printed copy

Skeleton Women

Mingmei Yip

ISBN 9780758273536
Publish Date 5/29/2012
Format Trade Paperback
Categories Kensington, Women's Fiction, General
List Price: $15.00

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Once upon a time in China, the most beautiful and gifted women were known as “skeleton women”—the ultimate femme fatales who could bring a man to his knees, or to his doom…

When Camilla, a young orphan girl in Shanghai, is adopted and brought to live in luxury, it seems like a stroke of luck. But as Camilla grows to womanhood, she realizes that her “rescue” was part of gang leader Big Brother Wang’s scheme. Camilla is trained in singing, dancing, knife-throwing and contortion—all to attract the attention of Wang’s enemy, the ruthless Master Lung.

Forced to become Master Lung’s mistress, Camilla meets two other intriguing women. Shadow is a magician and rival for Master Lung’s affections, while Rainbow Chang dresses like a man and wields power through her incendiary gossip column. Both pose risks to Camilla’s safety and status. But an even greater danger comes in the form of Master Lung’s eldest son, Jinying, who despises his father’s violent lifestyle—but loves Camilla. Only by plotting to eliminate Lung can she make her escape, but at what cost?

Mingmei Yip, author of Peach Blossom Pavilion and Song of the Silk Road, has created a captivating story filled with intrigue and opulence, peopled with extraordinary characters impossible to forget.


It all happened because I was considered perfect material to be a spy—beautiful, smart, and, most important, an orphan. I am well aware of what people call me behind my back: Skeleton Woman!

Actually, this does not bother me a bit. Let others feel spite, jealousy, hatred for me. At times I feel a secretive, ticklish glee.

I am a woman who can turn men into skeletons under my touch, though it is as light as a petal and as tender as silk.

My name is Camilla. At nineteen, I’d already become the lead singer at Shanghai’s most popular and elegant Bright Moon Nightclub. It was through powerful connections that I got this position at my young age, with the bonus of being the object of desire of many men and the jealousy and hatred of countless women. And then there were Shadow and Rainbow Chang.

They were the other skeleton women.

But unlike me, Rainbow and Shadow were not nightclub singers. Rainbow, Shanghai’s most popular gossip columnist, made her fortune by digging up secrets and dirt for the Leisure News. Though she had a woman’s name, she exuded the charm of both sexes as she rode the waves of in-between. Short haircut, silk tie, and outrageously expensive and impeccably tailored suits contrasted with white-powdered face, rouged cheeks, pink lips, silvery-pink eye shadow, and long, lush, artificial lashes. Rainbow neither dressed like a woman nor looked like a man. Exposing everyone else’s secrets in her column, for herself she chose camouflage, in sex as well as in life. But why? It was yet to be found out.

If Rainbow Chang presented herself as mysterious, then Shadow was absolutely unfathomable. Everything about her was staged like a magician’s stunning feats—jumping into thin air; escaping from locked chains under water; cutting a volunteer into multiple pieces, then restoring her in seconds. Carried out in a skimpy dress, enhanced by snake-slick movements, with an expressionless, stunningly beautiful face. Who was she? I was dying to find out.

We used artists’ names; no one knew our real ones. With our own agendas, we were the three most pungent ingredients in this boiling cauldron called Shanghai. Men went crazy for a taste of us, while women sought our elusive recipe.

People admired or hated me as the ultimate femme fatale. But I myself had no idea who I was. I was a nobody, literally. An orphan, I was adopted by a man and his gang for their own purposes. Later I learned that the man was Big Brother Wang, his gang, the Red Demons. Under their constant watching and fussing over me and their strict discipline, by fourteen I’d grown up to be a watermelon- seed-faced, full-bosomed, slim-waisted, long-legged beauty, possessing everything desired by men and envied by women.

Of course I had not been raised and disciplined just to be a refined, well-mannered lady to be married off to the son of a rich family. Instead I was groomed to lure Master Lung, head of the Flying Dragons gang, to his doom. I had quickly figured out that I’d been given a roof over my head, fancy clothes to wear, and gourmet food to consume for a reason.

I was raised and trained to be a spy.

I was to be the Red Demons’ secret weapon in a meticulous plan to topple its bitterest rival, the Flying Dragons. For nineteen-thirties Shanghai was the battleground for relentless wars among the triads, wars in which I was to be merely a pawn.

And what a life that was.

Having schemed for most of my nineteen years in this dusty world, I’d already turned a few men and women into skeletons dangling in hell—literally or otherwise. I didn’t feel any guilt. This was the only job, the only life, I knew.

This was how they had trained me—to have no attachment, no feelings, no conscience. I was the woman who would, when needed, reduce any man or woman to a skeleton at the blink of my mascaraed eye.

Until the day I met Master Lung’s son, Jinying, and Lung’s bodyguard, Gao. But that was not part of the Red Demons’ plan for me. . . .

About Mingmei Yip:

Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She’s published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and has appeared on over forty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S. She immigrated to the United States in 1992, where she now lives in New York City.

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