Thursday, January 03, 2013

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (2012)

There's a blogger I  follow whose recommendations haven't led me astray yet... I put Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead on my wishlist after I spied it on her site.  And my sister gave it to me for Christmas (thank you!)  It's written by Sara Gran.  All the blurbs are like...

"...as if David Lynch directed a Raymond Chandler novel..."

"...like Kinsey Millhone channeled by Hunter S. Thompson..."

"... a cool blend of Nancy Drew and Sid Vicious..."

Settle down, people!  It's like Lizbeth Sander fucked Sherlock Holmes and Claire DeWitt was their illegitimate chid that was raised by gypsy circus bears.   

But, seriously, it IS kind of like all those things.  I've never read Sara Gran before, but her voice is really fresh and compelling.  Claire DeWitt felt like something really original, even though the story followed a fairly normal arc (thank God.  I was a bit worried, as I was reading, that the mystery was going to have a non-traditional ending and I was dreading it.)    Apparently it's the first of a series (oh, snap!  It looks like the next one comes out in June).  I reminded me of two other slim mysteries that are really worth checking out if you haven't already:  Michael Chabon's The Final Solution (which also has a parrot on the cover) and Boy Detective Fails, by Joe Meno.

Claire DeWitt is a detective - and the city of the dead is New Orleans, post-Katrina.  DeWitt is trying to solve a murder and interacts with all these wackadoo New Orleans characters, particularly some semi-homeless teens.  Claire studied this method based on a French writer named Silette and his thin book, D├ętection.  She frequently refers to his advice in her quest to find the truth.  Silette's method is circuitous and introspective - for example:
"The detective thinks he is investigating a murder or a missing girl," Silette writes. "But truly he is investigating something else altogether, something he cannot grasp hold of directly. Satisfaction will be rare. Uncertainty will be your natural state. Sureness will always elude you. The detective will always circle around what he wants, never seeing it whole."
Claire utilizes some strange techniques to solve mysteries, like getting drunk and stoned with suspects.  In one hilarious scene, she talks about how disguise, and then comes up with this complicated backstory for a character disguise, and then everyone recognizes her right away.  Even though that scene is pretty silly, however, you're meant to understand that she really is this amazing detective - one of the best in the world.  

Gran's prose is really clean - here's a passage chosen almost at random - look how beautiful:
Terrell came out from inside the house. The windows were boarded up with plywood. Terrell held his pants up around his slim waist with his right hand. The boys who hung out on street corners in New Orleans were so achingly thin, I wondered if it was a fashion trend or they were trying not to exist, even less than they already did in the eyes of the world.
It was a fantastic mystery (I'm becoming a real mystery lover) and I eagerly await the next in the series.

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