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Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Series #1)
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Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Series #1)

3.5 64
by Sara Gran
 

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Claire DeWitt is not your average private investigator. She has brilliant deductive skills and is an ace at discovering evidence. But Claire also uses her dreams, omens, and mind-expanding herbs to help her solve mysteries, and relies on Détection — the only book published by the late, great, and mysterious French detective Jacques

Overview

Claire DeWitt is not your average private investigator. She has brilliant deductive skills and is an ace at discovering evidence. But Claire also uses her dreams, omens, and mind-expanding herbs to help her solve mysteries, and relies on Détection — the only book published by the late, great, and mysterious French detective Jacques Silette. 

The tattooed, pot-smoking Claire has just arrived in post-Katrina New Orleans, the city she’s avoided since her mentor, Silette’s student Constance Darling, was murdered there. Claire is investigating the disappearance of Vic Willing, a prosecutor known for winning convictions in a homicide- plagued city. Has an angry criminal enacted revenge on Vic? Or did he use the storm as a means to disappear? Claire follows the clues, finding old friends and making new enemies — foremost among them Andray Fairview, a young gang member who just might hold the key to the mystery. 

Littered with memories of Claire’s years as a girl detective in 1980s Brooklyn, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is a knockout start to a bracingly original new series.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this captivating first in a projected series from Gran (Dope), PI Claire DeWitt comes to New Orleans to help a client, Leon Salvatore, find his ADA uncle, Vic Willing, who went missing at the time of Hurricane Katrina. Claire relies often on the "maddening... notoriously difficult" Détection by legendary French detective Jacques Silette ("No one is innocent. The only question is How will you bear your portion of guilt?") as well as her dreams for guidance. In one dream, Vic tells her, in language that echoes Silette's handbook, to: "Follow the clues.... Believe nothing. Question everything." Suspicion falls on an 18-year-old career-criminal-in-the-making, Andray Fairview, who once worked for Vic and broke into his house. Claire is soon sucked into the underbelly of a city gasping for air. The haunting atmosphere of post-Katrina New Orleans lingers long after the revelation of Vic's fate. (June)
Library Journal
As brash and bold as Sherlock Holmes himself, Claire DeWitt arrives in still-chaotic New Orleans 18 months after Katrina. She's been hired to investigate the disappearance of Vic Willing, a local prosecutor, who's not been heard from since the hurricane. Claire surprises the local gangtsa set with her unique bravado. One of them, Andray, is compelled to help her tap into the darkness of Katrina's aftermath. From there, Claire finds her answers. Mentored and deeply inspired by a famous French detective, the I Ching, and profoundly illuminating dreams, a complex Claire leads us into her own nightmares as well. VERDICT This is not to be missed—Claire is a moody, hip, and meticulous investigator. Gran (Dope; Come Closer) builds an addictive sense of anticipation with a fantastical frame. Alternately gritty and dreamy, this would appeal to those who liked Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist and readers of Charlie Huston (e.g., The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death). Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/13/10.]
Kirkus Reviews

A Brooklyn private investigator who freely admits that she's the best in the world goes looking for a man swallowed up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Actually, Claire DeWitt was trained by two detectives even better than her: her mentor Constance Darling, whose murder made Claire the best in the business, and Constance's ex-teacher and ex-lover Jacques Silette, whose cult reputation as the author of the classic manual Détection didn't help recover his kidnapped daughter. Since Constance and Silette are both unavailable, it's no wonder that Leon Salvatore wants Claire to find his uncle, New Orleans ADA Vic Willing, two years after he vanished. What's remarkable is that he sticks with her as long as he does before firing her. Claire's approach to sleuthing is as Zen-like as Silette's. She declines to interview Vic's friends, the enemies Leon has helpfully listed, the police detectives who worked the case or even the street man who claims he saw Vic after the worst of the flooding. Instead, she promises, "I'm going to wait, and see what happens." What happens is that she tours the sad neighborhoods the storm struck; she hooks up with Andray Fairview and Terrell, a pair of street kids who've seen much too much for their own good; she runs into Claire's old friend, detective Jack Murray; she finds out a great deal about Vic Willing; and she tosses out bromides about detection. Through it all, every clue, every meeting, every dream keeps throwing Claire back into her own past, which turns out to be much more interesting than the present-day case.

