City of Secrets Hardcover – Sep 13 2011
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--RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!)
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Stanley's imagination, on the other hand, is anything but inferior. She conjures up a time far removed from our own and a place that was once real and is forever exotic. Her characters, from her tough-as-nails heroine to her villains and victims, are twisted archetypes, by turns readily identifiable as such and not so much, easily recognizable but never predictable. This is perhaps most true of Corbie, an escort turned private investigator, who would seem too tough to love without risk until she reveals, however momentarily and rarely, a haunting fragility that stays with the reader long after the tale is told.
So it is that Corbie, who is at times barely making ends meet in her new profession, finds herself compelled to once again take on a case pro bono that the powers-that-be want her as far away from as possible. Page one kicks off with a dead body, that of a model named Pandora Blake, who has been murdered and left with an anti-Semitic slur written in her own blood. Corbie is on the case immediately and is just as abruptly removed from it; she cannot let go of it, however, and when another woman of similar circumstances is found in...well, similar circumstances, Corbie investigates even more tenaciously.
Anti-Semitism was the rule rather than the exception at that time; Hitler and Stalin seemed to be in competition as to who could eradicate the Jewish people first. The United States was still on the sidelines of World War II, and many questioned the wisdom of intervening to stop the Holocaust; some resented and blamed the victims for the fact that the issue was even being raised.
So it is that Corbie follows a twisted trail that begins at a defaced Jewish synagogue, and twists and turns its way through the dark streets of the lower end of San Francisco, where tourists venture looking for thrills they won't find at home, then unexpectedly to a section of the Napa Valley that the out-of-towners don't even know exists. Along the way, Corbie discovers that, as wicked as the motivation behind the deaths of two young women may have been, a far worse act is planned, one that Corbie may not have enough power or time to stop. She is also subjected to an unexpected revelation that undoubtedly will have repercussions for future installments of the series.
As interesting and as original as the mystery that forms the heart of CITY OF SECRETS is, it is the backdrop of the story --- San Francisco in the year 1940 --- and the characters that form the raison d'être to read and savor the novel from beginning to end. There is no detail to escape Stanley's notice, and the descriptive power of her prose is such that you will find yourself --- as I did --- with a well-marked and underlined book by story's end. If Stanley can find the time and pursue the inclination, I would love to have her write a travel guide of San Francisco from the perspective of the year 1940. Until that might happen, though, CITY OF SECRETS is a more than suitable magic carpet to take you there.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
Previously I've reviewed Kelli's Roman series, which I love (Nox Dormienda and The Cursemaker), but City of Dragons and now City of Secrets are just as compelling. Kelli is a rising star in the world of mystery authors: Nox won the Bruce Alexander Award, City of Dragons was an LA Times Book Prize Finalist and, most impressively, the Macavity Award Winner for the Best Historical Mystery of 2010. Her tough, noir style, brings us multi-layered characters, fast-paced unpredictable action and a setting that makes you feel like surely your armchair has been transported to San Francisco at that intriguingly rough period at the very end of the 30's.
If somehow you haven't made Miranda's acquaintance yet, you have a double delight ahead. For those of you who read City of Dragons, your next fix is available.
Excellent sense of the time period; Some nice historic detail; Original plot
HIGH F-word count; Writer uses loads of sentence fragments; Too much time spent on smoking; 2nd in Series, don't read out of order
Hard-boiled, foul (FOUL)-mouthed, and foul tempered, Miranda Corbie is a former prostitute turned private investigator. She's also a serious chain-smoker who can't make up her mind if she's really trying to quit or not (and a war vet, and the child of an alcoholic abusive father and an absentee mother, and struggling with love lost - all just a little much for me).
This book was a struggle for me honestly. The plot is original, and the writer does a good job with historic detail. But, even though this is hard-boiled noir fiction, I'm pretty sure the F-word usage is high for the time period, and it's used in a modern way, as having all kinds of uses and meanings. Also, I cannot count the number of times sentences were wasted describing lighting up or putting out a "stick". Honestly, every time Miranda lights a cigarette, we get two sentences about it; every time we have to know where she pulled the cigarette from, what she lit it with, what brand the lighter was or what name was on the matchbook, if she lit it herself, or if a man held the light for her, if he struck the match with his thumb, or if she held his hands steady as she lit up. Putting out a cigarette required a little less detail, but not much... And unfortunately, Miranda would light up a cigarette, then literally five sentences or less later, put it out - honestly I don't know how anyone smokes that fast! Then five sentences later her hands were trembling cause she needed another cigarette - so she'd light up again. At the points where she decided maybe she was trying to quit smoking, we get a lot of detail about popping lifesavers instead - where she bought them, how many rolls were in her purse, what flavor they were, and how many she popped in her mouth, and how they just made her want a cigarette more.
I cannot even begin to think how many pages shorter this book would have been if you took out all the references to lighting up and putting out cigarettes - no exaggeration.
I had trouble with the constant use of sentence fragments. At places it made sense. It set the scene in flashes, especially the murder scenes, giving it almost a graphic novel kind of feel. But even as a writing style, it isn't consistent. The sentence fragment stuff is much more prevalent in the first half than the second half. The ones that got me most were things like: "Trembling all over. Rubbed his face into his blue work shirt, mouth contorted, tears on weathered skin.", and "Duggan, sad-faced siamang, long hairy arms helpless, large hands, covered in scars, weak, white, empty. Flare of energy when he met her eyes. Recognition."
The middle of the story felt kind of empty, but I really got into the last 100 pages or so. The plot picked up, the profanity dropped off significantly, and the sentence fragment writing style slacked off. If the smoking descriptions and F-words were cropped down significantly, and the middle of the story made a little more concise, I would have really liked this book. It would have been better as a shorter, more concise story - maybe 200 pages as opposed to 290.
Two girls are dead, stabbed and left with the word `kike' drawn on their naked body with their own blood. Europe is at war and some factions in the States are dealing with their own anti-Semitic problems. Aryans in America. In this second of a series, following "City of Dragons," Stanley's noir masterpiece takes us into a dark realm of the American historical novel.
With a short, staccato beat, resounding like bullets launched from gangster's machine gun we are led into the world of Miranda Corbie, ex-escort, detective to the stars in the underbelly of the Gayway at The Golden Gate International Exposition of 1940. Corbie breathes in every tune from every juke joint in town, scouring the city with help from a local rag reporter and her Jewish attorney, as they battle to locate evidence to reverse a charge that has led the police to send one of their own to Riker's on a trumped up charge.
Running from an Italian mob boss looking to cut short her charmed life, and one-step ahead of a malevolent police force, Corbie unearths the Nazi's in the backwoods town of Calistoga, just north of town. Lead by an evil dentist, a group of professionals is doing their part to sterilize young Jewish women, by using the guise of abortion clinics.
This book is a blast-from-the-past as Stanley liberally intersperses name brands, musicians, and gangsters from long ago that brings to mind the Humphrey Bogart or Ava Gardner era we have witnessed in the movies. Recently nominated for a Golden Nugget, a special award to be given to the best mystery set in California, I hope this goes on to even more recognition for this very special author.