Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 288 pages
When Paul Casablancas, Claire DeWitt’s ex-boyfriend and a popular musician in the Bay Area scene, is found dead in his apartment, his cherished guitars missing, the police are convinced it’s a simple robbery. But Claire knows that nothing is ever simple. With the help of her new assistant, Claude, Claire follows the clues, finding hints to Paul’s fate in her other cases - especially a long-ago missing girl in New York’s gritty East Village and a modern-day miniature-horse theft in Marin.
As visions of the past reveal the secrets of the present, Claire begins to understand the words of the enigmatic French detective Jacques Silette: "The detective won't know what he is capable of until he encounters a mystery that pierces his own heart." And love, in all its forms, is the greatest mystery of all - at least to the world’s greatest P.I.
With a heroine hailed as "a charmer" (New York Times Book Review), from an author who "reminds me why I fell in love with the genre" (Laura Lippman), this is an addictive new adventure for an irresistible detective.
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead introduced us to Claire DeWitt, "the world's greatest detective," a student of Constance Darling who was a protege of the great French detective Jacques Silette. All of these people are of course fictional characters, but with rich background histories in the gumshoe mythos that Sara Gran is building on.
In City of the Dead, Claire DeWitt was in New Orleans. Now she is back in San Francisco, which is clearly the appropriate place for her even though she's originally from New York, as we learn in this book which alternates between her current case, the murder of an ex-boyfriend which clearly tears her up far more than she is willing to admit, and the linked (eventually) case of a childhood friend who disappeared back when she lived in Brooklyn.
Claire is raunchy, earthy, sometimes wise, but increasingly fucked-up. She uses the precepts of her mentor Constance Darling and the Jacques Silette, but also Buddhist teachings, palm readings, intuition, and whatever else inspires her to follow a clue.
In the first book, she was not averse to partaking of recreational drugs while in pursuit of clues, but in this book, struggling with ghosts past and present, she starts doing some serious pill-popping and coke-snorting, to the point that more than once she winds up passed out on the floor of a bathroom. If Sara Gran intends to continue portraying this downward spiral for Claire, then the next book is likely to be pretty dark and depressing.
So far, the Claire DeWitt series is not suffering from Supporting Cast Syndrome, though the author is adding more supporting cast and backstory to her main character. In Bohemian Highway, we learn more about Claire's adolescence (unsurprisingly, she was a bit of a head case with few boundaries then too) and how she became a detective, and more clues are dropped that clearly will be picked up in future books.
I didn't like the second book quite as much as the first, with Claire turning into a coke fiend to cope with angst over a dead lover, but she's still an original voice in detective fiction and this stays a series I am keeping up with.
Also by Sara Gran: My review of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.
My complete list of book reviews.