Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead Review
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The crime fiction genre is currently dominated by a few talented but formula-driven authors, who crank out book after book surrounding the same protagonist. It’s difficult to find a unique, fresh voice who’s writing with new characters, but Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran may be the unexpected book to re-pique your interest in the private investigator novel.

The female protagonist, Claire DeWitt, is a hard-boiled detective who drinks, smokes pot, checks with the occult, and is the self-proclaimed best detective in the world. A student of Jacques Silette, who wrote an obscure book called Detection, and mentored by Constance Darling, a refined detective who was killed in New Orleans, Claire is recovering from a breakdown and living far from the City of the Dead when she’s called to investigate the disappearance of local prosecutor Vic Willing.

Vic disappeared during the hurricane, and his nephew, Leon, has decided that he’d like to have some answers. He hires Claire based on her phenomenal reputation and gets more than he may have bargained for with her unique way of investigating. Often stoned and usually half-drunk, Claire sees clues where others see coincidences. Like a female Sherlock Holmes, Claire herself is probably brilliant but just short of tortured.

Claire meets with the locals in New Orleans and introduces readers to the beautiful and often bleak sub-culture of the homeless, the street people, and the drug-dealing tough kids who roam the streets. Gran gives the story local color and turns the City of New Orleans, years after Hurricane Katrina, into a main character of the novel. The novel gives insight into the corruption of New Orleans while offering glimpses of its recovering beauty as well.

While it focuses on the missing persons case, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead could be the beginning of a new series, as the novel teases other mysteries in Claire’s life and the lives of her mentors. There was some confusion for me with names of characters (including Vic, Mick, and Mike), but that’s a minor gripe. Other readers, however, may have a problem suspending belief when reading about all of the coincidences that Claire drunkenly stumbles upon, only to see them weave themselves together so perfectly. But, as Gran writes, “There are no coincidences. Only clues you’ve been too blind to see, doors you haven’t found the key to open.”

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is a great novel for any lover of dark, hard-boiled detective novels. This is not the “bumbling fun” read of many other female detectives, but it’s a classic, noir-style novel for the current generation.

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