Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway is the second instalment of four in the Claire DeWitt series. The first book Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead was released in 2011 and set in New Orleans. This book is set in San Francisco and according to various interviews the next book will move to LA and Las Vegas with the fourth finally ending up in New York.
All this moving about is a running feature of Claire DeWitt. She is the hard-nosed, probably from all the coke she snorts, private detective. She charges her clients vast amounts of fees and will travel anywhere in the world if a case interests her enough. But it must interest her. Claire DeWitt does not do the usual PI jobs of discovering cheating spouses or the like. Her astronomical fees allow her to be fussy, generally she specialises in missing person cases. The main plot in this book isn’t one of a missing case, but of possible murder. But that isn’t to say the missing cases don’t make an appearance. One very strange case comes in the guise of investigating the case of missing miniature ponies.
The book moves between two timelines, the first in present day San Francisco and the second in Brooklyn 1986. In San Francisco Claire receives a phone call from a police detective saying that a friend of Claire’s had been murdered in a break-in gone wrong. But this is a Claire DeWitt story so is the break-in really a break-in or not? The catch is that the murder victim is also a former boyfriend. Claire is uneasy about the break-in and decides to investigate the case. Then she is hired by the victim’s sister to do the same.
This is the basic premise of this book. But as it is a series we see much more development of the Claire DeWitt character in this book. I have previously read Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead and didn’t particularly take to it. The character, Claire DeWitt, annoyed me and it was a bit of a chore to finish the book. Surprisingly the second book is better. Maybe because there is more humour in this book. While Claire DeWitt is still annoying it makes sense in this book. On reflection the reason Claire DeWitt annoyed me in The City of the Dead was because her character wasn’t infuriating enough given the setting and story that was being dealt with. In Bohemian Highway I found it easier to deal with reading the inner voice of Claire DeWitt. I found this book flowed much better than the first and it also had some splashes of funny morbid humour.
The second storyline which runs through is set around Brooklyn and New York. In 1986 Claire and her two friends, Tracy and Kelly, are around fourteen and have a reputation of being budding PI’s. They had found a book written by Jacques Silette, the great French detective, in Claire’s house when they were younger. The girls base all their detection methodologies on what Silette writes in his book. Silette is a person who believes in looking for the unseen and as such they build their reputation on solving their cases in very unusual ways. This is a methodology that Claire DeWitt takes into adulthood and she uses everything from discerning “the signs” that the world sends out, to dreams and tarot and even uses a guy who can smell and identifying the origins of random poker chips. But in Brooklyn while the girls are still only teenagers, they are very experienced in the ways of the adults around them, thus they are hired to investigate the disappearance of an older friend. This case seems to be pivotal to the friendship of the three girls. After this case a number of things change which finally leads to the disappearance of Tracy. Claire spends the next decade trying to find her childhood friend.
Sara Gran doesn’t shy away from any of the gritty vices that aren’t always used in novels. The girls in Brooklyn run into a group of people who have a severe case of bloodlust, at least for people that aren’t vampires. In her adult life Claire DeWitt is a high functioning junkie. She raids people’s medicines cabinets for any drugs stronger than diazepam and is a complete cocaine addict. Yet she manages to drive all over the city with no serious road collisions, at least not caused by the drug usage or excessive drinking.
Claire DeWitt is definitely an acquired taste but if you like a spunky modern day private eye story then this author is the way to go. And if you like the first book the second can only get better and if like me you didn’t like the first book give the second a try it is surprising how much better it is.
Any Cop?: If you like a mild mannered Miss Marple-like knitting lady as your detective then this is not the book for you, however if you don’t mind constant swearing and graphic visuals you will find this a good book to entertain on the summer holiday.
Margaret M. O’ Toole