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City of Dragons (Miranda Corbie Mystery #1)

3.29  ·  Rating details ·  492 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
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 co ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published February 2nd 2010 by Thomas Dunne/Minotaur (first published January 29th 2010)
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Rating details
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May 02, 2018 rated it liked it
A tough book to review. Many of the other reviewers have expressed my feelings about this book. Kelli Stanley did her homework on 1940 San Francisco. By the time I finished the book (which I finally did after putting it down several times) I honestly felt like I knew what it would have been like to live in that time and place. She also gets a lot of the elements of a hard-boiled detective story right as well. The problem is an unsympathetic heroine. Maybe it's too much to expect but I don't reme ...more
Lance Charnes
Dec 29, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers looking for Sam Spade, but more bitter and in a skirt
City of Dragons reminds me of the Italian cars of my youth -- beautiful to look at, but mechanically challenged to the point where you grit your teeth every time you turn the key.

The central character of this neo-hard-boiled tale -- it's hard to think of her as a heroine -- is Miranda Corbie, an über-hard-bitten female P.I. in what was then still the straight-white-male playground of 1940 San Francisco. She becomes involved almost by accident in an investigation no one wants her to pursue (natch
Sean O'Hara
May 01, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: hard-boiled, mystery
Kelli Stanley tries very hard to make City of Dragons a hardboiled mystery in the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The problem is, the story is based around a colossal cop-out.

It's set in San Francisco of 1940, an era of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all the other nastiness that used to be an accepted part of our culture.

Now, there are several ways for an author to deal with such a period. One is the honest approach of James Ellroy -- acknowledge that your characters are al
Sep 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
Couldn't wait to finish this book so that I could move on to something else.
Jan 13, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mystery
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010-reads
PROTAGONIST: Miranda Corbie, PI
SETTING: 1940 San Francisco
RATING: 2.75

When I picked up this book, I thought the concept was an interesting one, featuring a hard-as-nails female who’s been through a lot of tough times and who is now in the PI game. Set in 1940, you could almost see Miranda Corbie tossing back a shot with some of the other fictional PIs of the era.

But Stanley took Miranda too far on the “hard” side, which resulted in a lead character who was very unlikable. Only thirt
Cathy Cole
Nov 02, 2011 rated it liked it
This historical mystery/classic noir P.I. tale is a prime example of one of the hardest books for me to review: a book whose technical brilliance is obvious, but it contains things that I just don't like. The only thing I can do is talk about the good stuff, itemize what I didn't care for, and let you make the ultimate decision on whether or not you want to read the book-- which is something you do anyway.

Under author Kelli Stanley's pen, the San Francisco of the 1940s -- in particular the China
Feb 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
There were a number of things I really liked a lot about the book. The author's attention to historical detail in particular was phenomenal; it's one of the best-researched novels I think I've ever read. She also does a great job with time & place. The plot is nicely complex but logical. I loved the main character. I could easily envision a young Lauren Bacall in the role, and the whole thing read like the script of a 1940s film noir.

On the negative side is first that it took me a long time
Feb 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Kelli Stanley has recreated the streets of San Francisco in the 40s and created a great new character. Enjoyed the book very much.
Sep 11, 2015 rated it liked it
It's 1940, and San Francisco PI Miranda Corbie -- ex-Spanish Civil War fighter (on the side of the goodies), ex-"escort," ex-much else -- is attending a festival in Chinatown when a murdered young Japanese man falls dead at her feet on the sidewalk.Although the cops aren't really interested -- who cares about the death of some petty criminal, especially if he's a slant-eyes, find a scapegoat and fuggeddaboutit -- Miranda wants justice. Soon after, the wealthy Mrs. Helen Winters calls her in to i ...more
Tara Chevrestt
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 tryi ...more
May 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, historical
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 quali
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio-books
I only made it about 1/3 of the way through this book. It's not that it's terrible - I've muddled through worse. But there were enough things I found grating that I just stopped enjoying this.

For one thing, the protagonist, Miranda, is not a very sympathetic character. She has a nice healthy dose of righteous indignation and the prerequisite stubborn nature for a PI. But beyond that there isn't much to admire. What got me was how she's out-right mean to people who bend over backwards to help her
Feb 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The year is 1940 in San Francisco.

Private investigator Miranda Corbie is attending the Rice Bowl in Chinatown. It is an event that celebrates the Chinese New Year. While attending, Miranda stumbles upon a body. The victim is identified as Eddie Takahashi. He was no good. The cops don’t really have an interest in the case and close it. Miranda is the only one, who is out to seek the truth about Eddie’s murder. Miranda better watch her back as the police may not be interested but someone is and t
H Lynnea
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: temp-read
This book has a good concept for setting and protagonist. However, I don't think it's been pulled off well.

Miranda Corbie gets incredibly maudlin at anything that reminds her of "Johnny", and I spent a good third of the book wanting to tell her that she seriously needed better coping mechanisms. Also, at one point she's nearly in tears because she gets called a prostitute. Suck it up, girl, you're playing with the big boys now!

