The Short Version: Claire DeWitt is the greatest PI who ever lived. Or so she says. Trained by an eccentric New Orleans detective and a bit of a badass, she’s made quite a name for herself. Now, coming back to New Orleans for the first time in seven years, she faces a city in the wake of Katrina – a city without any happy endings, especially for the case she’s there to solve…
The Review: I haven’t been back to New Orleans in nearly ten years. I watched the Katrina destruction from Philadelphia and felt it, deep down in my blood in a very visceral way. All signs point to a city on the brink these days – a city so let down by everyone that it doesn’t even want to bother really fixing itself up again. Why, you know? If another storm – natural or man-made – could just knock it out?
But there’s so much going on in that city, even still. There’s still great music and good food – and an increasing sense of something slightly otherworldly. Our protagonist – won’t call her a hero, not quite – certainly has her finger on the pulse of something else, if you get me. A mysterious book by a reclusive French detective, various obsessions with things mystic and fate-based, several hallucinations….. Okay maybe the last is just to do with all the drugs. But it’s New Orleans, man! You can’t expect a reader to NOT make the leap, you know? Not in that city.
So that’s the setting then. Ms. Gran has done her homework, nailing the less-trafficked neighborhoods just as easily as those more frequented by tourists. You get a real sense of the place and the way it’s all hanging on by a thread. The people, too, are well created: none of them feels fake or flat. The young kids, especially, are terrific. They’re funny, smart, street-wise… But they all still sound like kids. Gran gets some really moving stuff out of them as the novel wraps up.
As for Ms. DeWitt herself… Well, a novel – let alone a series – lives and dies with the protagonist. Doubly so if the book title carries her name. And I’ll admit, we got off to a slightly rough start. Claire is sassy and tough and clearly not your average PI – but at first that feels like its all in capital letters. There are two mysteries from her past (one truly unsolved, the other just truly random) that feel a little like they “had to be there” by the rules of detective novels. Don’t get me wrong, Gran dispatches them well – but they felt a bit loose.
The mystery itself is a straightforward missing person/death but really that’s a secondary thread: the real mystery is what happened to the city. To New Orleans. To the people there. Does Vic Willing’s death – and his life – have a dark side, one that tarnishes even this moderately white knight? Sure – but that doesn’t surprise you. The outcome is somewhat surprising… But only in the way that you weren’t looking for it. Instead, we get the (unsolved) mystery of what has/is/will happened/happening/happen to New Orelans. It’s a sobering look at a place far removed from even the darkest New York realities.
Rating: 4 out of 5. It becomes clear to me as I sit on the novel that it’s intended to start a series. I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’m excited to see Claire develop further. On the other hand, I’m not so sure how it will work. Will it focus on Claire? On Andray and Claire? New Orleans or somewhere else? Will Sara continue to develop the mysticism or let it slide? There are many routes to take and I can’t predict which would be most-correct. So you can know that I’ll be there for the next go-round… But cautiously. There’s a little too much rawness here for me to get overly excited for book two.