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Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Novels) Hardcover – June 2, 2011
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"I just burned through Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and it's the first truly fantastic book I've read this year. Gran's evocation of the exposed wounds of New Orleans - before and after the storm - is a master-class in descriptive and emotive writing, and Claire is one of the most exciting new characters in years; a Raymond Chandler heroine with just enough of an off-beat vibe to tilt the whole thing enticingly off-kilter. Everything here - from the smallest touches to the grander mythology setting the tone of the series - just sings."--Drew Williams, Little Professor Book Center"Not your mother's girl detective, Claire DeWitt is a cool blend of Nancy Drew and Sid Vicious. With Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran has pulled the traditional female sleuth into the twenty-first century with a novel that's smart and hip, dark and funny. I can't wait for the next one." - Alafair Burke, author of LONG GONE"Gran (Dope, 2006, etc.) provides...a comically self-important detective and a searing portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans."--Kirkus Reviews
"As brash and bold as Sherlock Holmes himself, Claire DeWitt arrives in still-chaotic New Orleans 18 months after Katrina. She's been hired to investigate the disappearance of Vic Willing, a local prosecutor, who's not been heard from since the hurricane. Claire surprises the local gangtsa set with her unique bravado. One of them, Andray, is compelled to help her tap into the darkness of Katrina's aftermath. From there, Claire finds her answers. Mentored and deeply inspired by a famous French detective, the I Ching, and profoundly illuminating dreams, a complex Claire leads us into her own nightmares as well. VERDICT This is not to be missed-Claire is a moody, hip, and meticulous investigator. Gran (Dope; Come Closer) builds an addictive sense of anticipation with a fantastical frame. Alternately gritty and dreamy, this would appeal to those who liked Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist and readers of Charlie Huston (e.g., The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death). Highly recommended." --Library Journal STARRED
"Captivating"--Publishers Weekly, STARRED"If there isn’t yet a subgenre called funky noir, this wacky PI novel could be a fragrant first...lots of fun."--BooklistPRAISE FROM BOOKSELLERS (PRE-PUB TOUR)"Thanks again for such a wonderful experience last week. I love how HMH and Algonquin are bringing writers to the booksellers ahead of publication date because it makes such a difference having that personal knowledge of the author. And when the authors are *awesome* like Sara is, it makes their books stand out more in my mind, and thus makes me more likely to try to handsell their books. Sure, we all try to sell the books we like and we think a customer will like, but when there's a personal connection with the author, it feels more like we're introducing new readers to not just a book, but a friend."--Emily Crowe, Odyssey Book Shop"Sara Gran is awesome. Don’t let her small, bespectacled frame deceive you; she’s a firecracker with fascinating stories to tell, and she has an obvious, passionate love of her craft. I could have talked to her for hours. And I love her book so far; it’s terrifically different from so many other mysteries I’ve read. And with regard to New Orleans: she really knows her stuff.I DO very much like the pre-publicity dinners, and not just because of the free booze. It encourages me to read books I might not ordinarily pick up (*Sara’s being an exception, as it’s right up my alley), and talking at length with the author about why they wrote the book, their background, etc. all helps me to sell their book." --Hilary Emerson Lay, Spirit of '76 Bookstore"We had a blast with you, Carla and Sara. I think these sorts of pre-pub events are very worth it. I do believe they help generate enthusiasm for a book and an author which helps generate sales. Of course, Sara is an author that it's easy to be enthusiastic about. She's genuine, smart, fun and quick to forge connections. That is, we like her very much. Being a former bookseller, she's kin and you can feel that. In a good way. Like when you meet a cousin you barely know but like instantly. She's our cousin who has made good and we're sorry we don't get to see her more because she lives on the wrong side of the country."--Stan Hynds, Northshire Bookstore "The novel, Gran's fourth, is difficult to categorize, offering a strangely appealing mix of the mystical and the hard-boiled. The book is beautifully written in a tight, quirky style that distinguishes Gran as one of the more original writers working today."--Bruce DeSilva, Associated Press
From the Inside Flap
Claire DeWitt is the world’s greatest PI, a one-time teen detective in Brooklyn and follower of the enigmatic French detective Jacques Silette, whose mysterious handbook Détection has led Claire to use the I-Ching, omens, prophetic dreams, and mind-expanding drugs.
