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August 25, 2013 / schulerbooks

Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway, by Sara Gran

9780547429335

“The detective is cursed. Solving mysteries is the only time he will be truly alive. The rest of his life will be a distant blur, good only insomuch as he can use the things he sees there in his work.”

– Jacques Silette, Detection.

When Claire Dewitt, P.I., met Paul Casablancas, years ago, she just knew.

She knew that she and the intelligent musician would be lovers. She also knew that it wouldn’t work out. And while she knew that, before long, another would be taking her place at his side, she knew she’d be okay with that, even if she wasn’t really.

She just knew, because that’s what she does.

But now Paul is dead — murdered in his own home in what seems like a robbery gone wrong, leaving his wife (Claire’s friend, Lydia Nunez) broken and weeping in the wreckage. The SFPD are looking into it, of course, but if they actually solve the case it’ll be something of a miracle. After all, they’re police, trained and expected to follow logical chains of motive, evidence, and proof.

And Claire doesn’t tend to work that way.

A long time ago, when she was a teen in New York City, Claire and two of her friends came across a book that literally changed their lives. Detection, written by French master detective Jacques Silette, is something of a zen Necronomicon for would-be detectives: a work that mysteriously appears in a person’s life, just at the right moment, and irrevocably transforms them. It reveals that clients know the answer before they hire the detective, hoping to be proven wrong; that honest intuition is utterly infallible, and dreams more powerful than proof.

And that every mystery ultimately solves the detective , and not the other way around.

The book’s concepts are hard to swallow, and it’s not for nothing that most police and working detectives think Silettians are worthless dreamers at best, and totally bonkers at worst. But there’s no getting away from the fact that, when all else fails, those who understand Detection tend to find the answers, however strange or unwelcome they may be.

So it’s no surprise that Claire manages to make forward progress in this matter (especially to those who’ve read Claire Dewitt and The City of The Dead). What is a surprise is that, in spite of having a personal need to solve her ex-lover’s death, and find justice for her friend, the process takes a lot longer than one might think it would. She becomes perversely bogged down in other matters and cases. She starts burning through experts and old friends, gaining their confidences and then stealing their drugs.

And she begins to wonder if what’s happening now, with her ex’s death, has some weird connection to what happened to her friends in New York City, and the one heartbreaking mystery she’s never been able to just know.

Before long, Claire’s a shuddering wreck, one long snort away from self-destruction. Can she solve the Case of the Kali Yuga? Will it solve her? Or is she doomed to wind up wrecked somewhere along the Bohemian Highway, there to become a case for someone else…?

When Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead came out, it revealed Sara Gran to be an exciting new voice in mystery fiction, and Claire to be a character worth watching. The spiraling, cerebral beauty that is “Bohemian Highway” proves that the first book was no mere flash in the pan. Indeed, it’s actually better than its predecessor — allowing us to see what happens when the interior and exterior truth mirror each other too closely for their seeker to bear.

(And if especially-astute readers realize whodunnit before Claire points her finger and says the words “it was you,” it just proves what she, and Silette, were saying all along.)

An engaging read that’s more about the chase than the catch, and shows that the detective’s life is the real case, Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway is a masterful work, and will doubtlessly have its readers loudly clamoring for the next installment.

This book is currently out, and can be ordered from Schuler Books and Music’s website.

– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood

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