Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara GranClaire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Mysteries #1) by Sara Gran
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011), eBook, 273pg
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Source: Scribd


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 and Détection 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.

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I wanted to read this book because of a blogger!1 I didn’t really know anything about it except that it’s a mystery with a really cool cover! Turns out that part is true, but it is ALSO a very trippy book with magical realism elements and/or massive hallucinations.

The New Orleans in this book is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. It’s broken and terrible and not mending at all. It’s like the ultimate noir location, except with swamps and AK-47s instead of smoky streets and six-shooters.2

But! Claire is a totally unreliable narrator and she hangs out with criminals for a living, so her perspective is completely skewed. And fictional New Orleans is not reality New Orleans! So I DO still want to visit it. Just not in the company of anyone like Claire.

This is not a happy book and there are no happy people in it.3 Almost nobody is having a good time and terrible things happen everywhere. Yet I still enjoyed reading it despite my dislike of depressing books!

Maybe because it isn’t really DEPRESSING. Depressing things happen, and beaten-down people are at the forefront of every scene, but the tone is more like apathy-with-a-hint-of-maniacal-intensity than anything else.

Claire sets the tone, of course, and she’s practically the poster child for effed-up detectives. She does many many drugs, is obsessed with solutions4, has no family or friends or lovers, and doesn’t give a hoot about anything except being a detective. She sees terrible things and just kind of shrugs them off, while ALSO filing them away into her mind palace so she can pull them out later and slot them into the correct place in the end of the book.

Her brain is a very trippy place to be. I’m pretty sure she hallucinated like half the story. I haven’t read a book that felt like a literary LSD trip in a while, and certainly not one that I actually LIKED! It was fun! I had no idea what was happening, I wasn’t sure if what I thought was happening actually was, and I still had a great time reading everything.

Everyone was very interesting to read about (especially Claire) and I liked the setting even though it also made me scared. The mystery was almost secondary to the actual experience of reading the book; I didn’t really care who did it so much as I cared how Claire figured it out.

Most of all, I appreciate how different from other mysteries Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is; originality counts for a lot in mysteries, and I this one has it in spades.

Read: March 19-April 8, 2015

  1. Whose name I can’t remember now. Sorry!
  2. Or whatever noir baddies used.
  3. well, ALMOST no happy people. Maybe a few secondary/tertiary people are happy.
  4. Although not necessarily the solutions to the case she’s on.


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