Claire also has deep roots in New Orleans, where she was mentored by the brilliant Constance Darling—until Darling was murdered. When a respected New Orleans DA goes missing during Hurricane Katrina, she returns to her newly wrecked former city to find out why. The clues lead her to Andray Fairview, a young man who had nothing to lose before the storm and has less now. Finding old friends and making new enemies, Claire solves the case, but she’s haunted by others gone missing: her best friend and partner in detection, who disappeared from a New York City subway station in 1986, and Jacques Silette’s daughter, Belle, stolen from a hotel room and never heard from again.
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is a knockout start to a bracingly original new series.
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Top customer reviews
It wasn't far into the book before I realized it was neither, but rather a dour, low-key murder mystery set in post-Katrina New Orleans. That's fine - I adjusted my expectations. But even then I was disappointed.
Why? Multiple reasons. The protagonist is, frankly, sour and unlikable. And not unlikable in an underdog, relatable way - she's just plain unpleasant. There is nothing much to the mystery, and very little actual detection in its solving. DeWitt just kind of thinks about it, makes some guesses, then solves it. I suppose we weren't supposed to mind, because the book constantly refers to a philosophy of detection that is nothing more than airy pronouncements about letting the mystery find you and letting clues speak.
I will give it two stars because the depiction of New Orleans after the flood and all the physical and psychological destruction it wrought is pretty well-done. That one quality aside, I would not recommend this title.
It does have proliferate drug use, but I liked the way it was handled. When it occurred, it was more matter-of-fact, rather than scandalous, or judgmental; like this was an activity Claire engages in, and it's actually useful in some ways as it allows her to bridge gaps between herself and informants. New Orleans is treated in a somewhat similar fashion, but with deep underlying fondness. Claire notes the problem with locating people, phone numbers, addresses in post-Katrina New Orleans, and at least a couple of the locals involved in Claire's mystery are suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder. Nonetheless, Gran's imagery is objective, yet still manages to capture the tragedy: at one point, Claire is sent to the "house with it's walls falling in."
I really enjoyed Gran's use of language. Claire's sarcasm came through loud and clear, but also her love and affection for those she cares for and admires. The very factual tone lends itself to the creation of emotionally blunted characters.
Fun lines: ---"He looked like he was waiting to see a doctor about an unusual lump."
---"I concentrated on the goats. They were good company. They overlooked most of my personality defects and failures, my withdrawal of food from the fatties, and my inability to speak goat."
--"You don't know that," Mick said, weakly trying to fake liberal outrage.
--"I heard Mick roll his eyes over the phone."
Judging by the divisive reviews on Amazon, readers either love Claire or loathe her. Those who pick up this book thinking it is a cozy will hate it. DeWitt is a pot-smoking, mystic, and occasionally psychotic character. Her character is more along the lines of a pulp fiction PI than Murder She Wrote. Count me among those readers who get it: I found the dialog laugh out loud funny, and Claire a sympathetic character who despite a tough exterior frequently shows kindness and deep insight.
Sara Gran is a great writer, and I'm looking forward to future installments in this series.
I stuck with this book until the end, hoping for a payoff that never came. However, the author's feel for New Orleans is terrific and I have the impression that her character of Claire DeWitt could be developed into something fascinating with a more deftly plotted book.
Claire is unlikeable, but that's OK with me. Just give me a story worthy of her quirky character.
Bottom line: Buy it if you love New Orleans, and stories that take place in New Orleans with a slightly occult bent. If you're looking for a standard detective novel, keep on moving as there's nothing to see here.