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City of Dragons



“is a stunning recreation of time and place that I greatly enjoyed . . .
as will everyone who reads it.”
Robert B. Parker

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”, as performed by Billie Holiday in 1936. This song opens the first chapter of City of Dragons.

Macavity Award Winner for Best Historical Mystery
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
Shamus Award Finalist
Bruce Alexander Award Finalist
RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Finalist
Top Ten Mystery/Thriller of 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2010 Top Ten Best Fiction by Bay Area Authors, San Francisco Chronicle
Indie Next Book for February, 2010
An Alternate Selection of the Mystery Guild
Publishers Weekly, Booklist & Library Journal Starred Reviews
RT Book Reviews Top Pick for February
A Killer Book Selection of the IMBA
Poisoned Pen Hardboiled Club Pick

“Beautifully imagined and beautifully written—this book does everything great fiction is supposed to.”
Lee Child

CITY OF DRAGONS is big and ambitious, both reverent and original. Author Kelli Stanley has her eye on greatness.”
George Pelecanos

“Kelli Stanley would have made Chandler proud. She writes us into an authentic world of urban brutality where someone like Miranda Corbie can survive without breaking or losing her way or her heart. Her prose is as sharp as a knife-thrower’s blades and just as accurate.”
Tim Nonn, Petaluma Argus-Courier

City of Dragons

February, 1940.

Gone With The Wind packs movie palaces two months after its December premiere. “Moonlight Serenade” echoes from jukeboxes all over the country. And the Sino-Japanese war still rages, while France waits anxiously for the Nazi blitzkrieg to hammer the Maginot line.

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—thirty-three-year-old private investigator, Spanish Civil War nurse and ex-escort—waits impatiently in the crowd. Until small-time numbers runner Eddie Takahashi stumbles into Sacramento Street and into her life … fatally shot.

The Chamber of Commerce wants it covered up. The cops acquiesce. Japanese boy in a Chinese carnival … wrong place at the wrong time.

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.

CITY OF DRAGONS is a sprawling, visceral novel of San Francisco in 1940, a world of race wars and class wars, a world in which sexual threat is as casual as a five cent cigar.

It is also a beautiful world … of hats and neon night clubs, Harry James and Chesterfields,of a World’s Fair ready to reopen in just three short months.

It’s Miranda’s world. And she’ll die to protect the good in it.

Because part of her died a long time ago…

The playlist for CITY OF DRAGONS

  1. I Can't Give You Anything But Love Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra
  2. These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You) Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra
  3. Our Love Jack Leonard and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
  4. And The Angels Sing Martha Tilton and the Benny Goodman Orchestra
  5. Somewhere Over The Rainbow Judy Garland
  6. Moonlight Serenade Glenn Miller and his Orchestra
  7. If I Didn't Care The Ink Spots
  8. Oh Johhny Oh! Benny Goodman and his Orchestra
  9. Our Love Is Here To Stay George Gershwin
  10. Hurry Home Martha Tilton and Benny Goodman and his Orchestra
  11. Body And Soul Billie Holiday
  12. (What Did I Do To Be So) Black And Blue Ethel Waters
  13. Sing, You Sinners Bunny Berigan
  14. Try A Little Tenderness Ruth Etting
  15. My Funny Valentine Ruth Gaylor with Hal McIntyre and his Orchestra
  16. Let's Face The Music And Dance Fred Astaire
  17. Swing, Brother, Swing Billie Holiday
  18. Someone To Watch Over Me Lee Wiley

“It’s Chinese New Year in 1940 San Francisco, and Chinatown is full of celebrants – including Miranda Corbie, a 33-year-old private eye with a colorful past and a hard-boiled point of view. Who better than the keen-eyed, caring Miranda to witness the final moments of a Japanese male teenager, beaten and shot, who drops to the pavement in the midst of the happy crowd?

So begins CITY OF DRAGONS, San Francisco author Kelli Stanley’s terrific time-machine trip into the Bay Area’s pre-Pearl Harbor past. Narrating the journey in bravura first-person style is Miranda herself: a wised-up tough gal whose prose sings with the cadences of early Hammett, middle Chandler, the outraged Walter Winchell and the young Herb Caen.