Gran (Dope, 2006, etc.) provides an adequate mystery, a comically self-important detective and a searing portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Associated Press Staff
“Beautifully written in a tight, quirky style that distinguishes Gran as one of the more original writers working today.”
—Associated Press
The Times-Picayune
“The mystery captures post-Katrina New Orleans like no other novel yet has . . .DeWitt’s mesmerizing character and memorable voice take your breath away.”
The Times-Picayune
Express (UK)
“The most unusual, intelligent thriller I have read for a long time.”
Express (UK)
BookPage
“Beautifully written in a tight, quirky style that distinguishes Gran as one of the more original writers working today.”
—Associated Press
The Atlantic
“The mystery captures post-Katrina New Orleans like no other novel yet has . . .DeWitt’s mesmerizing character and memorable voice take your breath away.”
The Times-Picayune
New York Times
“The most unusual, intelligent thriller I have read for a long time.”
Express (UK)
Philadelphia CityPaper
“The mystery of Vic Willing’s disappearance pulls you in, but Gran’s enticing characters will keep you hooked.”
BookPage
Salon
“With Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Gran elevates the detective story as literature and brings together a sophisticated mystery, a witty, antagonistic private eye, and a city she knows too well.”
—The Atlantic
From the Publisher

"Just when I begin to despair that the PI novel has worn out its welcome, a writer with a fresh take reminds me why I fell in love with the genre. Sara Gran has long specialized in shaking up and revitalizing other corners of the genre world, so it’s no surprise that she performs this same magic in CLAIRE DEWITT AND THE CITY OF THE DEAD. And while I confess to having very little objectivity about New Orleans and no credentials to judge its literary portrayal, this is a valuable addition to the (way too small) body of post-storm novels."--Laura Lippman

"Terrific. I love this book! Absolutely love it. This is the first fresh literary voice I've heard in years. Sara Gran recombines all the elements of good, solid story-telling and lifts something original from a well-loved form."--Sue Grafton

"I just burned through Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and it's the first truly fantastic book I've read this year. Gran's evocation of the exposed wounds of New Orleans - before and after the storm - is a master-class in descriptive and emotive writing, and Claire is one of the most exciting new characters in years; a Raymond Chandler heroine with just enough of an off-beat vibe to tilt the whole thing enticingly off-kilter. Everything here - from the smallest touches to the grander mythology setting the tone of the series - just sings."--Drew Williams, Little Professor Book Center

"Not your mother's girl detective, Claire DeWitt is a cool blend of Nancy Drew and Sid Vicious.  With Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran has pulled the traditional female sleuth into the twenty-first century with a novel that's smart and hip, dark and funny.  I can't wait for the next one." - Alafair Burke, author of LONG GONE

"Gran (Dope, 2006, etc.) provides...a comically self-important detective and a searing portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans."--Kirkus Reviews

"As brash and bold as Sherlock Holmes himself, Claire DeWitt arrives in still-chaotic New Orleans 18 months after Katrina. She's been hired to investigate the disappearance of Vic Willing, a local prosecutor, who's not been heard from since the hurricane. Claire surprises the local gangtsa set with her unique bravado. One of them, Andray, is compelled to help her tap into the darkness of Katrina's aftermath. From there, Claire finds her answers. Mentored and deeply inspired by a famous French detective, the I Ching, and profoundly illuminating dreams, a complex Claire leads us into her own nightmares as well. VERDICT This is not to be missed-Claire is a moody, hip, and meticulous investigator. Gran (Dope; Come Closer) builds an addictive sense of anticipation with a fantastical frame. Alternately gritty and dreamy, this would appeal to those who liked Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist and readers of Charlie Huston (e.g., The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death). Highly recommended." --Library Journal STARRED

"Captivating"--Publishers Weekly, STARRED

"If there isn’t yet a subgenre called funky noir, this wacky PI novel could be a fragrant first...lots of fun."--Booklist

