City of Dragons

City of Dragons

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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 thirty-three-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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400146642
Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date: 04/05/2010
Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Kelli Stanley is the author of the critically acclaimed Nox Dormienda, which won the Bruce Alexander Award for best historical mystery and was nominated for a Macavity Award.

Actress Cynthia Holloway, a native of Seattle, Washington, has performed on stage, film, and television. She has lent her voice to television programs, radio and television commercials, video games, and audiobooks. Cynthia's most recognizable work is as the voice of Anita Blake in Laurell K. Hamilton's bestselling Vampire Hunter series.

Read an Excerpt

City of Dragons

By Kelli Stanley

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Kelli Stanley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6838-6


Miranda didn't hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk. The firecrackers were too loud, punctuating the blaring Sousa band up Stockton. Red string snapped and danced from a corner of a chop suey house on Grant, puffs of gray smoke drifting over the crowd. No cry for help, no whimper.

Chinese New Year and the Rice Bowl Party, one big carnival, the City that Knows How to Have a Good Time choking Grant and Sacramento. Bush Street blocked, along with her way home to the apartment. Everybody not in an iron lung was drifting to Chinatown, some for the charity, most for the sideshow.

Help the Chinese fight Japan — put a dollar in the Rice Bowl, feed starving, war-torn China. Buy me a drink, sister, it's Chinese New Year. Don't remember who they're fighting, sister, they all look alike to me.

Somewhere above her a window opened, and a scratchy recording of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" fought its way out. Miranda knelt down next to the boy.

"You OK, kid?"

She guessed eighteen or nineteen, from the cheap but flashy clothes and the way his body had fallen, trying to protect itself. No response. She dropped her cigarette, and with effort turned him over, the feet around her finally making some room.

She bent closer. Couldn't hear a goddamn thing except Billie Holiday.

"Kid — kid, can you hear me?"

Nose was broken. So was his jaw. Missing teeth, both eyes black. What looked like burn marks on his cheek.

She loosened and unknotted the flimsy green tie around his neck. Eyelids fluttering, color gone, face empty of everything except memory. Unbuttoned the shiny brown jacket, saw the hole in his chest.

Miranda shouted over the music: "We need a doctor! Anybody a doctor? Anybody?"

The feet around her moved back a little, ripple of noise running through the crowd, music bright, singing about love. Always about love.

Couldn't risk looking up. His eyes were open now, brown clutching hers.

Love and happiness. Fucking happiness.

She took a deep breath and yelled, voice straining.

"Doctor! Get a goddamn doctor!"

The cement was still damp with slop from the restaurants and tenements, and his fingers clawed it, looking for an answer.

The crowd shivered again, surged forward. His eyes asked the question and hers lied back.

"Who did this? Can you understand me? Who —"

He turned his head toward the direction he'd been thrown from. Last effort.

Then the bubble. Then the gurgle. Then the cop.

"Move, you bastards. Move!"

His boots stood next to her, staring dumbly at the boy.

"He drunk?"

The voice faded, happiness run out. The record made a clacking sound, and the needle hit the label over and over. Clack. Clack clack.

She stood up, tired.

"He's dead."

The record started up again.

I can't give you anything but love, baby ...

The cop at the Hall of Justice was the hard type, but that was the new style for 1940. One too many George Raft and Jimmy Cagney movies, and they all wore their hair short and their mouths even shorter. No wink and a smile with this one. Burn at the stake, every time.

Miranda inhaled deeply on the Chesterfield and crossed her legs. It distracted him for a few seconds. She watched and counted the clock ticks as he picked up her lighter, her compact, her Chadwick's Street Guide, her hat, her comb, her lipstick, her keys, her address book, her cigarette case, her notepad, her pocketbook, and a few gum wrappers and matchbooks, and looked at them as though they might be hiding a .38.

"So you say you don't know this — Eddie Takahashi?"

"I said so."

He sat back in the chair. "Just because you got a license that makes it all legal ... you're still nothing more than the girls down on Turk. I looked you up."

Her dress hitched a little higher when she leaned over his desk to rub out the cigarette in the scarred wood. His eyes fell.

"Congratulations. You can read."

Sour smile, spit at the corners. Pulled his eyes back up while he rocked on his feet, the chair squeaking in rhythm.

