: I’m alive, my clothes are relatively
    clean, I’m getting enough sleep, and all the golf carts of the world
    are where they should be. And if they’re not, it was not my doing.
    Give Prof. Fuzzy a kiss for me. Remember, that’s a two-person
    job. If I were you, I’d wear gloves.
    Love, your law-abiding daughter,

    It took me about an hour to scrutinize the Blake file. The story is simple enough. Vivien’s parents were concerned about their daughter, a straight- A student and class president who’d been accepted at a number of Ivy League schools but decided on the equally impressive and yet less expensive Berkeley. She was also a bit of a rebel, with a bent for getting into the kind of trouble that occasionally resulted in mild police intervention. Her parents wanted her tailed to make sure that the trouble she was currently getting into would not interfere with her education or future prospects.

    To put it bluntly, they were scared of and for their daughter. They collected her e‑mails as evidence rather than keepsakes. She was a different sort than they were. Harvey Blake was a life insurance salesman, always calculating risk. His wife was a homemaker of the old-school variety, the kind that ironed her husband’s shirts and had dinner on the table at six forty-five on the dot. But their daughter was someone else. For years they had shared their house with a polite, friendly, free-spirited alien.[8]

    Still, as far as I was concerned, Vivien Blake was simply a strong-willed young woman figuring out her place in the world. Since I had spent decades stirring up trouble, why would I investigate someone who was no worse than I at her age and yet managing to excel at the same time?

    After I’d reviewed the file and the “evidence” within it, which included letters from sleepaway camp, text-message transcripts, a month of e‑mails, and a photo of Vivien wearing a homemade prom dress constructed out of tinfoil and duct tape, I took a stand. I waited until my mom and Demetrius returned from their client meeting, so I had a full audience.

    I dropped the file back on my mom’s desk. “I vote no.”

    “I wasn’t aware of any vote taking place,” Mom replied. “I’ll need some more time to campaign.”

    “Mom, it’s a clear invasion of privacy.”

    “Sweetie, if you haven’t noticed, invading privacy is our business.”

    “This crosses a line,” I said. “I thought the whole point of college was to get away from your parents.”

    “Then how come you never went?” Dad said, consulting the ceiling as if it were a grand philosophical question.

    “We’re talking about Vivien now.”

    “They’re concerned parents,” Mom said.

    “They’re paranoid parents.”

    “She’s been in trouble in the past.”

    “Who hasn’t?”

    “In one night, she stole half a dozen golf carts from Sharp Park,” Mom said.

    “She relocated them,” I replied. “They were discovered the next day.”

    “In a cow pasture!” Mom replied.

    “Still, they were returned, unscathed, to the golf course and no one could prove that she did it. She’s a genius, if you ask me.”

    “Technically she has a genius IQ,” Dad piped in, and quickly turned back to his work.

    “Isabel, she has a rather extensive juvenile rap sheet,” my mother said.

    “Fifty percent of the people in this room have a juvie record,” I replied, speaking for myself and Demetrius.

    I looked to D for some support, but he refused to meet my gaze, sifting through papers on his desk for the sole purpose of avoiding the debate being waged around him.

    “D, do you have anything to say?” I asked.

    “I think the muffins are ready,” he said, taking a brisk walk into the kitchen.

    Dad, too, remained mum, not wanting any part of this conflict.

    “Al, what’s your opinion?” my mother said.

    “Who cares?” I replied. “You guys only get one combined vote anyway.”[9]

    “That’s my opinion,” Dad said.

    “Coward,” I said.

    “I have to live with her,” he said.

    “You tried to slip this case by me,” I said. “We agreed to vote whenever there was a dissenting opinion.”

    And so we voted. The outcome was one-one, as expected. We needed a tiebreaker. I entered the kitchen as Demetrius was plating the muffins. He set three aside on a separate platter.

    “I think he’s catching on,” D said.

    “Then we ride this wave as long as we can.”

    “I don’t feel good about the deception,” Demetrius replied.

    “Let it go. We have other matters to discuss.”

    “I don’t want to be the tiebreaker,” D said.

