Dope is such a solid crime novel that it makes me want to immediately clear my TBR pile and read Sara Gran’s entire catalogue.
The problem with that is I’ve tried to read Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead so many times and have never been able to get into it. I just can’t connect with the inner monologue of the titular character. Which sucks because it’s doubtless that Sara Gran is a talented writer. I picked this one up when I saw it on a list and devoured it. It pained me to put it down.
This book effectively fuses two tropes: private investigation and substance abuse. Like many mystery readers, I’m burnt out on alcoholic and recovering PIs. But Gran’s voice here feels unique. Josephine, Gran’s lead character, tells a familiar story but does it in a way that keeps distance with the reader. With most recovering/abusing male PIs, the writers want us to feel empathy towards their cynicism. Josephine doesn’t ask for that and it’s a plus. There’s frequently chatter in reading communities about likable or unlikeable characters. I didn’t find Josephine to be either really and that’s a strength of the book. I was interested in her story because it was an interesting story, not because I felt a deep connection with or disdain for her. I wouldn’t say it’s a subversive take but it’s a refreshing take.
The mystery itself takes several twists and turns, some visible others not, leading up to an ending which is slam bang amazing. The 1950s Manhattan setting works well. The sorrow of drug addiction rings true. This is a fast, exciting read. If you don’t mind feeling depressed or if you aren’t triggered by substance abuse, you should absolutely pick it up.