"I can read all right. It's some record. Spain with the Reds. Came back and worked for Dianne Laroche as an escort. Then hooked up with Charlie Burnett on divorce cases ..." He paused, savoring it, looking her up and down. "He was never one for fresh bait. Then Burnett gets bumped off, they claim you figure out who, and you get a license and take over his business and land some cushy World's Fair job on Treasure Island, guarding Sally Rand. Takes a whore to know a whore, I guess. So ... who was the dead Jap — a client?"

Miranda dropped her eyes from the clock on the wall to the shiny, stubbled face of Star number 598. She stared at him until he flinched, his chair shrieking one last time.

"Get on with your job or I call my attorney."

His hands clenched around the fountain pen, red and pulpy. "Your attorney. He your new pimp?"

The section gate swung open, banging against the partition. Phil stood, twirling his hat, looking at Miranda. Star number 598 flushed purple, jumped up from the desk.

"If you want to take over, Lieutenant ..." The words trailed off in a mumble while he slid out into the hall.

Phil took off his hat, lines on his face deeper than she remembered. More gray on his chin. More paunch in his belly. Goddamn it. She wasn't up to Phil, not today. Better to deal with the Puritan.

"You do something to Collins?"

She reached across the desk and took another Chesterfield out of the gold case, not speaking until she snapped it shut and returned it to its pile.

"Objects to me on principle."

Phil's eyes followed her hand when she picked up the YELLOW CAB matchbook. After two attempts, she struck one on the desk and lit the stick, hand shaking slightly. Leaned back in the hard wooden chair and met his eyes.

"Been awhile, Miranda. You look good. It's been — how long? Since the Incubator Babies racket last year? They must be treating you right, all your Fair friends."

She shrugged. "Pays the bills. And I'm keeping busy in the off-season."

"Still with divorce cases, I hear. Well, good for you. Kept Burnett in clover." He cleared this throat, looked down at his large hands, unexpectedly helpless, folded on the desk.

"So one more year ... guess one bankrupt World's Fair's not enough. Maybe '40'll be more magic than '39, who knows. You going back to work in May?"

She took a deep drag on the Chesterfield and blew a smoke ring. Gave him half a smile.

"Same troubles, same fair — shorter season. Bigger Gayway this year, though, more girl shows, more work for me. So yeah, I'm hitching my tent to Treasure Island again."

He cleared his throat again, studied the floor at her feet. Pressed his hands tight on the desk, fingers splayed.

"I'll be retiring soon. Chief Quinn's going home in a few days ... the mayor's appointing Dullea. You probably heard about it. There'll be changes — always are. I'm not always going to be around to watch out for you. I'd like to see you get settled."

Miranda stared at the lipstick stain on her cigarette. A woman two rows over was sobbing into a handkerchief.

"If by 'settled' you mean married and not working, sorry, Phil. I appreciate the doting uncle routine, but I can take care of myself."

Color spread across his face, eyes dropping to her purse contents. Same story, new year. Same Phil. She readjusted herself in the hard wooden chair.

"Let's get on with it."

Hurt eyes, sad eyes, baggy, bloodshot, old. He took a piece of paper from the drawer, dipped the fountain pen.


"Don't you have all that down? I've been sitting with Officer League of Decency for half an —"

"I'm the lieutenant. You're the witness. Let's keep it formal."

She blew another smoke ring over her shoulder, watched it sail over the head of a uniform a few desks down.

"Miranda Corbie."


"Auburn. Or red. Depends on the henna."

"Answer the questions. Eyes?"


He looked up. "I thought they were ... yes. Hazel."

She tapped some ash on the cheap metal ashtray. "They're brown to me."


"Five feet six inches. Without heels."


"130, stripped."


"Same as last year, except a year older. Thirty-three."


"640 Mason Street, apartment number 405. No phone."

He fished around the pile on the desk and pulled out a battered card. "Monadnock Building? With the Pinkertons?"

"Closet on the same floor. They sometimes throw me the small fry in return for Sally Rand tickets."

"Good for you. For getting your own office, and moving out of Burnett's."

She shrugged again. "It was never much. Neither was Burnett."

He busied himself with writing. "Phone at the office is EXbrook —"

"— 3333. Easy for clients to remember. I was lucky."

The eyes came back to her. Like kids at a candy shop.

"They got your numbers memorized, Miri — at least their husbands do."

She stubbed out the cigarette in the same spot on the desk and dropped it in the tray.

"Like I said, I'm lucky. C'mon, Phil, let me go home. It'll be hell getting through — they're expecting a hundred thousand tonight."

He leaned back, scratched his neck. "So what happened?"