Stanley, winner (for a previous book set in ancient Rome) of the Bruce Alexander Award for best historical mystery, knows how to bring the past to life: not only with a wealth of references to old buildings and politics and popular culture, but with thoughts and attitudes, dialogue and gestures, that seem both true to another time and as spontaneous as right this minute. CITY OF DRAGONS, with its brittle patter and its broken heart of gold, is a joy to read.”
Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle

“Kelli Stanley’s riveting new series about 1940s San Francisco private investigator Miranda Corbie revels in the character’s uniqueness without resorting to cliches … The gritty, hard-boiled CITY OF DRAGONS works as an insightful look at racism and sexism. Stanley never misses a beat as she also shows San Francisco’s hidden corners, seething emotions in the days before WWII … CITY OF DRAGONS is a wonderful start to what should be a long-running series.”
Oline Cogdill, Florida Sun Sentinel

CITY OF DRAGONS is literature as much as crime fiction, and it is successful on both counts. The writing is beautiful and evocative. I found myself occasionally reading aloud. Stanley creates a vibrant, fully realized atmosphere, a time full of unabashed racism and sexism, and a unique heroine filled with layers of past pain.”
Norma Dancis, Deadly Pleasures 

“Stunning… Stanley aptly describes San Francisco as a city ‘redolent and glistening with sin and lamplight, forever a girl you didn’t take home to Mother.’”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Kelli Reads Chapter One

Kelli gave an audio reading of CITY OF DRAGONS for David Wilk’s terrific Writerscast. You can listen to it here or at David’s site.

Writerscast Interview

David Wilk of Writerscast interviewed Kelli about CITY OF DRAGONS, delving into a discussion of the themes of the novel, as well as background on Miranda Corbie, the protagonist.

Miranda’s Places

Take a trip through time and the City by the Bay …

San Francisco in 1940 was a different city. Smaller but denser, with less of a concentration of financial centers and more of a mixture of industry, middle-class commerce and working class manufacturing, you can still see traces of the old metropolis in the brick manufacturing warehouses-turned-lofts south of Market, and in the remaining architectural jewels lining Market Street.

Some of the businesses are still with us, too … the Pickwick Hotel and John’s Grill, and of course the Ferry Building, newly refurbished though the commuter boats that once plied the Bay are long gone.

Retrace Miranda’s footsteps with this map … get to know the old city alongside the new one, and learn why so many people leave their heart in San Francisco. ♥

“In Kelli Stanley’s extremely capable hands, the tale told in CITY OF DRAGONS is a picture- and pitch-perfect account of a complex and gripping tale set in a San Francisco 70 years removed from modern times, one in which the city and its culture becomes not only familiar with but also reflective of how the same exists today.

Such a work does not occur by happenstance; indeed, there is an intriguing afterword that describes how Stanley immersed herself in the past in order to create the magic that you will find in this story of murder and mystery. Add her considerable talent as a wordsmith — in one passage, there is a short description of the wares of a drugstore that alone is worth the price of admission — and you have an instant winner that earns a place of prominence and permanence on your bookshelf.”
Joe Hartlaub,

“… awash in period flavor, showcases a large and colorful supporting cast … for fans of Hammett and Chandler, [Stanley will] hit the sweet spot.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Stanley has vividly re-created the atmosphere of the era, using authentic San Francisco landmarks and the Golden Gate International Exposition as background. Her hard-boiled, strong female sleuth stalks Hammett’s San Francisco and does the job with all the panache of Sam Spade. Readers will eagerly await the next installment in this exciting new hard-boiled series.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Miranda Corbie has the potential to be a great series character. Think Barbara Stanwick meets Myrna Loy, then toss in a hard-boiled crime story worthy of Raymond Chandler. This atmospheric series debut by the author of NOX DORMIENDA, winner of the Bruce Alexander Award for best historical mystery, will appeal to fans of noir historicals.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Kelli Stanley’s CITY OF DRAGONS is stunning, pitch-perfect noir. She conjures forth a lost, poignant, and darkly luminous San Francisco in which Hammett – and LA’s Chandler – would feel immediately at home.”
Cornelia Read

CITY OF DRAGONS is an accomplished thriller that blends a classic golden age PI tale with something more, characters that come alive, and social commentary that striates this tale without resorting to a soapbox and klaxxon. Stanley is a remarkable find in a crowded PI genre; surely a PWA Shamus nomination is in the making.”
Ali Karim, Deadly Pleasures

“In this terrific book, Stanley puts all the right elements together to make the first in her new series a winner. Center stage is private investigator Miranda Corbie, a feisty gal with tons of attitude. She might be hard-boiled on the outside, but you never forget she’s a lady. The noir atmosphere of 1940s San Francisco is so brilliantly recreated you’ll swear you can hear the music, taste the food and feel the desperation of many that Miranda comes in contact with. Stanley sharpens anticipation for what comes next.”
RT Book Reviews [Top Pick; highest rating (4.5 stars)]

“Miranda is a hard core, nose to the grind, blood hound, who doesn’t give up till the case is solved. There were plenty of twists and turns to keep the mystery fan in my happy. All of the characters that Miranda encountered were intriguing as well as engaging. You could tell how much research and hard work the author did on Chinatown and what the place looked like back in the forties. It was like I could see everything through Miranda’s eyes from…the vivid colors of the buildings to the smell of rotten beer and cigarettes. I only have one last comment to make and that is…I want more Kelli Stanley.”
Cheryl’s Book Nook

