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March 16, 2011 / schulerbooks

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran

“In New Orleans, its hard to tell where your murder case ends and everyone elses begins.” – Claire DeWitt
The Hexigram reads: An ordinary but sad case; An extraordinary but damaged detective; A wonderful but broken (and deadly) city;  A book that answers nothing, but says everything that ever needed to be said about asking questions (or not).
Which could mean that, after years out of town, following the death of her mysterious mentor in the fine art of esoteric detective skills, Claire DeWitt has returned to New Orleans to take a case. It’s a standard missing person, made more urgent by the fact that the man — a well-known, highly-regarded lawyer named Vic Willing — went missing during Katrina. That and there’s something portentious about the whole thing… but then there usually is.
That’s because Claire solves her cases using a melange of observation, intuition, and divination, as taught by her late employer, Constance. Guiding her is the book that informed the esoteric methods of that late, grand detective: Detection, by the also-late, equally-esoteric detective, Jacques Silette. Something of a Necronomicon for would-be investigators, the treatise twists and turns the mind, ultimately showing that the greatest mystery of all is the investigation inside the detective — the who, what, when, where, why, and how of their own existence .
Not a lot of people understand what Silette said, but those who do find it illuminates many things — or at least the things that really need the light shone on them. Everyone else just walks away blinded, as though they’d stared too long at the sun.
And Claire could really use a flashlight, right about now. The city she once loved (and still does) has become a bobytrapped tomb, at turns exotic and dangerous, well-known yet unfamilliar. Her informants are alternately useful and useless, when they’re not being elusive and threatening — sometimes at the same time. The I-Ching might let her see around a corner or two, but it won’t make her bulletproof, and it seems the very streets are conspiring to turn her aside from the questions she’s pursuing.
But which case doesn’t want to be solved? The mystery of what happened to her missing friend from her teenage years? The case of “why happened” to her former employer?

The case of herself, endlessly unravelling?
Clare DeWitt and the City of the Dead is an engaging puzzle box of a mystery, let down only slightly by a protracted but heartfelt ending. Several investigations go in different directions at once, yet all turn back on themselves to form a satisfying conclusion that will make the reader want to hear more about Claire’s own mysteries. If you like an atmospheric and cerebral thriller that’s more about the chase than the catch, get this book as soon as it drops on 6/01/11
– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood
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