Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recommended read: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Claire DeWitt isn't the most relate-able of women: she's bitter and often under the influence of something (alcohol, various drugs). But, she's also a brilliant and unorthodox private detective with an affinity for a (fictional) French detective named Silette. Silette's place in this story is his one and only book, Detection, which Claire carries with her from job to job like a bible of sorts. A one-time New Orleans resident, Claire is hired to find out what happened to prosecutor Vic Willing, who hasn't been seen since Katrina a year and a half prior. She takes her time, her methods unusual, waiting for the clues to come to her. Things that don't seem connected might actually be. And, of course, one of those tidbits of info ends up being the most important clue to solving the "The Case of the Green Parrot," as Claire dubs it.

The darker mood of the novel is perpetuated in dysfunctional post-Katrina New Orleans. It naturally provides many possibilities as to Willings' disappearance. Did Vic die in Katrina, was he murdered, or did he simply just stay away afterwards without leaving a forwarding address? The chaos that was New Orleans after Katrina is unfathonable for us outsiders and Gran does a very impressive job conveying the utter devastation that followed. This passage so aptly describes this: "some people, I saw, had drowned right away. And some people were drowning in slow motion, drowning a little bit at a time, and would be drowning for years. And some people, like Mick, had always been drowning. They just didn't know what to call it until now."

The character I find most interesting isn't really even a true character: Silette. His philosophy on crime detection I find to be a revelation: " '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.' " This point Silette makes would be useful for any crime solver's arsenal.

So, to my issues with this book: there's little emotional attachment to the main character. She is more mysterious than the actual mystery she solves; her motives for most things are unclear, probably to be explained in a later installment ( I believe Gran is gearing this up to be a series). The closest I came to some clarity is the background story on her friend Tracey's disappearance as a teenager. My other beef was that the dialogue of some characters was annoying and repetitive at times. I would think to myself, just say it already!

In the end, though, I have to recommend a book where I like the supporting characters and the mystery itself was fulfilling, but I'm just not a fan of the main character (not yet anyway)-- which might just be the author's intention. Not too bad for a book I picked up because I liked the cover.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
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