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

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

by Sara Gran


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“Delicious and addictive.”—

“Reads . . . as if David Lynch directed a Raymond Chandler novel.”—CNN

“What would you get if that punkish dragon girl Lisbeth Salander met up with Jim Sallis’s Lew Griffin walking the back streets of New Orleans? Or Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone transformed herself into a tattooed magnolia driving a 4x4? Clare DeWitt, that’s what you’d get . . . DeWitt’s mesmerizing character and memorable voice take your breath away.”—New Orleans Times-Picayune

This knock-out start to a bracingly original new series features Claire DeWitt, the world’s greatest PI—at least, that's what she calls herself. A one-time teen detective in Brooklyn, she is a follower of the esoteric French detective Jacques Silette, whose mysterious handbook Détection inspired Claire’s unusual practices. Claire also has deep roots in New Orleans, where she was mentored by Silette’s student the brilliant Constance Darling—until Darling was murdered. When a respected DA goes missing she returns to the hurricane-ravaged city to find out why.

“The hard-living, wisecracking titular detective bounces around post-Katrina New Orleans trying to track down a missing prosecutor in this auspicious debut of a new mystery series—and the Big Easy is every bit her equal in sass and flavor.”—Elle

“Reminds me why I fell in love with the genre.”—Laura Lippman

 "I love this book!" -- Sue Grafton


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547747613
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Series: Claire DeWitt Series , #1
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 125,248
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Sara Gran's previous novels include Come Closer, a psychological thriller hailed as "hypnotic, disturbing . . . genuinely scary" (Bret Easton Ellis), and Dope ("highly recommended," Lee Child). A former bookseller and native of Brooklyn who lived in New Orleans during Katrina, she now lives in northern California.


Read an Excerpt


"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.