The other big issue I had was the gratuitous use of brand names and e
May 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of noir
Recommended to David by: Christopher
Christopher's review catches the highlights.

I was impressed by the atmosphere and history. My main complaints, and they might seem petty, were mostly related to voice. Clearly, the author wanted to evoke the hard-bitten noir detectives of yore, but at times, the staccato sentence-fragment style felt forced and self-conscious, almost a parody of the form, trying too hard. I wanted to like this book more than I did, but the voice just got in the way.

My other complaint was the resolution of the mai
Mar 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: noir
It's always great to get some SF noir in the reading pile, and this title only missed by a little. Miranda Corbie is a female PI in 1940 San Francisco, which in and of itself is a stretch for the imagination. She stumbles on a body in Chinatown during a local celebration which draws her into a complicated investigation involving local gangs of all ethnicities: Chinese, Japanese, and even some Italians for fun. The local color and setting is fantastic, but the author gives mannerisms in place of ...more
Karen Patterson
Feb 23, 2012 rated it liked it
This book had such potential. It was beautifully written with wonderful descriptions of San Francisco around the 1940 era. Since I work in San Francisco, I could really appreciate hearing about how it was back then and knowing that some of the restaurants and places are still here. However, I just couldn't get into or relate to the characters that much even the main heroine. I almost think the author made her too tough for the time period. I know she had to be tough with her background as a call ...more
Linda Schwartz
Jun 04, 2010 rated it did not like it
I really eagerly anticipated this book -- set in WWII San Francisco's Chinatown with a woman PI, right up my alley! Or not. If I could give the book zero stars I would. Once you delete all of the four-letter words, the references to the protagonist drinking, buying liquor, buying cigarettes, smoking cigarettes, etc., you'd have a 20-page story, at best. What a total waste of time; I certainly won't read the sequel, if she actually manages to get another book in this wretched series published.
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed the storyline, and the author does a great job of portraying 1940s San Francisco, including considerable detail. This is actually the 2nd "Miranda Corbie" mystery, and there are many references in the book to the previous mysteries solved (though the book is not based on them and the story doen't include any of the details). Many of the lines in book felt a little cheesy - like watching an 'old tyme' movie - mostly with lingo and some exaggerated stereotypes. All in all it was a quick, ...more
Jun 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
After 40 pages, countless Chesterfields being lit and the "f" word uttered at least 20 times, I came to the conclusion that I didn't care who the murderer was, I was so turned off by Miranda. The writer's use of incomplete sentences and mentioning historical events and places without explaining them, making me want to google it to figure out what she was talking about also irritated me. Suffice it to say, I didn't like this book.
Jan 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
I started out really liking this, but about halfway through, the hard-boiled style of the writing got way over-the-top, and ended up being kind of annoying. Also while I liked the main character (strong yet haunted former-escort-turned-private-detective) I was irritated by the many vague hints at earlier events in her life which were rarely fleshed out at all and so irritated rather than illuminated! Very atmospheric picture of San Francisco during WW2. Fairly enjoyable.
Feb 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Although I found the writing style somewhat terse, I fell into this book. The historical details enrich the story. I was somewhat confused with the conclusion of the mystery, though since there were lots of moving parts, characters, and motivations. It was a good book with beautifully drawn characters.
Apr 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mys-tepids
Be prepared to vicariously smoke an average three cigarettes per page. It seemed like a third of the words addressed smoking, wanting to smoke, buying smokes, needing smokes, crushing smokes, etc. ad nauseum.

Main character is a whiny bitch who throws in some token angst for the miseries of the rest of the world in 1940.
Oct 05, 2011 rated it did not like it
I'm in chapter 4 and trying to convince myself to keep reading. There has been no plot or character development. Nothing is explained, connected, no attempt is made at development. This is terrible & I'm not a picky reader!
Mar 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries
I really enjoyed the historical details about 1940 in San Francisco. The author made the story come alive and I felt that I was watching her as she tried to solve the mystery and rescue the innocent. I'm looking forward to future titles in what looks like a developing series.
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
not my favorite; she seemed to be trying too hard to do the hard-boiled detective genre, and ended up making it hard to follow the plot.
Cherie O'Boyle
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A brand new pre-WWII noir written with a masterful hand, and the women are actual people, not just "blonde broads." History is also meticulously researched. Highly recommended!
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

good reading... takes place in San Franisco Chinatown..1940's
Mar 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
so so.....but i got so sick of listening to the protagonist whine about her cigarettes.....
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An award-winning author of crime fiction, Kelli Stanley's first novel in the Miranda Corbie series, CITY OF DRAGONS, was met with overwhelming critical acclaim. It won the Macavity Award (Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award) and was a finalist for the prestigious Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Shamus Award. CITY OF SECRETS, her second novel in the series, won the Golden Nugget Award for best ...more

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