"I was on my way home from here. Had to ID a phony check pusher, who also happens to be a bigamist."

He frowned. "You see Riordan?"

"Unfortunately. Tried to lick my face like a dog. I took a shortcut through Chinatown, forgetting about Rice Bowl, and got stuck on Sacramento between Grant and Waverly. About five o'clock, an hour before the street carnival, but still goddamn hard for anybody trying to get anywhere else. I saw this kid facedown on the street. Thought he was drunk, flipped him over, saw the exit wound, yelled for a doctor, and The Law shoved his way through with a nightstick. That's it."

"Eddie Takahashi. Sure you don't know him?"

She shook her head. "Never seen him before. Got a record?"

His voice hesitated. "Small-time. Used to be a numbers runner for Filipino Charlie, here and down in South City. Family lived on the edge of Chinatown — until '37."

Miranda reached for her cigarette case again, opened it, grimaced, and shut it.

"You got a stick on you?"

He searched inside his coat pocket and pulled out a crumpled Old Gold package and a tarnished lighter. He lit one, his hand shaking when he took it out of his mouth and handed it to her. She inhaled, leaning back in the chair.

"Nanking changed a lot of things in this city, Phil. Suddenly every Japanese bayoneted babies."

He passed a hand through his short gray hair, sweat starting to bead along his scalp. Kept his voice low.

"That's the problem. That's why I want you to go home, and forget about this kid. Chalk him up to Nanking."

Miranda stared at the clock above his head, minute hand sweeping the time away. No use trying to make it cleaner. Not in the Hall of Justice. Not with Phil.

"You mean because he got killed during the Rice Bowl Party we fucking forget about it? Just blame it on what made Nanking in the first place?"

He found a yellowed handkerchief in his pocket and wiped his forehead.

"Watch your mouth. You talk like a sailor, not a professor's daughter."

"Keep my father the hell out of it."

Voices swirled around the room, staccato, sharp. Miranda was breathing hard, the cigarette burning between her fingers forgotten.

"You're not even going to investigate this, are you? A few feeble courtesy calls on Filipino Charlie, who'll have an alibi, and then you'll forget about it, stick it in a drawer, because a Japanese kid had the bad luck to get plugged in Chinatown on a day when the Chinese are raising money to fight the Rising Sun. Happy, happy fucking New Year, Phil. Gon Hay Fat Choy to you, too."

His eyes glittered, and he stood up, shoving the chair into the desk with a hard clatter.

"Save yourself for Sally and the mashers, honey, and spare me the soap-box. The Fair will reopen in a few months, and you'll get by. You always do. There are always men willing to make a pitch at you and fat wives willing to pay you to do it. Or do they pay you?"

The minute hand ticked. Somebody coughed. The clatter of typewriters started up again, the sound of bored questions and shrill answers pounding out to an eight-bar beat.

Miranda calmly rubbed out the half-finished cigarette in the wood of the desk. Phil sank back into his chair, the map of broken veins in his cheeks and nose shining purple against the white.

She started to gather her things. Unhurriedly, carefully, last time. He watched her, lit a cigarette. She was putting on her hat when he said something, voice hoarse.

"Don't do it. I'm not warning you, I'm telling you. We've got a new chief coming in, and nobody needs the trouble right now."

She made her voice sweet and mellifluous, just like Dianne had taught her.

"I'm no trouble, sugar."

She adjusted the hat, walked around to his side of the desk, slowly, as if she were at the Club Moderne and on a job. Stood in front of him, bent forward, made sure he couldn't help looking. Then she put a hand on his upper thigh, and rubbed it a little. His mouth hung open, desperation and horror etched on his face.

"You're a good Catholic boy, Phil. Even if you're sixty. Do us both a favor and go to confession. You don't want to be my uncle, and we both know it."

She left him with his face in his hands, her breath ragged and trembling by the time she got to Kearny Street.

That night she dreamed of Spain and Johnny.

The fields were golden with yellowing grain and dotted with the wings of birds, black against the cloudless sky, and they walked on dirty red roads, past one-room houses of ancient stone, and smelled the grapes in the cellar and the olives in the press. There was that moment, that one flash of truth, when she turned to him and looked in his eyes and his soul answered and everything went away and she was blind, and knew only joy, and the feeling of being whole, complete, oneself and yet more than oneself.

