Excerpt from City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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City of Dragons

by Kelli Stanley

City of Dragons
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2010, 352 pages
    Aug 2011, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt


Miranda didn’t hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk. The firecrackers were too loud, punctuating the blaring Sousa band up Stockton. Red string snapped and danced from a corner of a chop suey house on Grant, puffs of gray smoke drifting over the crowd. No cry for help, no whimper.

Chinese New Year and the Rice Bowl Party, one big carnival, the City that Knows How to Have a Good Time choking Grant and Sacramento. Bush Street blocked, along with her way home to the apartment. Everybody not in an iron lung was drifting to Chinatown, some for the charity, most for the sideshow.

Help the Chinese fight Japan—put a dollar in the Rice Bowl, feed starving, war-torn China. Buy me a drink, sister, it’s Chinese New Year. Don’t remember who they’re fighting, sister, they all look alike to me.

Somewhere above her a window opened, and a scratchy recording of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” fought its way out. Miranda knelt down next to the boy.

“You OK, kid?”

She guessed eighteen or nineteen, from the cheap but flashy clothes and the way his body had fallen, trying to protect itself. No response. She dropped her cigarette, and with effort turned him over, the feet around her finally making some room.

I can’t give you anything but love, baby—

“Kid—kid, can you hear me?”

Nose was broken. So was his jaw. Missing teeth, both eyes black. What looked like burn marks on his cheek.

That’s the only thing I’ve plenty of, baby—

She loosened and unknotted the flimsy green tie around his neck. Eyelids fluttering, color gone, face empty of everything except memory. Unbuttoned the shiny brown jacket, saw the hole in his chest.

Dream a while, scheme a while—

“We need a doctor! Anybody a doctor? Anybody?”

The feet around her moved back a little, ripple of noise running through the crowd.

You’re sure to find—

Couldn’t risk looking up. His eyes were open now, brown clutching hers.

Happiness, and I guess—

She took a deep breath and yelled, voice straining.

“Doctor! Get a goddamn doctor!”

All those things you’ve always pined for—

The cement was still damp with slop from the restaurants and tenements, and his fingers clawed it, looking for an answer.

She bent close. The crowd shivered again, surged forward. His eyes asked the question and hers lied back.

“Who did this? Can you understand me? Who—”

He turned his head toward the direction he’d been thrown from. Last effort.

Then the bubble. Then the gurgle. Then the cop.

“Move, you bastards. Move!”

His boots stood next to her, staring dumbly at the boy.

“He drunk?”

I can’t give you anything but love. The record made a clacking sound, and the needle hit the label over and over. Clack. Clack clack.

She stood up, tired.

“He’s dead.”

The record started up again.

I can’t give you anything but love, baby . . .


The cop at the Hall of Justice was the hard type, but that was the new style for 1940. One too many George Raft and Jimmy Cagney movies, and they all wore their hair short and their mouths even shorter. No wink and a smile with this one. Burn at the stake, every time.

Miranda inhaled deeply on the Chesterfield and crossed her legs. It distracted him for a few seconds. She watched and counted the clock ticks as he picked up her lighter, her compact, her Chadwick’s Street Guide, her hat, her comb, her lipstick, her keys, her address book, her cigarette case, her note-pad, her pocketbook, and a few gum wrappers and matchbooks, and looked at them as though they might be hiding a .38.

“So you say you don’t know this—Eddie Takahashi?”

Excerpted from City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley. Copyright © 2010 by Kelli Stanley. Published in February 2010 by Minotaur Books. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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