The story takes place in 1930s Hong Kong and Shanghai. Camilla is a famous nightclub singer trained by one Shanghai gang boss (Big Brother Wang) to seduce and kill a rival boss (Master Lung). In the midst of carrying out her duties, she falls in love with Lung’s Harvard-educated son and has a child with him. If that sounds chaotic, worse is to come. Camilla’s newborn son goes missing moments after the delivery. And the father of her child and the two gang bosses disappear, too.
Camilla hides out in Hong Kong, which is outside Shanghai’s jurisdiction. She needs to keep a low profile because besides failing to kill her target, she also steals his money, which doesn’t go over well with her boss, Big Brother Wang.
Once in Hong Kong, Camilla seeks the advice of a fortune teller at a temple in Diamond Hill. He gives her hope, but warns that the end will come sooner than she thinks. This and her dreams (of her baby son) convince her to return to Shanghai–in disguise–to find her baby and his father.
Back in Shanghai, she starts a relationship with the US Consul General under the disguised name of Jasmine Chen. But Camilla can’t remain incognito forever. She has too many admirers and enemies to escape detection.
Mingmei Yip has a masterful way of keeping the reader engaged and eager to learn more. Not once during this book or any of her other novels did I guess what would happen at the end. She effortlessly portrays the decadent 1930s Shanghai nightlife scene as well as the day-to-day struggles of underserved populations like orphans and prostitutes.
If you’re looking for a page-turner this summer, The Nine Fold Heaven is a perfect choice.