Noir novel captures San Francisco in 1940 

San Francisco novelist Kelli Stanley believes Americans have a problem with history — and she wants to do something about it.

“They think it’s not applicable to our current state,” says the author of the recently released “City of Dragons,” a 1940-set noir thriller that begins with the murder of a young Japanese man in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

“I have a passion for making history seem real and vivid and important for people,” says the writer, whose varied background includes penning the “noir Roman” novel “Nox Dormienda” and earning a master’s degree in classics.

“City of Dragons” — with its obsessive attention to detail (all of the places, even the businesses’ phone numbers, are real), cinematic flair and nod to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler — describes events surrounding a time when Chinese-Americans tried to raise funds to support their home nation’s war efforts against Japan.

“I knew about racism, but I didn’t realize the enmity between the Japanese and Chinese,” says Stanley, who had a “chill” when she learned more and more details about the Sino-Japanese conflict of the 1930s and ’40s.

Stanley was deliberate in creating a female protagonist, private investigator Miranda Corbie, whom she describes as “a femme fatale who is not demonized.”

Writing a heroine who “understands what it’s like to be prey” was a goal for Stanley, who pictures Rita Hayworth or, more contemporarily, Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron as the character in a movie version of the book.

In her fantasy, she’d have Curtis Hanson of “L.A. Confidential” fame direct.

While the book hasn’t been sold to Hollywood, Stanley, who’s working with a film management agency, hopes it someday will be a movie — or even a miniseries.

Her tale, in fact, goes beyond Corbie’s investigation of Eddie Takahashi’s death. A prequel, also featuring Corbie, is a short story called “Children’s Day,” set in 1939 on Treasure Island. The story is in “First Thrills,” an anthology presented by International Thriller Writers that’s being released today.

She also has a sequel, the novel “City of Spiders,” in the works.

In creating her epic, she says, “I took the George Lucas approach; I started in the middle.”

Stanley is fiercely proud of noir, or crime fiction, as a genre.

“Chandler and Hammett influenced Hemingway, who influenced everyone,” she says. “To think of it as somehow of less quality than other types of fiction is a load of nonsense.”

lkatz@sfexaminer.com


BOOK FACTS

City of Dragons

Author Kelli Stanley

Published by Minotaur Books

Pages 335

Price $24.99

First Thrills: High Octane Stories from the Hottest Thriller Authors

Published by Forge Books

Pages 368

Price $25.99

About The Author

Leslie Katz

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