Today we have an excerpt from the new novel by Sara Gran (Dope, Come Closer), Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. Alafair Burke says the book is “…a cool blend of Nancy Drew and Sid Vicious…Sara Gran has pulled the traditional female sleuth into the 21st century with a novel that’s smart and hip, dark and funny.”
That’s a really good description, actually.
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
by Sara Gran
“It’s my uncle,” the man said on the phone. “He’s lost. We lost him in the storm.”
“Lost?” I said. “You mean, he drowned?”
“No,” the man said, distressed. “Lost. I mean, yeah, he probably drowned. Probably dead. I haven’t heard from him or anything. I can’t imagine how he could still be alive.”
“So what’s the mystery?” I said.
A crow flew overhead as we talked. I was in Northern California, near Santa Rosa. I sat at a picnic table by a clump of redwoods. A blue jay squawked nearby. Crows used to be bad omens, but now they were so common that it was hard to say.
Omens change. Signs shifts. Nothing is permanent.
That night I dreamed I was back in New Orleans. I hadn’t been there in ten years. But now, in my dream, it was during the flood. I sat on a rooftop in the cool, dark night. Moonlight reflected off the water around me. It was quiet. Everyone was gone.
Across the street a man sat on another rooftop in a straight-backed chair. The man flickered in and out of focus like an old piece of film, burned through in spots from light. He was fifty or sixty, white, pale, just on this side of short, with salt-and-pepper hair and bushy eyebrows. He wore a three-piece black suit with a high collar and a black tie. He scowled.
The man looked at me sternly.
“If I told you the truth plainly,” the man said, “you would not understand.” His voice was scratchy and warped, like an old record. But I could still make out the tinge of a French accent. “If life gave you answers outright, they would be meaningless. Each detective must take her clues and solve her mysteries for herself. No one can solve your mystery for you; a book cannot tell you the way.”
Now I recognized the man; it was, of course, Jacques Silette, the great French detective. The words were from his one and only book, Détection.
I looked around and in the black night I saw a light shimmering in the distance. As the light got closer I saw that it was a rowboat with a lantern attached to the bow.
I thought it had come to rescue us. But it was empty.
“No one will save you,” Silette said from his rooftop. “No one will come. You are alone in your search; no friend, no lover, no God from above will come to your aid. Your mysteries are yours alone.”
Silette faded in and out, flickering in the moonlight.
“All I can do is leave you clues,” he said. “And hope that you will not only solve your mysteries, but choose carefully the clues you leave behind. Make your choices wisely, ma’moiselle. The mysteries you leave will last for lifetimes after you are gone.
“Remember: you are the only hope for those that come after you.”
I woke up coughing, spitting water out of my mouth.
That morning I talked to my doctor about the dream. Then I called the man back. I took the case.