‘Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers’
By Jesse Q. Sutanto
(338, Mystery, 2023)
Vera Wong is a tiny, lonely Chinese woman of a certain age who runs a failing tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She only has one loyal customer who comes in each morning. His wife is ill, and Vera makes him a special blend of tea each day, choosing items from an immense cabinet of ingredients. She tailors it to what she thinks he needs each day.
She comes downstairs one morning and finds a man dead on her tea shop floor! And she takes some evidence from the man’s hand. Why? Because she thinks that she can do a better job than the police at finding the killer! She learns that the dead man, Marshall Chen, was not a nice person. She cleverly finds a way to move in with his widow, Julia, and helps take care of her toddler, Emma, feeding her noodles and congee. Both Julia and Emma’s lives improve with Vera’s cooking and her no-nonsense ways.
Vera invites a small group of young people over for dinner so that she can question them. They all had motives to kill Marshall. Vera is a Chinese mother and knows how to get answers. “Her interrogation skills would humble most CIA agents.” Formidable in the kitchen, she makes feasts of different kinds of dumplings, sweet and sour fish, roast duck and three-egg spinach. She also completely wins over the police department with her spicy sesame noodles, roast pepper chicken, braised meatballs and garlic-fried broccoli.
Vera is a forceful person. She speed-walks every morning and has firm opinions on everything. She believes in getting results. This quote sums up Vera’s attitude on destiny: “Destiny, Vera thinks, is something to be hunted down and grabbed tightly with both hands and shaken until it gives her exactly what she wants.”
Vera is excited about being a detective. But as she gets to know the group of young suspects, she realizes that she likes them, and she doesn’t want one of them to be the murderer! But with her boundless enthusiasm and energy, she will continue her cooking and sleuthing.
This is a funny mystery with a unique amateur detective and lots of references to Chinese cooking. I think that you’ll enjoy meeting Vera. But beware – it also made me crave a good cup of tea and delicious Chinese food!
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