Friday, February 11, 2011

City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley

Kelli Stanley introduces a hard-boiled, fast talking woman detective. This is the first book in her new series—a black noir novel. Miranda Corbie, the thirty-three year old PI knows her way around pre-war 1940 San Francisco. She knows the seedy parts from first hand experience.

The story opens when Miranda witnesses the last moments of a dying teenager—a young man dying in Chinatown. Because he’s Japanese and there’s blatant racism in the police department, the police are not interested in investigating and they want Miranda to back away.

Miranda is not going to be put of by the police even when their attacks on her are of a personal nature. Her investigation proceeds. Shortly after her initial contact with the police a woman whose husband was found dead in a hotel contacts her. The police are calling the case death by heart attack. His wife thinks he was murdered. Her stepdaughter is also missing. Miranda’s job—find out what happened and find the daughter.

Not only does the reader get a look at San Francisco’s Chinatown at the time of the New Year’s celebration, but Stanley also writes about the relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. She writes of the blatant racism of the era, the drug trade, police brutality, trafficking in the exploitation of foreign women, and the gangs.

Miranda—drinks too much , smokes too much, is no slouch when it comes to colorful language and has a difficult time with intimacy. Early on we find out that she was in love with a man named Johnny who lost his life during wartime. That experience colors her life.

Stanley does introduce a policeman, Gonzales, who may appear as a romantic interest in later books.

I rarely read mysteries that are called hard-boiled so I found myself a bit dissatisfied with all the machinations of the noir novel. Miranda ties all the pieces together, acts as the person who allows the two people in love—one Chinese and the other Japanese—to marry, move away and I assume live happily ever after.

In a “harrowing scene” perfect for an action movie, bullets fly, dead and wounded are splayed out all over the room and Miranda must fire her Baby Browning, which had been secreted in a trick cigarette case. Even with that gun she is able to kill one of the gang members. I never doubted that she’d emerge victorious.. Yes, she did need to replenish her body with sleep and rest.

One other point—she’s the well-educated daughter of an alcoholic professor of Classics who shows up inebriated and when in need of money. Even in that state he’s able to quote poetry.

After having said all that I did find Miranda rather interesting. Perhaps she’ll go on the wagon, cut down on the smokes, refine her language—but then she wouldn’t be Miranda.

Mystery Challenge

No comments:

Post a Comment