Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead
By Sara Gran
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I always thought I didn’t like mysteries. Obviously, I’ve been reading the wrong ones. I can admit when I’m wrong. Maybe it it’s the offbeat way the mystery is solved or the setting which is more than a map of clues but also a background for a messed up detective trying to figure out how to fit back into society and whether or not she wants to go through with the plan or leave everything behind.
Claire Dewitt is a detective with issues. A stint in a hospital has left her slightly skittish, mentally, but also slightly interested in getting back to work. When a client seeks her out, she decides it might be time to test her own enthusiasm for work. A case of a missing district attorney brings her home to New Orleans — a city newly devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Claire starts feeling around for clues in her unorthodox way but what she finds has more to do with herself than the case she’s being paid to resolve.
There are so many things wrong with Claire and not the little things we all might be able to relate to on some level. She’s screwed up; really screwed up. A one-time teenage detective, she carries around guilt over never having found a friend who went missing. She’s an addict — drugs, alcohol, and the above mentioned strange and scary array of guilt. Like crazy guilt. And she’s eccentric, especially inher detecting style. A devout follower of Jaques Silette’s mysterious detective handbook, Detection, she uses out of the ordinary techniques such as omens and mind-enhancing drugs to seek out clues. In fact, she isn’t the type of detective who looks for clues at all. She waits for them to find her. It’s an interesting way of looking at things for someone who is supposed to be a detective.
There are so many small mysteries surrounding Claire that the main case of the missing district attorney seems almost background noise to what’s really going on with her. New Orleans is a haunted place for Claire and many times you wonder what it is she’s chasing. Is it her own demons or one more clue that found its way out of the ether into her head which is already full of scary ideas? You also aren’t surprised when her client, the only one she has, wants to fire her. Oddly, you’re not surprised either when she manages to have an explanation for everything in the end. Well, not everything, but enough to make you wonder exactly what is with the woman.
There is so much to love about this book and I’m not sure I’m doing it justice so here’s my plea to you — read it. I recommend it highly.