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Author Sara Gran Talks About the Big Easy, Who Inspires Her, and Lying About Her Age

A Mystery Writer Pulls Back the Curtain

sara gran claire dewitt!

A recipe for summer: 1 part dreams, 1 part booze, 1 part weed. If you can still stand, add a pinch of omen and a dash of I Ching. Simmer until done. 

That’s also the composition for Sara Gran’s new book, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, set in post-Katrina New Orleans and the first in a quirky, smart mystery series. The protagonist is private investigator Claire DeWitt who has been hired to find a missing local prosecutor. After reading the book, we suspected Gran has a lot in common with her intuitive, intrepid girl detective and sat down with her to chat.

Claire DeWitt says, “In New Orleans, it’s hard to tell where your murder case ends and everyone else’s begins.” Why did a nice girl from Brooklyn set her first mystery in New Orleans?
I lived in New Orleans from 2004 to 2007, left for Katrina, and went back about six weeks later. I loved that city. After the storm, it understandably became a very different place, and, in 2007, I moved to California.

You broke up with New Orleans for Northern California?
Yes. New Orleans is like the boyfriend who is really hot but you know things are not going to work out. Cities are like people. All people are crazy; it’s just a matter of finding the right crazy for you.

We love that you have Claire lie about her age. Do you do that?
I do. I’m technically 39, but I’ve been going with 40 for a while now. I love beginning a sentence, “As a 40-year-old woman …” Who can argue with that?

What mystery/crime authors inspire you?
My friend and sometimes writing partner, Megan Abbott, is one of my faves. Andrew Vachss is a favorite, and I love the work of Duane Swierczynski, Charlie Houston, Monica Nolan, and Craig Clevenger.

Favorite literary detectives?
Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.

Give us a favorite quote from Detection, the book within the book that Claire follows?
I’ll give you one from the second book in the series, which I’m writing now. “You have chosen the steps every moment of every day that have put you exactly here. The bird that flies by your car, the horse you glance in a field — these are not coincidences. This is what you have been working for every moment of every day you have been on Earth. Now that you are here, in this moment, with this mystery, be very certain you are listening to what it has to say. Because if you turn your back on this, the entire project of your life is for naught, and you may as well not have bothered.”

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is available online at amazon.com, $15. Now check out the rest of our summer reading list.

Photos: Deborah Lopez; Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt