16 May 2010

Adventures of a Female PI in 1940 SanFran: Review of City of Dragons

City of Dragons City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a sucker for pulp sometimes.

Miranda Corbie, PI in 1940 San Francisco, a detective in the mold of Sam Spade, but trading on her face, her legs, and her knowledge of the club and escort scene to handle divorce cases. She's a former escort, former Spanish Civil War nurse, and owes a lot to connections to burlesque dancer Sally Rand.

Most importantly in my mind, she's nobody's damsel in distress. Miranda is a self-destructive, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, emotionally isolated heroine. But she is very adamant that these are her choices, and any of the (several) romantic interests in the book will have to accept that. She will not be rescued, from her own choices, or the mechanations of mob bosses, smugglers, murderers or thieves. I couldn't help but to compare this PI to Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, who bounces between paramours to rescue her.

There's also a point to be made in how a female PI sees people and information where police homicide detectives see only window-dressing and cardboard cut-outs. I'm still not sure where the title came from and I wish the publisher had found a 1940 picture of Chinatown for the cover instead of an obvious '50's shot. What can you do?

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