City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley (Minotaur) 352 pagesRead about the other books on the list.
Kelli Stanley’s latest historical thriller is set against the backdrop of San Francisco in 1940. As Europe boils with war, Northern California’s largest city is enjoying its third world’s fair, a two-summer-long celebration called the Golden Gate International Exposition. But Stanley’s alter-ego, private eye Miranda Corbie, is paying more attention to the recent violent death of a Japanese teenager, Eddie Takahashi. It’s an investigation that will send the sexy, cynical and surprisingly resilient, 33-year-old Corbie trawling through the tensions of a segregated city, navigating the undercurrents of the Chinese and Japanese communities in order to discover why Takahashi’s life ended so soon. No one else seems to care about what happened to him, least of all the local cops, who are content to sweep the whole affair under the nearest Oriental rug. Corbie does, though. A former Spanish Civil War nurse and erstwhile female escort, the chain-smoking, tough-talking and romantic-despite-herself shamus does much to make City of Dragons a standout among this year’s crime novels. Her back-story is both exciting and eclectic, and rolls out in satisfying dribs as she combs her city’s venues high and low, straightening out the kinks that she uncovers as she unearths the sad truth and puts herself in danger. Stanley’s first P.I. escapade follows the conventions of the genre, especially as established by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Yet it’s much more than pastiche, with a rich political commentary, characters that come alive and descriptions of San Francisco between the two world wars that make it clear Stanley not only knows, but loves her town. City of Dragons is a choice treat in a crowded genre. There’s every reason to look forward to its planned sequel. -- Ali Karim
The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.
My Book, The Movie: City of Dragons.