Friday, March 17, 2023

Book Review: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers

By Jami Denison

There’s nothing like a good cup of tea, or “cuppa,” as the British call it. The Brits were so keen about their tea that they colonized India to guarantee their supply; the American colonists fought a war when they taxed it. (Although, strangely enough, iced tea isn’t very common in England.) Asian countries have their own elaborate tea ceremonies. And in Jesse Q. Sutanto’s latest release, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, the tea is the star of the show. Everything else, including murder, comes in second. 

Widow Vera Wong lives above the small teashop she runs in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her days are spent texting her adult son Tilly and waiting on the shop’s only customer. It’s a small, lonely life until one day Vera discovers Marshall Chen dead on the floor of her shop. Disgusted that the police don’t seem to know what they’re doing (it’s nothing at all like CSI!) Vera swipes the flash drive hidden in Marshall’s palm and decides to run her own investigation. Soon, people start flocking to the shop and asking questions – two reporters, Marshall’s widow, and his twin brother. One of them has to be the killer. But as Vera gets to know her suspects better, will she have the heart to turn in a killer?

Most mysteries unfold like a speeding train rushing toward the destination of the killer reveal. Vera Wong is more of a gentle stroll in the park. With vivid descriptions of food (oh, the Chinese feasts that Vera cooks!) and tea, the book is a warm blanket to be read under a warm blanket. There’s no frantic turning of pages here, no desperate desire to uncover a murderer before the detective does. Just the hope that Vera gets the family she deserves.

That family includes Riki and Sana, the two fake reporters who were each separately victims of Marshall’s duplicity. And Marshall’s widow Julia, whom Marshall deserted shortly before his death. Then there’s Marshall’s twin brother Oliver, who had been best friends with Julia in high school but was bullied incessantly by his twin. As Vera researches each character’s motivations, she becomes an indispensable part of their lives, whether they like it or not. 

The book is told from each character’s third person point of view. All of Marshall’s victims are incredibly insecure; Vera has enough confidence for all of them. One of the most interesting parts of the narrative is the contrast in the way Vera sees herself versus how she appears to others. But they are all highly likeable characters to root for. None of them seems like a murderer, even as Marshall is revealed to be completely loathsome. 

Vera Wong is a comfortable, cozy mystery. It doesn’t have the high jinx of Sutanto’s debut, Dial A for Aunties, nor the chills of a domestic thriller. But if you have a few biscuits and a warm cup of tea, it’s a perfect companion.  

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Jesse Q. Sutanto:

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us.

Listen to this book on Speechify!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My first book from jesse its really funny