The Infinite Blacktop

There are three cases in Sarah Gran’s third Claire Dewitt novel, each taking place at a different point in Claire’s life, but the mystery is really about Claire herself and how she is supposed to carry on in the face of suffering and grief.

The Case of the Infinite Blacktop, set in 2011, involves a recent attempt on Claire’s life as she was trying to learn more about the publisher of the Cynthia Silverton mysteries that she and her fellow girl detectives loved when they were teenagers. The Clue of the Charnel House, set in 1985, returns to Claire’s teen years, as she and her friends Tracy and Kelly solve crimes together, before Tracy disappears. And The Mystery of the CBSIS is set in 1999, when Claire had to solve a cold case involving a pair of artists in order to receive her California PI license.

So far, I’ve liked each of the books in this better than this last, which means this is my favorite. Claire herself still depends on drugs and alcohol too much, but the book centers less on that and more on the fact that she’s trying to avoid really looking at her life. And the thematic interconnctedness of the cases in these books force Claire to come to grips with some possibilities she was trying to avoid, one of those being the possibility of moving on.

A highlight of the book is a lengthy excerpt of a Cynthia Silverton mystery. The style is a sort of gee-whiz isn’t this cool mystery for kids, but the things happening within it are very adult, which makes it absolutely hilarious and very much in keeping with its bizarre existence and Claire and her friends’ fascination with it.

This book is more contemplative than the previous books, and there were a lot of passages about the nature of identity or morality or grief that I liked. This one takes place in a prayer group that Claire visits to talk to a potential source. A group member is talking about the difficulty of knowing how to be good:

“The older I get, the less I understand. I don’t know what it would mean to be really good. I think sometimes we get caught up in trying to tell the world something about ourselves. Maybe even trying to tell ourselves about ourselves, you know, trying to keep up an idea of ourselves that we can live with. But I think something we need to stop worrying about all that and just do something. Just look for ways to help and then just try to help. Water a plant. Feed an animal. Help the people you see every day. We don’t have to make some big controversy over it, or get wrapped up in some drama. We make things so complicated. All we have to do is just be a little bit better than we are, and keep heading that way. It doesn’t have to feel good. You don’t have to like it. And you can have your doubts about it, too. You just have to do it.

I think, by the end of this book, Claire has turned a corner, putting away her identity as the world’s greatest detective and just letting herself do the next right thing. She’s gotten some possible answers about her past, maybe enough answers, and she’s content in a way she hasn’t been in the series so far. Although I think Sara Gran is planning to write more Claire DeWitt books (and I’ll probably read them), this actually feels like it could be a conclusion to the series, with Claire traveling the highway at peace with herself.

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