City of Ghosts
It is so nice to have Kelli Stanley and Miranda Corbie back after so long an absence. CITY OF GHOSTS, as Stanley indicates briefly in her Acknowledgements, was substantially written and completed in the wake of her journey through personal tragedy. The result, while some time coming, is a darkly beautiful work, one of the best to be published so far this year.
The Miranda Corbie series is set in the mid-20th century, immediately prior to the entry of the United States into World War II, though Hitler’s monstrous machine is making its presence known in the U.S. Corbie, a troubled woman with a horrendous past, is a private investigator of some notoriety due to a multitude of factors, not the least of which is her iconoclastic attitude and her habit of dwelling on the fringes of polite society. Her strength as a protagonist is matched by Stanley’s magical (there is no other term for it) recreation of the San Francisco of the past, a shimmering jewel seen through a troubled prism. Stanley’s tenacious research into time and place is evident in every sentence on every page, with the result being that anyone reading the book, as well as its two predecessors, surrenders the reality of the present for Stanley’s presentation of the past. And what a past it is.
"...a darkly beautiful work, one of the best to be published so far this year.... [Stanley’s wordcraft] is of a quality that is unique among the current crop of mystery and thriller authors."
CITY OF GHOSTS opens with Corbie closing a case for a wealthy society matron. However, her satisfaction in doing so is overshadowed by an offer from the State Department. Corbie was separated from her mother at a very young age, and has just learned that she may well be trapped in England. An associate of Corbie’s in the State Department makes her an offer that is seemingly irresistible: shadow a chemistry professor who could be a Nazi spy, and a grateful nation will see that Corbie is sent to England with the opportunity to reunite with her long-absent mother and hopefully bring her home.
Corbie barely begins her assignment when two of her clients, who are associated with each other, are murdered in similar fashion. Corbie tops the list of suspects, making it imperative that she find the real killer in order to clear her name and bring some justice to her clients. Her personal investigation begins to intersect with her State Department assignment, but when a third murder occurs, with an obvious attempt to frame her, it becomes obvious that the doer is closer than Corbie could have imagined and is much more dangerous.
There is a fine bit of symmetry between the beginning and conclusion, but the enjoyment is what lies between, including a glimpse of Nevada before Las Vegas and an absolutely priceless description of a Nazi visit to a world-famous San Francisco nightclub. The book is worth picking up and reading for that latter vignette alone. The reason to stay, though, is for Stanley’s wordcraft and literary style, which is of a quality that is unique among the current crop of mystery and thriller authors. You won’t get her, or Corbie and CITY OF GHOSTS, out of your head any time soon.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 8, 2014