PRAISE FROM BOOKSELLERS (PRE-PUB TOUR)

"Thanks again for such a wonderful experience last week. I love how HMH and Algonquin are bringing writers to the booksellers ahead of publication date because it makes such a difference having that personal knowledge of the author. And when the authors are *awesome* like Sara is, it makes their books stand out more in my mind, and thus makes me more likely to try to handsell their books. Sure, we all try to sell the books we like and we think a customer will like, but when there's a personal connection with the author, it feels more like we're introducing new readers to not just a book, but a friend."--Emily Crowe, Odyssey Book Shop

"Sara Gran is awesome. Don’t let her small, bespectacled frame deceive you; she’s a firecracker with fascinating stories to tell, and she has an obvious, passionate love of her craft. I could have talked to her for hours. And I love her book so far; it’s terrifically different from so many other mysteries I’ve read. And with regard to New Orleans: she really knows her stuff.I DO very much like the pre-publicity dinners, and not just because of the free booze.  It encourages me to read books I might not ordinarily pick up (*Sara’s being an exception, as it’s right up my alley), and talking at length with the author about why they wrote the book, their background, etc. all helps me to sell their book." --Hilary Emerson Lay, Spirit of '76 Bookstore"We had a blast with you, Carla and Sara. I think these sorts of pre-pub events are very worth it. I do believe they help generate enthusiasm for a book and an author which helps generate sales. Of course, Sara is an author that it's easy to be enthusiastic about. She's genuine, smart, fun and quick to forge connections. That is, we like her very much. Being a former bookseller, she's kin and you can feel that. In a good way. Like when you meet a cousin you barely know but like instantly. She's our cousin who has made good and we're sorry we don't get to see her more because she lives on the wrong side of the country."--Stan Hynds, Northshire Bookstore  "The novel, Gran's fourth, is difficult to categorize, offering a strangely appealing mix of the mystical and the hard-boiled. The book is beautifully written in a tight, quirky style that distinguishes Gran as one of the more original writers working today."--Bruce DeSilva, Associated Press

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547428499
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
06/02/2011
Series:
Claire DeWitt Series , #1
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

1

"It’s my uncle," the man said on the phone. "He’s lost. We lost him in the storm."

"Lost?" I said. "You mean, he drowned?"

"No," the man said, distressed. "Lost. I mean, yeah, he probably drowned. Probably dead. I haven’t heard from him or anything. I can’t imagine how he could still be alive."

"So what’s the mystery?" I said.

A crow flew overhead as we talked. I was in Northern California, near Santa Rosa. I sat at a picnic table by a clump of redwoods. A blue jay squawked nearby. Crows used to be bad omens, but now they were so common that it was hard to say.

Omens change. Signs shifts. Nothing is permanent.

That night I dreamed I was back in New Orleans. I hadn’t been there in ten years. But now, in my dream, it was during the flood. I sat on a rooftop in the cool, dark night. Moonlight reflected off the water around me. It was quiet. Everyone was gone.

Across the street a man sat on another rooftop in a straight-backed chair. The man flickered in and out of focus like an old piece of film, burned through in spots from light. He was fifty or sixty, white, pale, just on this side of short, with salt-and-pepper hair and bushy eyebrows. He wore a three-piece black suit with a high collar and a black tie. He scowled.

The man looked at me sternly.

"If I told you the truth plainly," the man said, "you would not understand." His voice was scratchy and warped, like an old record. But I could still make out the tinge of a French accent. "If life gave you answers outright, they would be meaningless. Each detective must take her clues and solve her mysteries for herself. No one can solve your mystery for you; a book cannot tell you the way."

Now I recognized the man; it was, of course, Jacques Silette, the great French detective. The words were from his one and only book, Détection.

I looked around and in the black night I saw a light shimmering in the distance. As the light got closer I saw that it was a rowboat with a lantern attached to the bow.

I thought it had come to rescue us. But it was empty.

"No one will save you," Silette said from his rooftop. "No one will come. You are alone in your search; no friend, no lover, no God from above will come to your aid. Your mysteries are yours alone."

