Marc D. Goldfinger
Spare Change News
I first ran across Sara Gran’s writing in a book called Dope, which was her first. I loved it. Dope was totally authentic in the sense that Sara Gran really knew what she was talking about. She was definitely familiar with the underworld of the junkie. But the book wasn’t about junk or junkies; it was a mystery novel of excellent caliber and, as both a writer and a former junkie, I was totally impressed.
Because it was Sara Gran’s first book, I didn’t know if I’d hear of her again. There are writers that are one-trick ponies—they put out a good book and then vanish into the ether. I was exquisitely surprised to find that not only had Ms. Gran gone on to write another book, she had placed a mystery of the highest order on the market.
It appears to be the first book of a series. Sara Gran has created a character, a private investigator named Claire DeWitt. Claire is a woman who grew up in Brooklyn, moved to New Orleans, and learned the art of investigation from a number of sources.
One source was a genius investigator known as Constance Darling, who mentored Claire for a number of years until she was murdered. The second source was Detection, a book written by a French detective named Jacques Silette. Detection is filled with quotes such as, “All I can do is leave you clues and hope that you will not only solve your mysteries, but choose carefully the clues you leave behind. Make your choices wisely, ma’moiselle. The mysteries you leave will last for lifetimes after you are gone. Remember: you are the only hope for those that come after you.” Jacques Silette is not only the author of a text which teaches Claire, but he is a character who comes alive even though he has passed this mortal coil and left a few mysteries behind.
One of the mysteries is Silette’s daughter, Belle, who vanished from a hotel room in 1973 and, if there are any clues to her disappearance, they have not been noticed as of yet. Silette had been unable to solve this, his greatest mystery, that had cost him, as he says, “his happiness.”
Claire DeWitt’s other sources, besides her own intuitive mind, were a pair of schoolgirls that she had met in 4th grade, Tracy and Kelly. While sitting in class, Claire had noticed that Tracy had an Official Cynthia Silverton Girl Detective Decoder Ring that Claire had seen advertised in a journal called the Cynthia Silverton Mystery Digest. Tracy hung out with Kelly, another girl in the class, and the three of them became fast friends and studied investigative processes together. They all wanted to become detectives together.
However, two years after that, in 1986, Kelly disappeared from a New York City train station. Tracy and Claire had had a devastating falling out and hadn’t spoken to each other since, except for a few cursory statements.
As Sara Gran writes in this novel, “Life could not be predicted.” Claire DeWitt had come under the tutelage of the master detective, Constance Darling—until she was murdered. That was when Ms. DeWitt decided to leave New Orleans and live in Northern California. But, as it was death that spurred her to leave, it was death that called her back. Shortly after the hellstorm known as Hurricane Katrina, Claire returned to New Orleans to investigate the disappearance of Vic Willing, a well-known New Orleans district attorney.
As I delved deeper into the book, I felt myself become part of the life that Claire DeWitt lived, one of the Children of the Secret. I realized that Sara Gran had become a master of storytelling in a chilling manner that reminded me of Andrew Vachss, yet her writing was not at all like his. It was her very own.
Here’s a quote from the book: “I took out my picture of Vic Willing and showed it to them. They looked at the picture. When they did, something happened to the redhead. It was like a door shut across his face and locked tight. He didn’t blink. He didn’t wrinkle his forehead or move his eyes or any of the other normal things someone would do looking at a photograph. Instead he locked up, like a car that’d run out of oil.”
New Orleans breathed into my soul. I was on the streets of a devastated city that boiled with dangerously loving life. Filled with Children of the Secret. Sara Gran has come into her own.
Mystery upon mystery upon mystery; but it is not this alone that makes this book so enjoyable—it is the exciting life that Gran infuses into the way she describes the world. Sara is a word master and Claire is a living, breathing being who invades the life of the reader. The story becomes an amusement park ride with someone at the controls who has you holding on to the safety bars for dear life, while screaming in enjoyment as you ride.
Claire DeWitt And The City Of The Dead is chapter one of a life that has been going on since humanity was born. It is completely and totally satisfying despite the hunger for more at the very last page.
Claire DeWitt And The City Of The Dead, by Sara Gran, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.
Marc D. Goldfinger is a formerly homeless vendor who is now housed. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Marc also has books on www.smashwords.net that can be downloaded for $2.99.