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

Customer Reviews

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Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 89 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 11 months ago
MsNick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The audio version of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead made my commute to work very enjoyable. You know you have a good audio book when you want to sit in the parking lot and listen all day! Carol Monda gave the perfect voice to Sara Gran's Claire, an unorthodox detective, to say the least. The tale itself was gripping; I couldn't wait to hear more about and from the characters in the story's present and from Claire's past. I enjoyed this version so much that I plan to read the book as well. I received the Audio CD version of this novel through Early Reviewers.
DeltaQueen50 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Refreshingly different, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran introduces a new type of female P.I., as she says herself less a detective by choice than by calling. Following in the footsteps of her mentor, P.I. Constance Darling, and guided by the writings of renown French detective Jacques Silette, Claire follows clues by own instinct, be it by discerning the I Ching, her dreams or mind-expanding drugs. I loved the blurb on the back of the book that describes her as, ¿a cool blend of Nancy Drew and Sid Vicious¿.Returning to her training ground of New Orleans to take the case of a missing lawyer who hasn¿t been seen since Hurricane Katrina, Claire brings a lot of baggage with her, and by baggage, I don¿t mean suitcases. Haunted by a girlhood tragedy when one of her best friends disappeared, this is also her first return to New Orleans since the murder of her mentor. As Claire cruises the streets of New Orleans, the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought is shown again and again.A fearless author who seems quite willing to go anywhere her mind takes her, this is far from a linear read. Jumping around, to the past, back to the present, and into dreams Claire slowly puts the pieces together, and we are treated to a innovative, intelligent story that hopefully is the introduction to a new series.
ianturton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bit mixed, the writing was OK (I managed to finish it :-) but it was confused and at times seemed to be part of a series relying on too much past story which only became revealed later.
Marlyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Claire DeWitt is a brilliant private detective, trained by Constance Darling who instilled in her the tenets of Jacques Silette's book Détection. Claire's techniques are unusual: she relies a great deal on intuition, dreams and drug-fueled visions for answers to her questions. Though her methods may be unorthodox, she is very successful, and as a result, very expensive.Having been unable to locate his uncle, D.A. Vic Willing in post-Katrina New Orleans, Leon Salvatore hires Claire some 18 months later. Although Leon says he chose Claire because he'd heard she was "the best", it's obvious he doesn't really expect her to succeed. In response to his question about how she'll proceed, she responds "I'm going to wait and see what happens".While "waiting" she wanders the city, encountering and questioning seemingly random people. But her instincts never seem to lead her astray; she finds two young men who say they knew Willing. Sure that they're hiding something important, she befriends them.She comes across people she'd known when she lived in New Orleans, another detective trained by Constance; a social worker. She asks some questions, drinks a great deal, smokes some questionable cigarettes. Throughout it all, she shares her labyrinthine thought processes, dreams and memories, which help the reader to understand her, as well as aiding in her quest.Written in the first person from Claire's point of view, the story is compelling and totally consuming. The reader is Claire as she roams the storm-struck, desolate streets of New Orleans. Read it slowly, the better to savor Gran's exquisite prose.*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me an Advance Review Copy.
ccourtland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a complex story that addresses post-traumatic stress disorder in urban areas and draws an interesting parallel between disaster and war. There is an investigation going on here, but that is secondary to the human depravity, sadness and hopelessness of the post Katrina culture. The mystery is not necessarily in the mystery (case), but in understanding human nature in general. Thematically, every part is expertly crafted, but where the reading becomes difficult (for me) is in the hollow sadness that permeates every character. There is little redeeming qualities presented about New Orleans and by the end I never want to visit the city. The picture portrayed is one of despair, death, chaos, crime and corruption where a great majority drinks or drug themselves to deal. The story is a slow sliding decline (drowning) with sinking lows and no highs. It is evident that there is no happy ending for anyone, but the despondency can be a bit depressing.
martitia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Private investigator Claire DeWitt returns to New Orleans to investigate the disappearance of District Attorney Vic Willing during Hurricane Katrina. Claire left New Orleans after her mentor Constance Darling, a disciple of the little-known French detective Jacques Silette, was murdered. Silette was the author of Detection, a book Claire discovered as a child in her family¿s crumbling mansion in Brooklyn, which explained his techniques for solving mysteries. Back in New Orleans, Claire finds clues to the life of Vic Willing that bring her into contact with a young African-American named Andray Fairview and other damaged survivors of the storm. Claire DeWitt is a fresh detective for the 21st century, an off-kilter Nancy Drew updated with tattoos, mystical leanings and an over-familiarity with mind-altering substances. The dark and dreamy tone of the novel reflects the mind of the detective and the unique history of the setting.
libsue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you like a smart detective who is gritty, tough, and a woman pick up Claire Dewitt. When I found out it was going to be a series my first thought (and not my last) was "Oh no I don't think I can stand another series," but after finishing the book my last thought was "I'm in!" Can't wait to read the next. Why not join me?
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this book, first in a new series. Unique character in Claire and a real sense of setting and the emotional makeup of the people involved in the story. Felt for the first time that I had a understanding of what the people actually went through and felt after Katrina as well as their feelings for the only home the knew, New Orleans. She also explained the effects of PTSD on its residents. Hard to come up with an original concept in a mystery series but Sara Gran has done it.
