I haven’t been as excited about a new book in a while as I was to pick up the newest installment in Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt mysteries. While I didn’t love it as well as City of the Dead, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, the second in the series, definitely entertained me and keeps me eagerly anticipating Claire’s next adventure. In this entry, we find Claire living in San Francisco, mentoring a budding detective, and snorting more cocaine than I thought humanly possible. Paul Casablancas, one of Claire’s ex-boyfriends, is found murdered in his home, the victim of a suspected robbery-gone-wrong. When Paul’s wife Lydia asks Claire to look into it, she quickly agrees – she was going to do that anyway. So begins our next winding journey with one of the oddest private detectives I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
By meeting with seemingly unconnected individuals throughout the Bay area, having Claude (her mentee) check out leads, and subtly investigating anyone connected to the case, Claire is slowly able to formulate a picture of the crime, as is expected. We know Claire will solve the case – she is one of the best detectives in the world, after all. What is more interesting than that is the way in which she does it. If I’m being perfectly honest I’m not even sure how she did it, having just finished the book two days ago. That’s what it’s like to read a Claire DeWitt mystery – she has kooky hallucinations and dreams, drug benders, and meets crazy characters and somehow pops up with the solution by the novel’s end. It’s kind of a crazy ride and by the end you’re not even sure you took it, but you’re left feeling like you really enjoyed something.
What is different with this installment is that in addition to the main mystery, there’s a separate case that Claire keeps remembering from her teenage years, when a friend disappeared for a few days. (At least I don’t recall there being more than one timeline in the first book.) Claire grew up rather neglected in Brooklyn in the 80s and the discovery of a book by the world’s most famous detective in her teens leads her to her calling in life. She and her two best friends (Tracy and Kelly) spend much of their free time working cases and honing their detective skills. The trio finds out that a girl they all know, Chloe, hasn’t been home in days, and so we get many chapters of them (mostly Tracy and Claire) following clues to find their missing friend. It isn’t until after the case is finished that Tracy vanishes without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again. It’s this unsolved mystery that drives Claire; it’s almost as if each mystery she solves could possibly lead her to some forgotten or overlooked clue about Tracy.
Claire herself is a mess, so if you’re more interested in a more put-together investigator, I’d suggest picking up something from the paperback section of your grocery store. Claire is incapable of developing long-term relationships or staying sober. I swear the woman takes enough cocaine in one day to kill most of us. She steals prescription meds from people she sleeps with, and will do anything to solve her case – consequences be damned. She is the kind of character you at least think you want to be friends with, though in reality it probably would be more of a burden than a benefit. I’m not professing to be a wide reader of mysteries – especially of non-mainstream ones. So the impression I have, that Gran has written a unique female detective with the qualities of all the film noir dark and twisted male detectives from the 40s and 50s, could be erroneous. If I’m wrong please let me know – I’d love to read more books like this one.