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City of Secrets

“You’ll want to grab City of Secrets … This is neonoir in a classical five-act structure, starring one of crime’s most arresting heroines: angry, big-hearted, and fearless Miranda Corbie.”

Library Journal (starred review)

“Glad to Be Unhappy”, as performed by Lee Wiley in 1940. A theme song for CITY OF SECRETS

“Gayway”, Golden Gate International Exposition, July 4, 1940

Golden Nugget Award Winner
RT Book Review’s Reviewer’s Choice Finalist

“As she did in last year’s excellent CITY OF DRAGONS, Stanley richly explores San Francisco’s history, politics and culture during the pre-WWII days. She gracefully weaves in anti-Semitism, the rise of the American Nazi party, the World’s Fair and nude models into a cohesive plot, and brings fresh storytelling to CITY OF SECRETS … an outstanding addition to what will prove to be a superb series.”

Oline Cogdill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Miranda Corbie, the character at the heart of Kelli Stanley’s CITY OF SECRETS, combines the tropes of femme fatale and wisecracking private dick. She’s a hard drinking, chain smoking, spunky dame who would shoot me as soon as look at me for calling her spunky … Stanley has a distinctive writing style, conveying thoughts and ambience with poetic brush strokes.”

Hallie Ephron, Boston Globe

“Gripping … powerful … it takes a gift to create a detective who can walk the dark streets of her own time, while frightening us with our own dark streets. CITY OF SECRETS is Kelli Stanley’s gift to readers who appreciate history, mystery, and truth.”

Lesa Holstine, Lesa’s Book Critiques

“Kelli Stanley is such a master of noir one could swear that she’s Raymond Chandler reincarnated, and Miranda Corbie is the epitome of hardboiled.”

Marlyn Beebe, Stuff and Nonsense

City of Secrets

Pandora Blake wanted to be famous.

The blonde took a job at a peep show on Treasure Island for the 1940 World’s Fair. And on May 25th, opening day, the stage hands find her stabbed through the breast with a souvenir ice-pick, an anti-Semitic slur scrawled across her white skin …

Miranda Corbie—ex-escort, Spanish Civil War nurse, and now private detective in San Francisco—works for Sally Rand. Make that worked for Sally Rand. When the workers who find Pandora’s body call Miranda in for help, she gets involved, and the men who run the business of fun and fairs don’t like that. Seems that Miranda has a penchant for not cooperating … and for finding out the truth.

Set adrift from the island, Miranda has only a few days to devote to investigating Pandora’s brutal murder … until fate intervenes in the form of an official job. Her enemy—the rough Irish cop who beat her and tried to set her up in February—is arrested for the crime. And Miranda’s attorney wants to hire her … to find evidence that Gerald Duggan is innocent.

From dingy hotels in the shadow of San Francisco’s City Hall to the bright, sunny spa town of Calistoga nestled in the Napa Valley, Miranda’s follows the trail of a vicious murderer. Is he a member of one of the American fascist groups that support Nazi Germany? Is he the brutal animal trainer who likes to brand women? Or is it, after all, the cop who hates her—Gerald Duggan?

As another victim joins the list—another anti-Semitic slur drawn on her body—the swirl of madness threatens to swallow Miranda herself. Haunted by the memory of February and a stalker on her trail, she confronts terrorist threats, gangsters, and secrets from her own past … and faces a nightmare choice of life and death, alone and in the shadows.