shelleyraec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Clair DeWitt is in crisis, still mourning the death of her mentor and recovering from a breakdown, she accepts the task of investigating the disappearance of Vic Willing during Hurricane Katrina. Guided by the philosophical tenants of Jacques Silette's 'Détection', I Ching and narcotic induced insight, Claire seeks answers to her questions amongst the decaying streets and society of New Orleans.Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is not just a mystery, but an unorthodox investigation into the murky debris of lives. The decay on the streets of New Orleans, 18 months post 'The Storm', is reflected in Gran's characters who are mostly broken and drowning.Claire's investigative skills are legendary but she teeters on the edge of sanity. She is an unconventional protagonist, her spiritual connection to the book 'Détection' is unusual and her method of inquiry and analysis is eccentric. It's not always easy to follow where Claire leads, she is a challenging character because of her idiosyncratic behaviour and unique viewpoint.Claire's investigation involves her with the disenfranchised youth on the streets of New Orleans. Andray and Terrell are two teenagers who survive by embracing the city's underbelly of crime and lawlessness. Convinced Andray is an opportunist thief who murdered Willing, Claire's attempts to prove her theory uncovers corruption, exploitation and despair.It's stark themes can be uncomfortable as they include gang violence, drug taking and sexual abuse. New Orleans residents may not take kindly to Gran's view of their city. The brutal aftermath of Katrina does provide an atmospheric background to the story however and the city is almost a character in itself.Gran requires the reader to surrender to the unhurried pace of the novel. She is in no real hurry to solve the mystery and as such the story takes detours into area's of Claire's background, her childhood and her relationship with her mentor. The narrative also quotes extensively from the fictional 'Détection' with it's zen like wisdom and philosophy.Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is a slightly surreal, complex novel that is not just about the mystery of the missing Vic Willings but also explores life's larger mysteries, those of self, purpose and fate. Beautifully crafted, this is a series that shows literary promise.
Coyote99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Received as an Audio Advance Reader copy and hate to admit, I didn't get past the first disc. Partly my fault...I just don't do well with audio's and partly, the book just never grabbed me.
freecyclor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Claire Dewitt is an "intuitive" private detective who supplements normal investigative techniques with drinking, dreaming, the I Ching, and smoking formaldehyde-laced reefers with street gangs. She is hired by the nephew of a prominent, wealthy DA who disappeared during Hurricane Katrina to discover his fate. While the descriptions of post-Katrina New Orleans and its psychologically damaged residents feel very authentic, many of Claire's investigative techniques are so bizarre that I had a hard time finishing the book. It had far too many dreams, flashbacks, I Ching tosses, and rambling philosophical passages to sustain my interest. Two stars for story and content, and one more for style.
LeHack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Claire deWitt, the "greatest detective in the world" has been hired to solve a disappearance in post-Katrina New Orleans. DeWitt wasn't what I expected, but found myself at varying times liking her and being disgusted by her behaviors while on the job. She tries to be a hard-boiled detective, but doesn't quite pull it off. The fact that I LOVE New Orleans made the book more enjoyable. I could picture the streets as the character was driving around the city. The loose ends are neatly tied up at the end. New Orleans is still in recovery from Katrina. Many of the streets are dirty, with broken down and boarded up houses. The crime rate in the Crescent City is high compared to other large cities. I miss the green parrots who haven't really returned to New Orleans. A friend said he used to sit on the balcony in the evening and count green parrots. Only a few returned to the city. I hope the next book solves the mystery of Dewitt's missing childhood friend.
justabookreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I always thought I didn¿t like mysteries. Obviously, I¿ve been reading the wrong ones. I can admit when I¿m wrong. Maybe it it¿s the offbeat way the mystery is solved or the setting which is more than a map of clues but also a background for a messed up detective trying to figure out how to fit back into society and whether or not she wants to go through with the plan or leave everything behind.Claire Dewitt is a detective with issues. A stint in a hospital has left her slightly skittish, mentally, but also slightly interested in getting back to work. When a client seeks her out, she decides it might be time to test her own enthusiasm for work. A case of a missing district attorney brings her home to New Orleans --- a city newly devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Claire starts feeling around for clues in her unorthodox way but what she finds has more to do with herself than the case she¿s being paid to resolve.There are so many things wrong with Claire and not the little things we all might be able to relate to on some level. She¿s screwed up; really screwed up. A one-time teenage detective, she carries around guilt over never having found a friend who went missing. She¿s an addict --- drugs, alcohol, and the above mentioned strange and scary array of guilt. Like crazy guilt. And she¿s eccentric, especially inher detecting style. A devout follower of Jaques Silette¿s mysterious detective handbook, Detection, she uses out of the ordinary techniques such as omens and mind-enhancing drugs to seek out clues. In fact, she isn¿t the type of detective who looks for clues at all. She waits for them to find her. It¿s an interesting way of looking at things for someone who is supposed to be a detective.There are so many small mysteries surrounding Claire that the main case of the missing district attorney seems almost background noise to what¿s really going on with her. New Orleans is a haunted place for Claire and many times you wonder what it is she¿s chasing. Is it her own demons or one more clue that found its way out of the ether into her head which is already full of scary ideas? You also aren¿t surprised when her client, the only one she has, wants to fire her. Oddly, you¿re not surprised either when she manages to have an explanation for everything in the end. Well, not everything, but enough to make you wonder exactly what is with the woman. There is so much to love about this book and I¿m not sure I¿m doing it justice so here¿s my plea to you --- read it. I recommend it highly.
