City of Secrets

Written by Kelli Stanley
Review by Viviane Crystal

Chain-smoking, hard-drinking, fast-talking San Francisco detective Miranda Corbie is back in Kelli Stanley’s second entry of what looks to be a long-lived series. The seamy underside of Chinatown that was introduced in City of Dragons is still there, but this time Miranda’s investigating a murder at the 1940 World’s Fair, and much of the action takes place on Treasure Island. Showgirl Pandora Blake is found draped over a piano, stabbed with an ice pick, with an anti-Semitic slur written in her own blood across her chest. Although the stagehands call in Miranda, the police quickly dismiss her from the case; as an escort-turned-private eye, she’s distrusted by many on the force.

However, a second murder and the framing of a suspect – a former policeman who beat her up in City of Dragons – has Miranda working the edges of the case, questioning evidence, and searching for connections between the two women. She quickly finds herself in a web fraught with politics, payola, and personal danger, backed only by erstwhile reporter Rick Sanders, and inspector David Fisher, one of the few Jews on the San Francisco police force.

Once again, Stanley succeeds in integrating international intrigue into Bay Area haunts, including the still-functioning Napa State Hospital. Descriptions of the pre-war jitters that led to reactionary “patriotic” isolationism also have resonance for today’s readers. Miranda may seem a bit super-human in her ability to battle so many issues, fueled mostly by cigarettes, bourbon, and her own inner demons, but her spirit is admirable and the outcome more than satisfactory.