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A smart female detective on the job in a grim New Orleans

Sara Gran, author of 'Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead,' says discussing food or culture in New Orleans is ignoring the tragedy.

By Randy Dotinga / June 26, 2012

"Two years later, people are saying, 'When the aid and the trucks come,' and it's like, 'Dude, there's no trucks coming,' " author Sara Gran says of New Orleans, the setting for her detective novel "Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead."

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In New Orleans, they call it "the storm." Not just the hurricane named Katrina but the rolling disaster that lasted for days.

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Author Sara Gran evacuated and returned. For two years, she watched the decline of one of the most vibrant and unique places on earth. And for two years, she watched the world ignore the real story of heartache and misery, much of it shoved deep into the minds of those whose city was lost.

Gran brings this grim, gritty, and unhappy New Orleans to life in her entrancing mystery novel "Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead," which is now out in paperback. In the well-reviewed book, Gran manages to expose the darkness in the Big Easy while still finding signs of life amid the ruins. I reached Gran last week and we talked about her mystical private-eye character, the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans and the next book in the Claire DeWitt series.

Q: For people who haven't read the book, who's Claire DeWitt?

A: Claire DeWitt is in her mid-30s and from Brooklyn. She's "the world's greatest detective," but no one believes her. We'll find out if it's true as the series goes on.

She's been been through a lot, had a really hard childhood, and a lot of personal losses. She doesn't get a lot of pleasure in her life, but she does get pleasure out of solving crimes.

She's a devotee of a French detective who has an unusual school of detective work based on intuition, omens, and psychology. It is not science-based, more like the alternative medicine of detective work.

Q: She seems pretty messed up as she tries to solve the case of a missing prosecutor. Is that fair to say?

A: She's in one of those phases in her life where she's in between things. She’s not really depressed, she’s not really happy. She doesn’t have a future she's particularly looking forward to, but she's not in her past. She didn't want to go to New Orleans, but goes there to help solve this crime.

She does have this way of solving mysteries that’s stable for her that she can fall back on. It provides her the routine and stability that most people take for granted in life.

Q: You're from Brooklyn, lived in New Orleans, and now live in Northern California, just like her. How much of Claire is you?

A: Forty-three percent.

I just made that up, but that may be right. Between 43 and 57 percent.

Q: What in her is not like you?

A: The stuff with the guns, and being very tough and strong. She’s a lot smarter than me, she figures something out in a minute that takes me six months. She's more fun and more interesting.

Q: What's been the reaction among readers to her?

A: I hoped people who would see her as an inspiration, despite the darkness and the weirdness of the character and her own personal history, in the way she found a way to do something good despite the screwed-up things that have happened to them. People have responded to that exactly the way I hoped they would.

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