    “Too bad,” I replied. “It’s part of your job.”

    The deciding vote used to be Rae’s until we discovered she could be bought and ousted her from any interoffice conflict resolution.

    “Don’t try to sway his vote,” Mom said, entering the kitchen. She took one muffin off the main tray and another from the trio of outcasts. “Al’s?” she asked.

    Demetrius nodded his head and reentered the office. Mom and I followed on his heels, each adding a layer to our own dissenting opinion. Mom briefly switched her attention to the muffins, trying to remember which one was the contraband and which the whole-grain doorstop. She weighed them in her hands and figured it out. She passed Dad the muffin from her left hand and dug into the one in her right.

    “A freshman in college should not be under surveillance,” I said.

    “They’re concerned for her future, Isabel.”

    Demetrius sat behind his desk and, like my dad, tried to pretend we weren’t talking to him.

    “Demetrius,” I said, demanding a reply. “Remember who freed you.”

    “Stop playing the ‘I got you out of jail’ card,” Mom said.

    “I’m Switzerland,” Demetrius said, as usual.

    “There’s no Switzerland in Spellman Investigations. Everybody picks a side,” I intoned.

    Dad took a bite of his muffin and made a face. Not a good one. Then he said, sounding as dry as the muffin most likely was, “Once again, D, you’ve outdone yourself.”

    “Thanks, Al,” D replied, knowing that the compliment was a baldfaced lie.

    “Just break the tie so I don’t have to listen to them arguing for the rest of the day,” Dad said.

    Demetrius was clearly in conflict over this decision. Having had no privacy of his own for fifteen years, he wanted to respect it in others, but he couldn’t help but feel concern for the young coed. But one might suppose that there is a rather profound distinction between not being able to use a toilet in private and being watched from afar by a pack of harmless PIs.

    “Take the case,” Demetrius said. “She’s legal now. If she crosses the line, she could have a record for the rest of her life.”

     And that is how we caught the case of Vivien Blake.

    Even I’ll admit that there was something bizarrely symmetrical about our recent caseload—surveilling a husband, a sister, and a daughter all at one time. I know what you’re thinking. Surely all three cases will become ensnared and converge at the end. But don’t get ahead of yourself. That kind of shit only happens in detective novels. How about you quit guessing and let the story unfold as it may? Even I don’t know how all the pieces will fall.

    [1] I have an eye for this sort of thing.
    [2] I’ll explain all this animal crap shortly.
    [3] Shockingly, my mother shows occasional bursts of fiscal integrity.
    [4] You could either go straight to the appendix or show some patience and know that
    I’ll get to him shortly.
    [5] I’ve discovered that formally announcing a subject change holds far more sway than
    just simply changing the subject. Try it yourself sometime.
    [6] When my sister was little, I told her if she buried the M&M’s she could grow an M&M
    tree and have a lifetime supply. She watered them with Kool-Aid for two weeks until
    my mother disabused her of that notion.
    [7] I’ll get to him shortly.
    [8] Much of this information I gleaned from my mother at a later date.
    [9] A clause in the revamped bylaws that I demanded on our most recent revision. It’s
    only fair—they always vote the same way.


    In Trail of the Spellmans (Document #5), LISA LUTZ has delivered another knockout adventure in what Library Journal has deemed a “side-splitting series.” This quirky and hilarious family of sleuths provides entertainment for days, and Izzy’s uncommon, unforgettable, undeniably addictive voice leads the way. In addition to writing the Spellman series, Lutz is also the coauthor of Heads You Lose, written with David Hayward.

    Author Photo Credit Morgan Dox

  • AUTHOR Q & A

    Isabel tells her readers that they should “quit guessing and let the story unfold as it may,” that even she doesn’t “know how all the pieces will fall.” Do you know how all the pieces will fall when you begin writing a novel? Or does the novel unfold while you write?

    I have story threads and themes that I’ve noted ahead of time. I usually have a sense of where my characters are personally and ways in which they might transform throughout the novel. But I never know at the outset how the book will end, nor do I ever stick to my original plan.

    Which Spellman do you relate to the most? Do you have a favorite? Why or why not?

