Sara Gran’s tough-yet-vulnerable protagonist, Claire DeWitt, belongs to the best tradition of those never-say-die, hard-boiled detectives of classic noir crime fiction. A female version of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler’s world-weary private eyes.
Right at the start of the third novel in the series, The Infinite Blacktop, Claire’s car is rammed into, and she is shocked that somebody tried to kill her. Trusting her own judgment over the efficiency of the police investigation (because cops hate her), she escapes in wounded condition from the ambulance.
The book goes back and forth over three different cases at different stages of Claire’s life, including the unsolved disappearance of her friend Tracy, with whom she solved cases as a teen detective, inspired by the comics featuring “Cynthia Silverton, teen sleuth and girl detective.”
Then, as Claire reminisces, “I became the best detective in the world, just like I’d dreamed of. I met kings and I met magicians. . . . I met people who had everything on earth except the one thing they wanted the least but needed the most — the truth. “
Claire claims she solved every single case, except Tracy’s, and gave each a peculiar name like “The Clue of the Watercolor Butterfly,” “The Case of the Bitten Apple,” “The Case of the Broken Lily,” “The Happy Burger Murder Case.”
A few days before the hit-and-run, Claire had, on a hunch, answered an ad in one of the old comics that offered a “home-study course . . . to earn your detective’s badge from the comfort of your own home,” and sent her application to the address provided in Los Angeles. She realizes that the car that rammed into hers had Nevada number plates and after stealing a car and a credit card (she is a skilled and guilt-free thief) she heads to LA.
At some point, to earn her PI licence in California, she had picked up a cold case of the murder of an artist, that turned out to be a complicated affair. Everything seems linked to those comics and a book titled Detection, written by a French detective, Jacques Silette, who was ridiculed for his efforts, but also generated a small group of followers, who are called Silettians.
As the three cases converge, Claire goes through a lot of existential angst and philosophical musings, but her mind is always alert and her body, even in battered condition, is ready for a fight. Written with wry humour and brisk pace, The Infinite Blacktop was on a few lists of the best books of 2018. Deservedly so.