Discover 1940 San Francisco—mysteries kept and innocence lost—in a harrowing CITY OF SECRETS

The playlist for CITY OF SECRETS 

  1. Bugle Call Rag Glenn Miller and his Orchestra 2:45
  2. When You Wish Apon a Star Cliff Edwards 3:09
  3. It's A Blue World Tony Martin 2:41
  4. Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen The Andrews Sisters 3:12
  5. Everybody Loves My Baby The Boswell Sisters 2:23
  6. Imagination Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra 3:16
  7. All The Things You Are Jack Leonard with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra 3:23
  8. In the Mood Glenn Miller and his Orchestra 3:37
  9. Stardust Glenn Miller and his Orchestra 3:24
  10. We Three (My Echo My Shadow And Me) Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra 3:04
  11. Our Love Is Different Billie Holiday 3:16
  12. Someone To Watch Over Me Lee Wiley
  13. Blue Orchids Glenn Miller and his Orchestra 2:55
  14. Lilacs In The Rain Irene Day with Gene Krupa and his Orchestra 1:59
  15. I'm Nobody's Baby [Single Version] Judy Garland 2:53
  16. Embraceable You Kate Smith 3:15
  17. Beer Barrel Polka (1939) Andrews Sisters 2:53
  18. Blue Skies Benny Goodman and his Orchestra 3:34
  19. The Nearness Of You Ray Eberle with Glenn Miller and his Orchestra 3:16
  20. Billy Boy The Andrews Sisters 3:14
  21. Over There Glenn Miller 2:15
  22. Deep Purple Larry Clinton 3:43
  23. One o'clock Jump Count Basie 2:58
  24. Loch Lomond Benny Goodman 3:04
  25. Glad to be Unhappy Lee Wiley 3:13

“Be warned: when you open the book and begin reading the first page, you are leaving the 21st century and wherever you happen to be behind. By page nine, you will be so thoroughly immersed in the San Francisco of the mid-20th century that your contemporary surroundings will seem to be the product of an inferior imagination.”

Joe Hartlaub,

“The historical details shine in this perfectly drawn mystery and Stanley doesn’t blink at showing the ugly truths of the time such as race relations, sexism and anti-Semitism. This shows how historical mystery can not only re-create the sights but also the atmosphere of the time.”

RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 Stars; Top Pick)

“In best pulp fiction style, suspects lounge about with slick hair and cheap suits, blondes are chain-smoking broads, and the nightclubs are smoky and languid.”

Publishers Weekly

“Flashbacks to Miranda’s involvement in the Spanish civil war and the death of her lover Johnny help flesh out her character in this engrossing sequel. Most notably, Stanley brings 1940s San Francisco to life with her meticulously detailed, hard-boiled novel. She transports us to a world on the eve of massive change. It’s neonoir in a classical five-act structure, starring one of crime’s most arresting heroines: angry, big-hearted, and fearless Miranda Corbie.”

Library Journal (starred review)

CITY OF SECRETS is a superb mystery, a noir tale of high order. Stanley has crafted an intensely readable story set in World War II San Francisco. Her eyes and ears are keenly tuned to the parlance of that time, to the fears and hatred that informed those troubled years. This novel rings across the decades with an eerie truth.”

T. Jefferson Parker

Kelli Reads Chapter One of CITY OF SECRETS

Kelli reads from the opening chapter, in which the body of a murdered girl is discovered on Treasure Island.

The World of City of Secrets …

The beautiful map at the left was given out by Beringer Brothers Winery in St. Helena in 1939. Click for a closer view. Note that the Napa State Asylum isn’t depicted …

Venture to Napa Valley and Beyond with Miranda

Miranda travels back to Chinatown in CITY OF SECRETS, one of the neighborhoods she loves, but also explores the Civic Center area, passing by the McRoskey Mattress building (still there and still selling top-of-the-line mattresses) and the Hotel Potter, which is also still in business as a homeless hotel. The old Emporium is gone … the grand old dame of department stores couldn’t withstand the threat of development. A shiny new mall stands in its place, but if you walk upstairs to the top you can see the remnants of its famous glass ceiling dome.

Miranda eats dinner at Club Moderne, surrounded by the splendor of chrome and streamlined elegance, and chases down leads at the Ron de Vous restaurant on Treasure Island, a decidedly less elegant environment. Treasure Island itself is currently slated for redevelopment, yet another chapter in its long and fabled history.

San Francisco is a city that hides its secrets well … and Miranda soon finds herself in the Napa Valley, at the little spa town of Calistoga, trying to unravel the secret of who murdered two women in San Francisco.

