Thursday, June 30, 2011

Read "Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead" by Sara Gran. It's fresh, interesting and completely engaging.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is one of those rare and wonderful books that I hated to put down, and could not wait to resume reading.  It is a mystery, but anyone interested in good fiction will thoroughly enjoy this excellent story.

Author Sara Gran has invented a modern private eye, Claire DeWitt.  This Brooklyn-born P.I. follows the detecting methods set forth by a Frenchman, Jacques Silette, in his book Détection.  Détection is mystical in a number of ways, and some of the methods it calls for are a bit magical (dreams are important and there are no coincidences).  Certainly, unusual things happen to Claire.  Nonetheless, in many respects she is as hardboiled as Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe.

In the story, Claire is hired to come to New Orleans and find Vic Willing, an Assistant District Attorney.  Vic  was last seen when Katrina hit the city and has been missing for two years when Claire accepts the case.  Sara Gran is an elegant mystery writer and I appreciated the manner and pace in which the resolution of the case is revealed.   But in addition to the story of what happened to Vic Willing, the book has two more important elements.

First, while working on the case Claire DeWitt's background is revealed.  New Orleans is DeWitt's old stomping grounds; she lived there while studying the Silette-method of detection with her mentor Constance Darling.  Stories of her earlier life in New Orleans and in Brooklyn are woven around the mystery of the missing attorney.  Through these stories we learn how Claire was drawn to the life of a private investigator and how she became, in her words, the world's greatest detective.  

Second, New Orleans itself is a major part element of the book.  In a very compelling manner, the book's characters tell the story of this unique city before, during and after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding.

Sara Gran weaves all of these elements together to create an original and engrossing book.  Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is highly recommended reading.