    The obvious answer and the most honest one is Isabel. However, I relate to all of them in different ways. I relate to Rae’s indifference to social mores. I understand Olivia’s desire to enforce her desires on her mini-universe. And I completely comprehend Albert’s experience of having no control of those around him.

    If you had a Spellman clan nickname, what do you think it would be and why?

    The Aristocrats!

    You’ve said in a previous interview that you did some surveillance work yourself. What was the most exciting thing to happen to you while you were on a job?

    I followed a lunatic who had apparently shot a priest (this may have been a rumor) and believed he (the lunatic, not the priest) was the true inventor of “bifurcated jeans” (which are just plain old blue jeans, but he made a point of writing “bifurcated” in some documents we found—that’s how I learned the word). During the surveillance, the subject dropped off in a cigar shop rather complicated drawings of an invention for a new kind of toilet that wouldn’t require toilet paper. It would, however, require a seat belt (this is true; I saw the drawings). Anyway, when I was surveilling this unusual fellow, I tailed him into a bar and overheard the barmaid say, “Joey,[1] are you talking about killing people again?”

    Demetrius’s “Crack Mix” sounds like, as Al says, “the best snack food in the history of snack food.” Where did you get the idea for this heavenly snack? Is it based in reality? If so, can you divulge the recipe?

    I imagine Crack Mix to be the Chex Mix of the gods. Do I know what secret ingredients would make it that? No. But I will admit that I really like Chex Mix. And if anyone does have the recipe for Chex Mix of the gods, call me.

    SpongeBob SquarePants made a few appearances throughout Trail of the Spellmans. Is it a guilty pleasure of yours?

    Sometimes when I’m sick or depressed or both, I watch. And I don’t feel a tiny bit guilty about it.

    Which character do you think has changed the most since The Spellman Files: Document #1?

    That question is tough. I think the youngest characters were likely to change the most, since that’s the nature of growing up. But when I sit down and write each book, I want every character to change in the story. That’s what happens. People transform in some ways and they remain exactly the same in others. Often the thing you’d like to change the most about yourself is where you will forever remain stuck.

    How was the experience of writing the fifth book in this series different than the experience of writing the first?

    Actually, Document #5 was rough. While I had no intention of ending the series after The Spellmans Strike Again, I did close many doors in that book and, with the fifth one, I was opening a lot of doors and not finding anything behind them and then opening another door and another until I found something. It was a while before I found my stride. I’m very pleased with it, but it took a long time to figure out where I was going.

    Do you have any idea of what’s in store for Isabel and the rest of the Spellman clan for the next book?

    I have a few things up my sleeve. And I should probably transcribe them from my arm before my next shower.

    Isabel has had her high points and her low points in each Spellman novel. If you could have a conversation with her face-to-face, what advice would you want to give her?

    I’ve got no business giving advice to anyone. Even a fictional character.

    [1] Not his real name.


    Dear Reader,

    If you have read Lisa Lutz before, welcome back!  Once again, you will fall under the spell of an original and entertaining writer.

    If this is your first Lisa Lutz novel, welcome to the Spellman family.  They may seem a bit quirky.  Actually, they are quirky.  They are also witty and cantankerous and evasive -- all necessary qualities when the family business is a private detective agency.  After spending time with them, however, you will quickly find yourself growing attached to them, wondering about them, and fascinated by their squabbles, repartee, manipulations, and maneuvers.

    Some readers regard Lisa Lutz as a crime novelist with a flair for character and a great sense of humor.  Others think Lisa Lutz is writing a sharp and clever portrait of a complicated family and its business.  Lisa Lutz's ingenious idea was to combine these two strands of fiction – the detective story and the comedic dysfunctional family novel.  The result is a beguiling series featuring a woman named Izzy Spellman who spies on people, contends with her kin, and solves an occasional mystery, while addressing the larger mysteries of life and love.  

    Lisa Lutz has long been a favorite among Simon & Schuster readers.  I hope you will share our enthusiasm for Trail of the Spellmans and compel others to join the family.


    Jonathan Karp
    Executive Vice President and Publisher
    Simon & Schuster




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