Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead

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by Sara Gran

In theory, detective Claire DeWitt’s Case of the Green Parrot is a missing person case.

Claire is hired by Leon Salvatore to find his uncle, Vic Willing, last heard from just before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

But it might also be a story of hitting rock bottom and starting over again. Of survival, redemption and resurrection.

Certainly, the city of New Orleans, which forms the backdrop of this story, is trying to rise from the dead. The “sliver by the river” where the tourists visit and Vic Willing lived was hardly touched by the storm.  But as Claire drives around looking for information and reaches the Ninth Ward, gray dust covers everything. Building walls are marked with Xs, numbers and letters signifying the dead, the living, pets and who knows what else.

Claire was recovering from a nervous breakdown when Salvatore hired her. She is haunted by memories as she moves about questioning young, armed black boys, sharing wide-mouthed 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor with vagrants in Congo Square and pressuring former colleagues into talking to her.

She spent three years in New Orleans training to be a detective with Constance Darling, a student and former lover of Jacques Silette, author of the iconic (fictional) tome Détection. She left New Orleans 10 years ago after Constance was shot in a restaurant. There was no mystery to her death. She was just sitting in the wrong place when three young, armed black boys came in looking for money.

Détection has haunted her life from the moment that she and two friends, Tracey and Kelli, found a copy of the book hidden in Claire’s family’s decaying home in Brooklyn. The three girls passed the book back and forth until they had it memorized. Tracey had the book when she disappeared without a trace one night.

Kelli and Claire searched unsuccessfully for their friend. Both went on to become detectives. Kelli has focused almost exclusively — and unsuccessfully — on investigating Tracey’s disappearance.

Throughout the Case of the Green Parrot, Claire is guided — if such a word can be applied to the inscrutable — by Silette’s words. “Above all the inner knowing of the detective trumps every piece of evidence, every clue, every rational assumption. If we do not put it first and foremost, there is no point in carrying on, in detection or in life.”

Claire’s reliance on her intuition, hunches and instincts give this book a mystical quality. Salvatore is so frustrated by it that he fires her. She keeps looking for answers despite being threatened with death and stumbling into multiple, rational explanations for what happened to Vic Willing.

Clair DeWitt and the City of the Dead has a distinctive flavor. You’ll either have a taste for it or you won’t.  The mystery itself isn’t the focus of the story. The story is refreshingly original. This book and series was ranked among the best crime novels of the last decade by Their judges described it as “a shot of adrenaline straight into the arm of private eye fiction, a gleefully strange, esoteric, sometimes hallucinatory new rendition of a beloved genre.”

About the Author: Sara Gran (1971 – )

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Sara Gran now lives in California. She has spent most of her career as a writer, book seller and collector.

This book, published in 2011, is the first of a trilogy.  It won the 2012 Macavity Award for Best Novel. The second and third books in the series were Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (2013) and The Infinite Blacktop (2018).


Several of her novels — notably Come Closer (2003) and Dope (2006) — have attracted attention from film and television producers. Nothing has materialized yet.

Gran has written scripts for the TNT show “Southland” and is developing an adaptation of Corinne May Botz’s novel Nutshell Studies with director/producer Guillermo del Toro.


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