This week I picked up Mingmei Yip’s latest (and I think greatest) novel, Skeleton Women (Kensington, 2012). Set in the ever-fascinating 1930s Shanghai, it tells the story of Camilla, a 19 year old singer/spy who is kept by one gangster boss to set up the hit of another gangster boss. In the mix are a femme fatale Eurasian magician and a cross-dressing gossip columnist.
Where else but in Shanghai, right?
Mingmei Yip’s previous novels have featured strong, independent women who don’t take themselves too seriously. In this case, Camilla doesn’t differ from those earlier protagonists. She’s had a difficult life, is living in difficult circumstances, and has the daunting task of assassinating a man she’s been involved with for a year.
Skeleton Women differs, however, from Yip’s earlier books in that this one is not very heavy on the romance. Her novels tend to cross the genres of romance and literary fiction. With this book, she’s leaned more toward mainstream literary fiction and has kept the romantic scenes to a minimum.
The two gangster bosses are brutal, but a strong bodyguard and the Harvard-educated son of the targeted mob boss show Camilla the kindness and attention she’s missed her whole life. Although I’ve read my share of novels set in 1930s Shanghai, Skeleton Women kept me curious until the last page.
After a finale that only John Woo could outdo, Camilla leaves the glamour of the Bund behind and sets sail for the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong.
I’m already anxious to read the sequel!