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31 May 2014

Review: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Author: Sara Gran
Publication Date: June 2, 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Adult Mystery
Find It: GoodreadsAmazonB&N
Source: Library

Sara Gran has written a novel about an unprecedented private investigator named Claire DeWitt. Destiny, it seems, has chosen Claire to be a detective, planting a copy of the enigmatic book Détection in her path as a teenager. Claire has grabbed this destiny with both hands but fate has been cruel. Twenty years later detection is her religion andDétection is her Bible.

Now she is summoned to New Orleans, because someone has heard she is "the best," to search for an upstanding citizen lost in the miasma of Katrina. The battered and beggared New Orleans, second only to Claire, is the star of this story. Thus the title.

The style is slick, gripping, and mystical, as strange and as easy as the character of Claire DeWitt. You may be repelled by her earthiness or mesmerized by her off-the-wall devotion to her calling.

Well known district attorney Vic Willig has disappeared - assumed to have perished in the floods that devastated much of New Orleans. However, his nephew isn't convinced that Vic perished in the flood and calls on detective Claire DeWitt to find out what happened to his missing uncle. Following the controversial methods of Jacques Silette in his book Détection, Claire has a knack for finding out what others want hidden.

My big problem with this book is the main character, Claire Dewitt. She is the (self professed) best detective in the world but it's really unclear why she or anyone else would think so. We are not given an information on her professional background or what cases she has solved. Most of her investigative process involves drinking and smoking with teenage delinquents and dream interpretation. Clues fall into her lap (or next to her chair) and I saw very little detection going. Since Claire's skills are supposed to be slightly mystical, she goes about things in an unconventional way. However, as a reader, I think we need to have some idea of where her conclusions come from. There is one point in the book where Claire figures out a major clue but I have no idea how she got there. Without insight into her thought process, she’s just pulling answers out of thin air, with no skill or talent involved.

Claire is a contradiction. She acts intellectually and morally superior to everyone but is also constantly telling people how she comes from the street and the gutter. She is depressed, hostile, arrogant and has addiction problems. She has no friends and I can see why. Now there are plenty of flawed literary detectives with poor social skills, but they usually have some kind of investigative brilliance or an endearing quality to make up for some of it. And, as noted above, I did not see signs of Claire possessing any extraordinary detective skills or redeeming personality traits.

I do have to say that the author paints a vivid picture of New Orleans, post Katrina. It is an extremely bleak picture though. Gran's New Orleans is a place of desolation and violence, where people are lost and no one cares. Even seemingly good people turn out not to be and there is little hope for those who stay. It’s a side of New Orleans I don’t often think about and I have been told by a friend that the portrayal is accurate on many points.

I was pretty disappointed in this book. I was looking forward to a good mystery but found Claire to be too unlikable and the mystery was pretty bland. There was too much coincidence and conjecture and not enough real detecting. I will not be continuing on with the series.

*I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

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