Atria Books, 2018, 290 pages
Claire DeWitt, the hard-living and tough-talking private investigator, has always been something of a detective. As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, Claire and her two best friends, Tracy and Kelly, fell under the spell of the book Detection by legendary French detective Jacques Silette. The three solved many cases together and were inseparable - until the day Tracy vanished without a trace. That is still the only case Claire ever failed to solve.
Later, in her 20s, Claire is in Los Angeles trying to get her PI license by taking on a cold case that has stumped the LAPD. She hunts for the real story behind the death of a washed-up painter 10 years earlier, whose successful and widely admired artist girlfriend had died a few months before him.
Today, Claire is on her way to Las Vegas from San Francisco when she’s almost killed by a homicidal driver. In a haze of drugs and injuries, she struggles off the scene, determined to find her would-be killer’s identity - but the list of people who would be happy to see her dead is not a short one.
As these three narratives converge, some mysteries are solved and others continue to haunt. But Claire, battered and bruised, continues her search for the answer to the biggest mystery of all: what is the purpose of our lives, and how can anyone survive in a world so clearly designed to break our hearts again and again?
Claire DeWitt, protege of the late Constance Darling and follower of the Silette school of detective work, has generated (so far) three of the most delightfully surreal, almost psychedelic detective novels ever. Sara Gran is doing something weird and awesome with this series, even if I cannot always remember the threads she's been trailing between books.
I'm not sure why this book isn't Claire DeWitt and the Infinite Blacktop, following the previous books' naming pattern. Maybe it was a marketing decision, or maybe Sara Gran was like, "You can't put baby in a box." So in The Case of the Infinite Blacktop, Claire is trying to figure out the meaning of life, and specifically, her life. In the process, she solves a couple of murders and other mysteries, beats up a few guys who mostly deserve it, and continues her habit of getting fucked up in various ways.
The third Claire DeWitt novel actually blends three storylines. There's the present day case, where someone attempted to kill her by vehicular homicide, and she's trying to figure out who. Which ties back to some of her previous cases, because it's not like she lacks for enemies.
There's a case from 1999, where Claire suddenly found out she needed to complete 400 hours of supervised, certified "detective work" to get her PI license in the state of California... even though she was already the greatest detective in the world. So she investigates a painter who died under slightly suspicious circumstances after his artist girlfriend died a few months earlier. This drags her into the crazy Los Angeles art world, where the mysteries are of the sort afflicting the human heart, not motive, means, and opportunity.
Finally, there is her original mystery, her only unsolved case, the disappearance of her childhood best friend in 1985. This has come up in the previous two books, and the author has been uncovering more details, little by little, but Claire is still seeking the truth of what happened to her gal pals who were once fellow teen detectives. Not children's storybook detectives, but bright and clever girls on the gritty streets of 1980s Brooklyn.
Making the Nancy Drew allusions even more obvious, Claire tries to track down the origins of Cynthia Silverton, girl detective, known to Claire only through a limited print run comic book series published in Las Vegas in the 80s. At some point, Claire becomes Cynthia. How much is real and how much is Claire having a psychotic break? I mean, she takes a lot of drugs. Claire is a gritty, grown up, fucked up Nancy Drew, who was long ago ditched by her boyfriend and the rest of polite society, and realized that the world doesn't want to know the truth and she will never be thanked for finding it.
I don't know if there will be another Claire DeWitt book. This one didn't exactly tie everything up, but it also didn't leave a whole lot unresolved. Life, like Claire, is messy.
Also by Sara Gran: My reviews of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway.
My complete list of book reviews.