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Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Novels) Paperback – May 1, 2012
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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 "Detection" 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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Author Sara Gran provides Claire with an amazing fictional character to help light the way, master detective and author Jacques Silette. Sara Gran creates in Silette a mysterious figure, a French detective who saw and solved mysteries that others could never fathom. Silette penned Détection, his how-to manual for the would-be detective, and Détection is now Claire’s go-to reference work for life and private investigation.
This fictional work, Détection, is oft mentioned and quoted at will throughout City of the Dead. It serves as the unseen yardstick against which all the events that transpire in New Orleans are measured, and it also serves as the world compass of Claire DeWitt. Gran’s characters reference Détection with reverence, copies are cherished and passed on, and its aphorisms embraced throughout as real and trenchant.
Such aphorisms and pearls of wisdom from Détection include:
“There are no innocent victims.”
“The detective will never be thanked for revealing the truth. . . . His only reward will be the awful, unbearable truth itself.”
“Believe nothing. Question everything. Follow only the clues.”
And my favorite, “The finger that points the way is not the way”, for it captures Claire, and the existential soul and brevity of Nietzsche’s, “THE way does not exist.”
For Claire, the book Détection is everything, the Tao of Life, the art of deduction, her philosophy, her bible, all rolled into one.
But the DA isn’t the only character missing, not by a long shot. The story is haunted by other ghosts: her best friend who disappeared from a New York City subway station. Jacques Silette’s daughter, Belle, taken from a hotel room and never seen again. And Claire's mentor, Constance Darling, a wealthy and eccentric New Orleans detective who took Claire under her wing as an apprentice, and had once told Claire, “The first thing you need to know about being a detective is that no one will ever like you again … Your friends will never relax around you. Your family will shut you out. The police, of course, will loathe you. Your clients will never forgive you for telling them the truth. Everyone pretends they want their mysteries solved but no one does.”
Ultimately, amid this brooding and unforgiving backstory, Claire gets to the heart of the affair: what happened to the missing New Orleans DA. It isn’t easy work, and Claire puts herself in dangerous places along the way. I found myself cringing as Claire passed out after smoking angel dust with a thug, a terrible and risky way for a private dick to get close to a case. In one memorable scene, Claire is taken for a ride by thugs in a black Hummer, and on the way to what might be her death she prays to multiple deities, from Tibetan mantras to Saint Joseph, and the whole scene was a stunning piece of fiction that stayed with me long after.
Claire is an interesting and unexpected character, cut from the cloth of past PIs, private dicks, and other masters of detection, a person who lives and breathes her work. Witty, frightening, off beat and more. Claire solves the case, but she’s haunted by life and by the lives of others, missing or dead. At times a difficult read, it will pleasure those that give it the attention it deserves.
I did appreciate the author’s attempts to make quite a unique take on the detective novel. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is definitely is original in many ways, very different than anything I’ve read all year.
That being said, there were aspects that I didn’t really care for. I realize that you always have to suspend some belief when reading fiction, but the main character didn’t seem very realistic or, more importantly, likeable. She constantly labels herself “the best detective” in the world, yet seems to fumble away many chances to solve the disappearance of Vic Willing, clues that are right in front of her (but, who knows, maybe she is being facetious when she says that). She also constantly resorts to drugs, booze and clairvoyance as a means of solving a case. She’s also irritating, overly sarcastic, and reckless. There are points where the narrative drags and becomes burdened with too many unnecessary scenes that are not integral to the plot. In addition, there was too much unnecessary language in the book.
I did like how everything tied together at the end, but it seemed like it too long to get there, and I had to put down the book several times before soldiering on to the finish line. Interesting book idea, but not sure if I’ll read any more in the series.
Most recent customer reviews
Multiple levels of mystery with an overlay of drug trippiness.
A fascinating read with many interesting twists and turns.Read more