EdGoldberg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Claire DeWitt is a hard boiled detective-tattooed, reefer smoker, drinker. A disciple of the famous detective, Jacques Silette, she knew from the moment she read his tome, Detection, she knew that's her calling. She studied under his student, Constance and, upon her passing, became the best detective in the world.She is called back to New Orleans where she lived for a time, to find out what happened to noted N.O. District Attorney, Vic Walling. He has not been seen since Hurricane Katrina.Along the way to the conclusion of this mystery, DeWitt describes New Orleans (from which I just returned from vacation so I could recognize the places she spoke of), describes unsolved mysteries (her friend Tracy who disappeared when they were teenagers and Jacques Silette's daughter, Belle), quotes from Silette's book, Detection, and meets strange and interested characters and former acquaintances (many of whom are not happy to see her).Vaguely reminiscent of Lisbeth from Steig Larsson's series the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, DeWitt has more charm and personality and you immediately like her. You become intrigued with Silette and the quotes from his book.Sara Gran has created a detective who should make her mark in the mystery genre and become a staple of mystery fans. She's tough. She's smart. She's the best detective in the world. Read Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. (Do you know why New Orleans is called the city of the dead? If not, it's an interesting story.)
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Claire Dewitt has been lured back to New Orleans, a place that holds many ghosts for her. She is a tough, tattooed private eye. She likes her weed and other narcotic pleasures but is also a serious student of ¿detection¿. It¿s eighteen months after Katrina and she is hired to locate a popular DA, who has gone missing since the storm.She finds herself navigating through a crippled, damaged city and her investigation leads to a group of young ¿gang-bangers¿, that may have had ties with her DA, who may not be as honorable or as squeaky clean as everyone has imagined.This story is dark and gritty but it¿s also sharply observant and introduces us to a memorable lead character, one I hope the author will return to again and again.Recommended.
dphock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An atmospheric mystery, an intriguing heroine, and a look at post-hurricane New Orleans that was more affecting that any news show I've seen. Well worth the time.
Timothy_Dalton007 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So for this book, I listened to the audio version which is not something I normally do. I have a few upsets with this book. When I saw a few, I mean probably ten. First of all the main character Claire Dewitt isn¿t a badass at all, but the story attempts to write her as such. One scene in particular she speaks of walking upon several gangbanger guys who are armed to the teeth, and in the author¿s words ¿with enough to take on Fallujah¿. The main character says, ¿they were tough, but I was tougher,¿ and then says she was thankful for the .38 in her purse. Okay, what the heck was she going to do with a .38 when each of these gang members had loads of firepower. Secondly, this chick was addicted to every sort of drug and alcohol product. Yeah, that makes for an excellent private investigator. Can you imagine, ¿Oh, yeah I¿m trustworthy, I¿ll get right on your case just as soon as I smoke this bowl and shoot up real quick, oh and can you help me tie off?¿ I can only assume that this character¿s next novel will be called, Claire Dewitt and the Missing Needles: The Rehab Casefiles. Thirdly, she states several times in the book that she is the ¿greatest detective¿ in the world and she is constantly referencing a guy named Jacques Sillette who wrote a book called Detecion (French guy/French book). A book that she says is ¿extremely¿ rare and yet it keeps turning up¿¿like everywhere. Next, I¿d like to talk about the ¿she-just-so-happens-to-always-run-into-the-same-characters¿ in New Orleans. It¿s one thing to talk to someone and they say, ¿oh that guy you are looking for works at such and such place and then you head there and he¿s there. But, oh no! Not Claire Dewitt, when she is looking for some guy, usually Andre, she rolled a pair of dice, and got a 7. That is miraculous, because everyone knows in craps 7 comes up a lot, but for Miss Dewitt, that means she has take 7th street! Wow, and by the by, who do you think would be on the front porch of some random house on 7th street? The exact person she is looking for. This happens over and over and over, in the book. ¿I looked up and it was Andre¿¿ ¿Andre was there¿¿, ¿I looked over and it was Andre so we shared a joint¿¿ I¿ve never been to New Orleans, but it¿s not that small of a town that you would see the same guy, EVERYWHERE! Clues! This detective woman is supposed to be looking for clues for a murder/missing person. And according to Detecion, clues are everywhere including the first random clue found. She is having lunch with her client Leon at the beginning, and the waiter comes by and drops the check for the meal and when he picks it up for her, stuck to the bottom of the bill is a business card and the character clearly says, ¿The first clue¿, but being the greatest detective in the world she doesn¿t even follow up on this lead. Albeit as silly as it came into her possession. That¿s like saying I was working on a case and decided to take a crap at a McDonalds and as I was washing my hands I saw the clue of all clues near the trash can next to the wall-stall urinal. SO STUPID, I should have stopped listening to this book at that point, but I kept listening hoping for it to get better. ( definition of insanity closely resembles that last statement) Word usage is extremely irritating in this book. Not just the boring conversations that go nowhere for five minutes and people keep repeating themselves over and over and over and over and over and over, like I¿m doing right now. Here is a taste of what I endured: ¿No!¿ she said. ¿Yes, I need to speak with him!¿ I said. ¿No!¿ she said. ¿But it¿s important!¿ I said. ¿No!¿ she said. ¿Just tell him it¿s Claire.¿ I said. ¿No!¿ she said. ¿It¿s a matter of life and death.¿ I said. ¿No!¿ she said. ¿I really need to speak with him now.¿ I said. ¿No!¿ she said. (Anyone else placing a gun to their temple yet?) I changed the scene a bit, but it happens like this all the time and you get the point¿ Listening to the audio made it more frustrating for