Silette faded in and out, flickering in the moonlight.

"All I can do is leave you clues," he said. "And hope that you will not only solve your mysteries, but choose carefully the clues you leave behind. Make your choices wisely, ma’moiselle. The mysteries you leave will last for lifetimes after you are gone.

"Remember: you are the only hope for those that come after you."

I woke up coughing, spitting water out of my mouth.

That morning I talked to my doctor about the dream. Then I called the man back. I took the case.

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What People are Saying About This

Sue Grafton
“Terrific. I love this book! Absolutely love it. This is the first fresh literary voice I've heard in years. Sara Gran recombines all the elements of good, solid story-telling and lifts something original from a well-loved form.”
—Sue Grafton

Meet the Author

SARA GRAN is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Come Closer, a psychological thriller hailed as "hypnotic, disturbing . . . Genuinely scary" (Bret Easton Ellis), and Dope, a noir homage. A former bookseller and native of Brooklyn, she now lives in Northern California.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No spoilers in this post: I put off purchasing this book because I thought it might be a mediocre PI novel. I also don't really care for New Orleans. I was pleasantly surprised. I could not put this down. The main character is very authenttic and downright lovable. The story is witty and never takes itself too seriously. This is the best novel I have read in over a year. I highly recommend it. Awesome read!
Darcy Buckley More than 1 year ago
A different kind of detective novel. Read with an open mind. I look forward to uncovering more of Dewitt's mysteries.
DougMN More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and found the character very entertaining and interesting. I cannot wait for the next in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All the way through this book, I wasn't sure whether I loved or hated it, but at the end, I was blown away by it. Claire DeWitt is not someone I would ordinarily choose to spend time with, but she is a fascinating character. Gran, clearly, is brilliant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting detective story - but the detective is a strung out drug addict - which I find detracts from the detecting part of the story. A very different type of detective story.
KPinBR More than 1 year ago
Very interesting novel with a great mix of philosophy and mystery. Claire is a unique protagonist who draws you into the story. The depiction of New Orleans is pretty spot on, surprised to see it isn't the author's home town. As a Louisiana resident Katrina and the healing that continues are very vivid. Sara Gran captured the way it haunts us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book could have been good but it spiraled down so depressingly that I couldn't finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed many parts of the book. It was definitely a good read and different (in a good way) from other crime books that I have read. Some things that seem irrelevant do in fact serve a purpose. The main character Claire DeWitt is awesomely done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you think you love New Orleans, be it the pre or post Katrina NOLA, you should read this book. If you like strong, unusual, real female characters, you should read this book. If you expect perfect grammar, syntax, & plot development, you probably won't enjoy this book. If looking at the seamier, darker side of life (including all the people who inhabit this part of our world) upsets you, do not read this book. If you're more interested in the characters than the "mystery," you should read this book; you won't be disappointed! AW
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the worst I've read. Ridiculous premise that PI's are important and abundant, and the protagonist is a ,drug-addled lunatic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book as the main character is not like just any PI. Look forward to enjoying the rest of the series
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Will buy it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just try it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a fun read but the grammatical errors are so glaring that it disrupts the flow. These are not typos or spelling errors, but fundamental grammatical errors, such as the difference between "few" and "less." This is told in the first person, so perhaps the author thought she had to create a personna outside of the direct dialog. If that us the case, it is unfortunate as it is jarring, when read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
paulettejane More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be weird and depressing. Not much to recommend about it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So glad I only spent $3... Didn't particularly enjoy this and the frequent use of "you know" throughout the story is annoying. 
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this because it was only $2.99 & my expectations weren't particularly high. I was pleasantly surprised & thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes the main character is an empath but this doesn't come off like a gimmick along the lines of the many blood sucking cheerleaders or mystic flute teachers we're inundated with nowadays. It's just another facet of a very well developed main character whose flaws make her believable. I haven't lived in New Orleans in many years but Ms Gran also captured some of the vital essence of the city & some of its denizens without romanticizing either. I look forward to more of the series.