Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran: A review

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Vintage, vintage, vintage. On every page. Sometimes, seemingly, in every paragraph. For about two-thirds of this book, vintage was Sara Gran's favorite adjective. All of her characters wear vintage clothing. They all shop in vintage record shops or book stores or clothing and accessory stores. Often, they even drive vintage cars. Okay, we get the idea. It's cool to love vintage things.

This is the kind of quirk that can irritate me almost beyond endurance when reading a book - the repetitive use of a word. Yes, I realize that might be perceived as petty. So sue me! It's my pet peeve and I'm sticking with it.

At a certain point in the book, Gran seemed to realize what she was doing and she stopped using the word, cold turkey. Never used it again. But she found synonyms or other ways of conveying the same idea.

I really liked Gran's first Claire DeWitt book which was set in New Orleans, and I had looked forward to reading this one. It started off very well. I was happy to make Claire's acquaintance again and to see her in her home city of San Francisco. The mystery that she was engaged in solving - who murdered an old lover of hers - was one that intrigued me. Then I got hung up on the repetition of "vintage" and Claire's downward spiral into drug addiction and the whole thing just kind of fell apart for me.

In Bohemian Highway, we meet a Claire who is clearly out of control and not functioning well in her life's destiny as a detective. She spends much of her time searching out sources for purchasing cocaine and whenever she visits anyone's house or apartment, either as part of the investigation or just because, she seeks the bathroom and checks the bathroom cabinet for drugs. If she finds Percocet or Vicodin or Valium or anything else that will help her get high, she takes one or two of the pills and puts the rest in her purse. If she finds cocaine in the house, she steals it.

She is, in short, a mess. Her nose is constantly bleeding. Half the time it's not clear whether she's experiencing reality or some drug-induced dream. It is thoroughly depressing.

And yet, we are led to believe that her finely honed instinct for detection is totally intact and that she is able to intuit the clues that she needs to eventually solve this case. I have no experience with cocaine, but somehow, I just don't think that's the way it works, especially when you are mixing cocaine with Vicodin, Percocet, Valium, Adderall or whatever else the next medicine cabinet holds. Yes, one has to suspend disbelief when reading fiction and allow the author his/her artistic license, but this was too much for me.

Sara Gran is a talented writer and there were parts of the book that I really, really liked. They mostly occurred in the first third of so of the novel. In the end, I gave the book three stars, but if I could have given two-and-a-half, that would have been a truer reflection of my reaction.

I'm sure that Gran had a method in mind and that she was working from a plan in presenting her main character in the way she did, but I can't really discern what the purpose was. The book ended on a cliffhanger, so I am sure that another entry in the Claire DeWitt story is forthcoming. I hope that her creator will see fit to put Claire back in control of her addiction and allow her to become a more likable human being. I'll be less eager to read the next book unless I have an inkling that something like that has happened.

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