June 25, 2013

Things get personal for Claire DeWitt

By Sara Gran
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What would moody, modern private investigator Claire DeWitt say to the plucky girl detectives of the past, like Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew? Not much, if Sara Gran’s second Claire DeWitt mystery is any indication. Claire has little patience for perky. She just wants to solve her case and doesn’t need to be nice. So sometimes, she’s not. With Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, novelist Sara Gran returns to the brilliant and twisted mind of her sarcastic sleuth as she stalks the streets of San Francisco on a murder case with personal meaning. Paul Casablancas, an old flame Claire never quite got over, has been murdered. Claire needs to know who did it and why.

A masochistic drug addict with a readiness to raid any medicine cabinet, Claire is an unlikely hero. And yet, she’s astonishingly thorough in gathering evidence. No clue is too small for Claire, and you’d better give her the details. What did you have for breakfast the morning of the murder? Cereal. What kind? Lucky Charms. Claire duly notes this on the back of an envelope, or in the stacks of paper scraps taking over her apartment. Her unconventional detective work, based on the writings of fictional detective Jacques Silette, relies on following every hunch. This method leads Claire on a fascinating journey as she consults Buddhist lamas, comic book collectors and punk rock musicians in her quest for answers.

Gran keeps Claire on the move both in her present-day murder case and in flashbacks to a parallel story of a missing friend in 1980s Brooklyn. The combination adds richness to Claire’s character by showing us her early days as a detective. It also keeps the tension high, as there are two mysteries to solve at once. As we get to know young Claire, her tough façade begins to fade, and we see the vulnerable girl who first fell in love with Paul. We feel for her as she draws closer to the dramatic final moments of the guitarist’s tumultuous life.

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway is not a cozy, teatime mystery, but a gritty, realistic look at grief and the search for truth. Sara Gran has created an unforgettable character that readers will surely follow into her next adventure.

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