Then the breeze from the coast brought the smell of petrol and sulfur. And the horizon was red, it was evening, and a drone, not a bee or a locust, grew louder. She tried to hold him, to hold him tight, and he fought her, overpowering her, bruising and hurting her until she had to let go, and she screamed, and she screamed, and she screamed.

Miranda woke up, shaking, sweating. It was three in the morning.

She flung off the cover, and swung her legs around the small bed, grabbing an almost-empty package of Chesterfields off the nightstand on her way to the window. She pushed it open, inhaling the fog that pulsed downhill on its way to Market Street and south of that to the piers, the street lamps dim with cloud-wrapped cataracts, the traffic noises muffled as if by a damp wool blanket.

1937. At three in the morning it was always 1937.

She watched a couple in evening clothes stroll down Mason toward Union Square and the big hotels. She watched the man put his arm around the woman, watched as she leaned into him, their footsteps beating a sharp tattoo in the wet pavement. She lit a cigarette, and watched them until they were out of sight.

She smoked, and thought about Eddie Takahashi, and shivered a little. She'd be alone, but Miranda was used to that.


Spain taught her what war could do, to living and dead and the ones in between. But Nanking ... the old world wasn't over, Middle Ages not done. Torture not out of style, not just yet.

The reporters reported, of course; that's what they did, whether anyone was listening. Then the Japanese bombed the Panay, American gunboat, American refugees, and suddenly Joe and Jane Doe woke up. Not just Orientals killing Orientals anymore. The story of Nanking seeped out of China, red and running, Yangtze no longer golden.

Chinatown sobbed from every pasteboard window, every CHOP SUEY neon sign. Three hundred thousand gone, Nanking a graveyard. Cry for Mother China. Then sobs turned to speeches, weeping to war relief. Boycotts, in place since Manchuria, intensified. No Japanese trade, no shops, no merchandise. Feed China, they pleaded, help us feed the starving victims of Nippon.

Rice Bowl Parties raised money from people with money and others without, those who recognized suffering: liberals, Communists, Socialists, unions, Jews. Whoever understood this wasn't just a "European war," whatever the hell Lindbergh said.

Miranda always knew better, knew what was coming. Three o'clock in the morning around the whole goddamn world.

* * *

She watched the sunrise, eating hot cakes and bacon at an all-night diner near the St. Francis Hotel. Checked in at the office, found an envelope waiting from the bigamist's wife, a thin, spare woman of old family and older morals, who didn't believe in detectives, private or otherwise, but managed to hold her nose long enough to pay with brand new bills. Miranda rifled through and counted it twice. Seed money for Chinatown and Eddie Takahashi.

Fifteen minute walk to the southeast end of Grant, Japanese end of a Chinese city. Most of the shops and sake houses gone, dried up in the red wind of 1937, or chased out with the boycott six years before. Some still clung to the Yamamoto Hotel, largest business left. Some found room in Little Osaka, down in the Western Addition. The Takahashis lived in Chinatown, once upon a time, and they would've lived here.