Follow her footsteps … but be careful. Secrets can be dangerous.

Sponsored and funded by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, this interview was conducted by author Jeff Ayers for Author Magazine.

An interview with Scripts and Scribes at the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Festival. Kelli’s appearance is courtesy of the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore.

“Kelli Stanley is a writer who knows her place. It’s mid-20th century San Francisco, same place Hammett knew, and with a detective as unique and unyielding. If you haven’t been reading Kelli Stanley you’ve been making a mistake and it’s time to do yourself a favor: Grab up this book.”

SJ Rozan

“Lean and mean, Kelli Stanley’s gritty 1940s-set mystery series gives readers a compelling snapshot of the past—a past as smart, complex and jaded as her lead character, female P.I. Miranda Corbie. A razor-sharp, tightly-plotted noir page-turner.”

Allison Brennan

“I will tell you that this is an outstanding book. My mind was taken away to another time and place where the worries of the real world do not exist.”

Mike Philman, TracyReaderDad (4 Water Towers)

Sally Rand

She operated the “Nude Ranch” on San Francisco’s Treasure Island.
Reportedly, she was the only concessionaire to make a profit. Miranda Corbie works for Sally in CITY OF DRAGONS and CITY OF SECRETS … strictly as security for the girls.

In 1939 and 1940, nudity wasn’t available at the corner drugstore.
Live performance was the socially approved (and usually legally-tolerated) option to illegal pornographic books. Burlesque and strip-tease, vaudeville’s illegitimate siblings, offered comedy, dancing, music … and a chance to see naked bodies.

Midways from coast-to-coast offered “Candid Camera” and “Artist’s Village”, where nude women posed for prurient photographers and would-be sketch artists. That’s the scene that opens CITY OF SECRETS. But Sally Rand perfected the art of the nude exhibit.

For 25 cents, fair-goers on Treasure Island could line up behind a glass wall and watch young women play badminton, ride donkeys, and engage in other activities while wearing not much more than hats, boots and a bandana, in the cheekily-named NUDE RANCH.

Sally also owned her own nightclub in San Francisco: The Music Box. If you wanted to see Sally, she performed in the City … for more than a 25 cent cover charge.

Held in conjunction with a fabulous exhibit of mystery and thriller books and ephemera at the Doe Library (Kelli’s first Miranda Corbie mystery, CITY OF DRAGONS, was a part of the exhibit), this hour-long talk was sponsored by the library and was moderated by Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International. The panel of authors was comprised of Kelli, “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller, and author Lucha Corpi.

City of Dragons: Miranda Corbie’s Debut

“Kelli Stanley manages to achieve some very difficult things in CITY OF DRAGONS: recreating time and place powerfully but without excessive romanticizing, honoring the noir classics without losing any sense of originality, and capturing the events and tensions of the world without losing the story along the way. It takes a very skilled writer to achieve something like this.

Written in a prose style that’s simultaneously staccato and smooth, CITY OF DRAGONS is a compelling and powerful novel.”
Michael Koryta

CITY OF DRAGONS is a powerful crime novel that perfectly captures the noir mood of San Francisco in the 40’s.  Stanley’s dialogue bristles with attitude, the atmosphere is as thick as the bay fog, and her protagonist is a great new dame in crime fiction.  A smart, stunning thriller.
Linda Fairstein

“Kelli Stanley’s haunting narrative voice seduces us into the gritty, racist, and somehow gorgeous CITY OF DRAGONS that is 1940 San Francisco.

I wondered how the scope of the crime could possibly be big enough to match the voice, the complex characters, and the powerful setting. And yet Stanley’s ending paid off perfectly. This is one of my favorite novels of all time. Watch out, Sam Spade, Miranda Corbie is a woman hardboiled and feminine enough to keep you in line!”
Rebecca Cantrell

“Evocative and taut, Kelli Stanley’s CITY OF DRAGONS bursts with dark atmosphere. Fans of Raymond Chandler and Megan Abbott should add Stanley to their list of must-read authors.”
Tasha Alexander

“In Kelli Stanley’s deft, sure hands, the classic noir form is transformed: CITY OF DRAGONS is imbued with the colors, sounds, emotions and excitement of true history. She blends the urgent fears of a world on the brink of a world-shattering war with the gritty realities of the San Francisco streets: exploitation, racial prejudice, and the tawdry sins of everyday criminals.

