Wednesday, July 26, 2017

City of Dragons: Kelli Stanley

Summary from the publisher:
February, 1940. In San Francisco's Chinatown, fireworks explode as the city celebrates Chinese New Year with a Rice Bowl Party, a three day-and-night carnival designed to raise money and support for China war relief. Miranda Corbie is a 33-year-old private investigator who stumbles upon the fatally shot body of Eddie Takahashi. The Chamber of Commerce wants it covered up. The cops acquiesce. All Miranda wants is justice--whatever it costs. From Chinatown tenements, to a tattered tailor's shop in Little Osaka, to a high-class bordello draped in Southern Gothic, she shakes down the city–her city–seeking the truth.

Miranda Corbie chooses to investigate Eddie Takahashi's death. She does pick up a second, paying case investigating the suspicious death of Lester Winters, and the disappearance of his daughter, Phyllis.

The handling of the setting in time and place is fantastic. Kelli Stanley makes San Francisco of the 1940's come alive, and she describes the tensions within Chinatown due to the war in Asia and Europe very well. I learned much about Chinatown and the US attitude toward the war at that time. I always enjoy a story set in Chinatown (of any city) but I don't think I have ever read one that was set before World War II.

Due to the writing style we are privy to Miranda's thoughts at times, and get glimpses of her background as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War, and the loss of her boyfriend in that war. She is clearly still suffering from these experiences, and seems to take out her pain on friends and foes alike.

Although the story is told from Miranda's point of view it is not in first person. Sometimes her thinking and reactions read like a stream of consciousness, with short sentences and choppy delivery. At other times, the writing is very beautiful, lovely descriptions and straightforward prose.

I will not pretend that this was the perfect reading experience for me. We are reminded too often about the unhappiness and confusion that Miranda is experiencing. Many readers complained about the many, many references to smoking, which did not bother me. And I should warn readers that there is a lot of profanity, although I felt it fit the context.

Nevertheless, I was involved with the story and admired the heroine. I want to follow her in her story and I plan to read the next book in the series. My husband has read all three books in the series and will be purchasing book 4 when it comes out.


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Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2010
Length:    335 pages
Format:    Hardback
Series:     Miranda Corbie #1
Setting:    Chinatown, San Francisco, 1940's
Genre:     Historical Mystery
Source:    I borrowed this book from my husband.

12 comments:

  1. Minor issues aside, Tracy, it sounds as though this really has a sense of atmosphere and context. And I always like that in a novel. The plot sounds absorbing, too. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. That is a good way to describe it, Margot, the book only had minor issues. It was a great story set at a time I like to read about.

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  2. Profanity and smoking I can live with if they are believable in the context of the period - sounds interesting, thanks Tracy.

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    1. I don't know why smoking bothered so many people, Sergio. That was my husband's only complaint. Both the profanity and the smoking seemed to fit the period and the characters... to me. But some people don't want to read a book with a lot of profanity, and I can understand that.

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  3. Well @#$%^&*()_(*&^%$#@!!!! Sounds like the kind of story I could sink my nicotine-tinted fangs in. Actually, that last part is hyperbolic fantasy--I quit smoking 25 years or so ago. I'm off to check the Kindle store for this one. Thanks, Tracy.

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    1. You are so funny, Matt. I do hope you like the story. It looks at the time period from a different perspective. My husband and I quit smoking about 40 years ago, on New Year's Day after we moved in together. He quit cold turkey, I strung it out with a cigarette here and there for a few years. Fond memories.

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  4. When I saw the title of your post I thought it was one of your ventures into fantasy, a Game of Thrones-type book! Chinatown is much more appealing - I am like you, always love a book set in any Chinatown or similar district. One to make a note of.

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    1. Chinatown is wonderful to read about, Moira, and visit. I can't believe we have never gone to L.A.'s Chinatown, although getting to Los Angeles is never fun. My husband has a couple more series set in Chinatown that I have not tried yet.

      I think Kelli Stanley (or her publisher) names her books very well. The next one is City of Secrets, then City of Ghosts.

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  5. I wonder how many actual female private investigators were around in the 1940s. It seems a bold career choice for back then.

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    1. I agree, Ryan. It would be a bold choice for me even now. Whenever I read about a female investigator in past times I wonder the same. But I am sure that there were some women who did seek out that type of thing. And her personality fits that type of profession.

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  6. I like the cover, but not so much the period the book is set in. Not that I need more books anyway, but an easy pass for me this time. Glad you enjoyed it though.

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    1. Based on your past experiences with this type of book, I would agree with you, Col. The setting in SF Chinatown is just great though.

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