“I loved this novel from page one to the end on page 335. I usually read myself to sleep, but with this novel I read myself awake, and got up tired in the morning. That only lasted two nights because I finished the book in two days. There is relative consensus about what constitutes a great crime novel. There is no consensus about how to write one. In CITY OF DRAGONS, Kelli Stanley has proven she knows how to write a superb novel, whether one assigns it the tag of mystery, thriller or noir.”
Donus Roberts, Deadly Pleasures

“The setting of CITY OF DRAGONS comes alive, taking on a character role, at page one. Stanley evokes every human sense to transport the reader into a pre-war San Francisco. … Stanley blends character, plot and setting so that the lines are almost indistinguishable, lost maybe in San Francisco’s fog. … The “City of Dragons” is deceptive and dazzling and dangerous. Just try to resist its temptations.”
Jen Forbus, Crimespree Magazine 

“In CITY OF DRAGONS, local author Kelli Stanley paints a film noir picture of 1940 San Francisco that is reminiscent of the Orpheum Theatre: grand, ornate and classy, but gray with the grime of the city. … Stanley writes brilliantly, taking her reader to a time when a good pair of leather shoes cost $1.50, a martini went for a dime, women wore hats and gloves and men were brusquely sexist. … if the reader wants to be transported to an entirely different era and gripped by classic mobster mystery, this is the book.”
Kristen Calderwood, Tri-City Weekly

“Tough, beautiful, evocative, are all words that come to mind to describe both the story line and the characters in CITY OF DRAGONS. This novel fits right up next to the best of 1930’s and 40’s writing. Here’s hoping for more kid.”
Dave Biemann, for MysteryOne Bookstore

“… Stanley never lets her eyes off the prize. Deep down, it’s the story that matters, not its setting, and Miranda’s search for the truth, if not justice, is one that will reverberate and leave a gritty aftertaste long after the covers have been closed on this one. One of the most convincing and intriguing PI debuts I’ve read in a while, and certainly the most fully realized historical private eye to come down the pike in a long time. Abbott? Collins? Watch out.”
Kevin Burton Smith, Mystery Scene

“…a great start for what appears to be a fine series that will take us through the Second World War and onward.”
Margaret Cannon, Toronto Globe and Mail

“An outstanding, viscerally authentic mystery set in an exciting time and place. I’d say that CITY OF DRAGONS reminded me of 1940’s film noir, except that instead of the dreamlike black and white noir shadows, everything about the novel is in living color. You can almost experience Stanley’s world with all five senses. Her re-creation of the time and place — 1940 San Francisco’s Chinatown — couldn’t feel any more authentic. It’s her details that draw you in, but her story keeps you turning the pages until the ending that slowly and cleverly takes you by surprise. If you’ve read a better mystery lately, I need to know the name of it.

CITY OF DRAGONS is outstanding! Miranda is one tough cookie; I can’t wait to read more about her and her city by the Bay.”
Sue Burke, Fresh Fiction

“Sam Spade is the classic early 20th-century San Francisco private eye. But Stanley’s Miranda Corbie, a chain-smoking and sarcasm-chewing young escort turned detective, proves herself to be no less capable than Spade in this thoroughly engaging first entry in a new Bay Area-based series.
The year is 1940, and Corbie is digging through Chinatown and the echoing hallways of her city’s establishment to find out who murdered a young numbers runner. Racism and sexism both rear their ugly heads as Corbie’s investigation leads her to gangsters up from Los Angeles, a human smuggling ring, and a parallel probe into the sorry fate of an old friend.”
J. Kingston Pierce, Flashlight Worthy Books (The Best of Crime Fiction: About Women, By Women)

“Kelli Stanley’s CITY OF DRAGONS blew me to ribbons.
From the opening chapter, we’re rooting for Miranda, a marvelous, feisty, compassionate heroine who is my favourite P.I. to come down the mean streets in oh, so long.

Superb characterisations … and a story to make you weep. Fathers will never seem quite the same again. From the opening quote by Cornell Woolrich, we’re off and gasping, and not just from the lovely evocations of another era of Chesterfields.

Polish up the Shamus, I know where it’s headed this year.”
Ken Bruen

CITY OF DRAGONS was everything I’d hoped it would be, and much more. This first in the Miranda Corbie series is a gritty, fast paced mystery with an excellent plot that’s full of twists. … I don’t think I can recommend this author highly enough. She really blows me away.
Becky LeJeune, No More Grumpy Bookseller; BookBitch