Stanley’s Miranda Corbie is tougher than tough, more of a hero than any man within the tantalizing scent of her ubiquitous Chesterfields.

CITY OF DRAGONS is an explosive, important book—and the best part is an ending that will blow you away.”
Laura Benedict

“All I could think of as I watched Miranda Corbie, the red-headed babe and licensed private eye, fast-talk her way through this cool book was how much fun the author must have had immersing herself in the B-movie world she’s so lovingly recreated. Readers will have fun, too.”
Otto Penzler, ed., Best American Noir Stories of the Century


Creative inspirations can be both beautiful and ugly, terrifying and heart-lifting. Through forgotten history and surviving ephemera, from Billy Rose’s Aquacade and the Gayway’s Sally Rand to the vicious Anti-Semitic groups and personalities that supported fascism here and abroad, CITY OF SECRETS explores the brutality, injustice and depravity of much of twentieth century history and society. Here are some facts to fill you in.


Eugenics was a field of codified racism and pseudo-science that, in part, led to the Holocaust. Eugenicists sought to build a “better breed” of human being … and to eliminate those that the white, male, western European protestant power brokers considered “unfit.” Impoverished people and immigrants who were unable to pass tests that were geared to the educated, English-speaking American could be legally sterilized against their will. The United States, to her great shame, was a strong supporter of eugenics in the 1920s and 1930s … in fact, American eugenicists, particulary those based in California, domestic policy and court rulings directly inspired Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the “tests” targeted people of color, the poor, and recent emigres, though even the heiress Ann Cooper Hewitt was sterilized against her will in 1936 (while she was unconscious before another operation) on the orders of her mother. Eugenics was supported by a large number of people in America, including Charles Lindbergh, the erstwhile aviation hero (who also accepted a medal from Adolf Hitler). 

It is but one infinitesimally small step from deciding who is “sound” and should be “allowed” to procreate to deciding, once and for all, who should be allowed to live. Eugenics was the evil that helped open the door to the Holocaust.


Eugenics was nothing more than a so-called “scientific” justification for the ongoing racism, sexism, criminalization of the poor, and Anti-Semitism that flourished in the period of great immigration to the United States in the late 19th through early 20th century. The immigrants under attack during the 1920s (which also saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan) were mostly the Chinese, Japanese, eastern Europeans, Italians, Greeks, and the Irish that had begun to arrive in large numbers in the 1880s.  Immigration laws grew increasingly strict, and just as in Germany, poisoned minds looking for scapegoats during the economic pain and crisis of the Great Depression formed hate groups and what we would label “right wing militias” which targeted and fomented violence against Jews and any non-“WASP” Americans.

In CITY OF SECRETS, Miranda encounters The Musketeers, an actual San Francisco-based hate group. Unfortunately, there were many more—from the KKK to the Silver Shirts, extremists lined up in support of fascism, with the German-American Bund holding pride of place as the demi-official arm of the domestic Nazi Party.

The spokesman for one of these groups was Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest from Michigan. An extraordinarily popular radio personality and right-wing populist, Coughlin is infamous today for his Anti-Semitic tirades, advocacy of fascism and embrace of the “Christian Front”—a hate group that plotted a violent government overthrow. At his peak, he averaged 3.5 million listeners a week. In his power and influence, he was the precursor to contemporary right-wing media figures like Rush Limbaugh.

History repeats itself. Each generation must tackle the demons of fascism, racism, sexism, Anti-Semitism and every other kind of bigotry. They must think critically and always be aware and informed. Because, as Sinclair Lewis noted, IT CAN HAPPEN HERE.

City of Secrets