Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Completely Different Kind of Detective Novel

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

With this novel I sprinted through chapter after chapter of seeming idiocy, thinking this was the dumbest detective novel ever written, the author hustling crackpot dope-smoke drenched California New Age philosophy and illogical notions about the methodically logical work of detection while not knowing the most basic things about the craft (how to aim and shoot a pistol, say)-- the detective side of the novel merely a framework for Sara Gran to write about the inner city in the tragic city of New Orleans.

Then, at page 171, I was brought up short by the sudden entrance, into Gran's dilapidated tale, of the Jerry Sandusky (Penn State) matter. I'm not making this up! Unbelievable. Her book was published prior to the revelations, mind you. Synchronicity in the universe indeed. You have to give Sara Gran points for timing.

I began to look at the narrative of Claire DeWitt in a different light.

Within the bounds of time and space-- going outside them actually-- Gran seems to prove her philosophy. None of the fragmented pieces fit, but then, they might. "There are more things in heaven and earth. . . ."

Does Sara Gran's detective, Claire DeWitt, solve the grim mystery?

DeWitt, like all detectives, at least the fictional variety, believes in the search for truth. She just happens to have a roundabout way of getting to it.

This novel may not be for the traditional detective reader-- or it may overturn the traditional thinking of that traditional reader, as happened to me. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is highly creative, with strong characterization, a dense sense of New Orleans life, and even a book within a book. For all her quirkiness, as well as her alternate detective universe, Sara Gran gives you your money's worth.

PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
REVIEWED BY: King Wenclas

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