Laura Ellen Scott, an occasional contributor to Art & Literature, takes a look at Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and The City of The Dead, a New Orleans-set mystery novel that was garnering critical acclaim and high praise from readers even before its publication last week. Scott has the inside scoop on stories set in New Orleans; her own forthcoming novel, Death Wishing, is set in the French Quarter, post-Katrina; that book is due in October. — Art Taylor
Claire DeWitt and The City of The Dead
By Sara Gran
Reviewed by Laura Ellen Scott
What happens to girl detectives when they grow up? According to Sara Gran’s marvelous Claire DeWitt and The City of The Dead, your basic Nancy Drew type is in for dark days in her middle age. Narrated by the tattooed, drug using title character, Gran’s new mystery is dark, tough, and a bit magical as she writes convincingly of New Orleans as a PTSD-ridden city in which detectives are ethereal, gifted, and mystically inclined.
Unironically identified as the world’s greatest PI, Claire DeWitt is a devotee of Jacque Silette’s Détection, the enigmatic manual she carries with her at all times. Using dreams, drugs, and the I Ching as her primary investigative tools, DeWitt’s interpretation of Silette’s philosophy is that a detective needs to see as much as possible by any means possible:
“When a person disappears,” Silette wrote in Detection, “the detective must look at what she took with her when she left—not only the material items, but what is gone without her; what she carries with her to the underworld; what words will go unspoken; what no longer exists if she is made to disappear.”
Barely recovered from a nervous breakdown caused by extensive fasting and drug use, DeWitt takes on a two-year-old missing persons case in New Orleans, the city of her training. She hasn’t been back since her mentor, the previous number one detective in the world, was shot to death in a French Quarter restaurant. Now DeWitt has returned to investigate the disappearance of a successful New Orleans DA named Vic Willing who seems to have made it through Katrina but perhaps not the cultural devastation of its aftermath.