Excerpted from City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley. Copyright © 2010 Kelli Stanley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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City of Dragons 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1940 San Francisco, the Chinese are very much aware of what the Japanese are doing to their homeland. In a relief effort, leaders are putting on a Rice Bowl party to send aid to the beleaguered Chinese back home. Thirty-three year old private investigator Miranda Corbie is in Chinatown enjoying the gala when she sees a man lying in the street; she goes to help him, but is too late as he was shot to death. She learns the name of the victim is Eddie Takahashi and she intends to identify his killer. Although Miranda works hard on the case on spite of the police wanting it closed due to international implications, she makes little progress. Meanwhile the private investigator takes on another case; that of Helen Winters who wants to know whether her recently deceased husband allegedly died from a heart attack as the cops insist or murder as she believes. Corbie soon finds the last thing she expected, a link between her two inquiries through drug trafficking, but though obstinate and intrepid, she knows she will uncover the identity of the killer, but could do so as the third victim. This is a dark gritty historical female Noir starring a woman who is trying to make a life for herself following the death of her beloved in the Spanish Civil War (described in flashbacks by Corbie who was there too). Whereas the two crimes mirror what is happening in China with the Japanese invasion, readers will thoroughly enjoy this fabulous historical mystery especially those who appreciate a strong sense of the era even if at times Corbie's Noir voice feels too Chandlerish. Harriet Klausner
kylenapoli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Occasionally goes a shade too far into noir patois, but the momentum of the story is unmistakable.
Soniamarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great idea with an amazing, ball busting heroine. Miranda is a private detective in 1940s San Francisco who takes no crap from anybody, even waves a gun in her father's face. Problem is she is also a former escort and I got the impression it is an occupation she still practices from time to time so Miranda does not have the respect of the local police force. They give her grief at every turn as do the local Chinese and Italian gangsters. If the police are not arresting her, the Italians are trying to run her over with their green oldsmobile.Miranda has three cases going at once that all tie in together somehow. Seems a Chinese lady in a red dress is popping up all over the place. Case one is a dead Japanese man with a cocaine connection. Case two is a missing girl with a cocaine addiction. Case three is a dead friend and former co worker of Miranda's. So Miranda is running all over San Fran doling out one dollar bills in exchange for information to get to the bottom of it all.I have two major complaints about this novel. Despite the fact it really did feel like authentic 1940s and I realize people smoked constantly back then, on paper it gets VERY ANNOYING. Miranda was lighing, handling, or putting out a cigerette on every page. Also, tho I liked Miranda, I never could understand her. I loved how she broke a fellow's nose after he kissed her (my kind of gal!) but why is Miranda so bitter and angry at the world? She is rude to her friends and anyone that tries to help her. There are references to a Johnny in Spain now dead and the death of Bernett, a former boss and something about incubator babies but the full story and the full reason for Miranda's personal problems is never revealed. Dianne says to Miranda on page 190, "You're deader than Betty. Who killed you, Miranda? Who the hell killed you?" I am wondering the same thing myself and I didn't really like this enough to read five more books just like it to found out the answers. It's ok, but nothing to get excited about.
pharrm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Feb.1940, in San Francisco¿s Chinatown a PI discovers a dead body. She's a former escort turned PI. Miranda Corbie. She's independent-minded on finding out who did the deed. She is also hired by a woman who's daughter is missing and husband has just been killed.Stanley atttempts to write like Hammett but has a slower a pace.
Marlyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Miranda Corbie is a private investigator in San Francisco, 1940. It's Chinese New Year, and in celebration, the city is having a three-night-long "Rice Bowl Party" to raise money for war relief in China. In the midst of the festivities, Miranda watches as a young Japanese numbers runner named Eddie Takahashi is killed in front of her. Certain that it's a murder rather than accidental, she informs the police, who don't believe her. She decides to find Eddie's killer on her own, since she is qualified after all! The next day, she's offered a real, paying case: find a missing young woman for her stepmother. These two cases intersect, and Miranda soon finds herself being followed by sinister men and dark automobiles, one of which runs her down. Stubbornly, and despite being thwarted by the police, the Italian AND Japanese syndicates, and many of those she thought were her friends, she persists in the quest that leads her through much of San Francisco and its Chinatown.Stanley's novel is a love letter to San Francisco, with rich and well-researched historical descriptions. The book is also an ode to classic noir mysteries, and is a pleasure to read. I was almost happy that it was a busy week and I was forced to read in short bursts, so that the book took longer than usual to finish. Miranda will be back in another San Francisco mystery, which I await eagerly.
margitc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful depiction of San Francisco on brink of WWII, amulti-ethnic whirlwind of sex and crime. Miranda Corbie is a loner private eye, battling both crime and officials who attempt to simultaneously protect and demean her in this story of prostitution and drugs, smuggling and murder. An interesting tale, though the ultimate triumph of love and justice seems a bit of a post script.
HaidaZ More than 1 year ago
Stanley is trying for a female Noir detective, but she doesn't quite hit the mark. There are too many coincidences, not enough real detective work, and a LOT of corrupt cops and gangsters. And in an effort to emphasize the 40's, there is a lot of booze and cigarettes. If you want real Noir, read The Maltese Falcon. If you want romance noir, this is the place. The mystery was good but expectable, and the 40's details were overly obvious. Maybe the next one will get better. I am willing to give another one a try, but only by borrowing it from the library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KenCady More than 1 year ago
The cover is delightful to look at, but once you turn the page you enter into a world where the author does not speak in her natural voice. She is trying, instead, to create a hard-boiled Dashiel Hammett type of story that just doesn't work. It's too bad because her concept of a female detective in early San Francisco could have been a good one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The premise sounded good but the writing is bad film noir. The main character, Miranda Corbie, survived the war in Spain fighting the Facists, became an escort and is now a PI but when she gets hurt, instead of picking herself up and carrying on she calls a male friend to fix her up and stay with her. There is nothing likeable about this character and I certainly have no desire to read any future books about her.