REVIEW: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q Sutanto
Vera Wong is a lonely little old lady—ah, lady of a certain age—who lives above her forgotten tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Despite living alone, Vera is not needy, oh no. She likes nothing more than sipping on a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy detective work on the Internet about what her Gen-Z son is up to.
Then one morning, Vera trudges downstairs to find a curious thing—a dead man in the middle of her tea shop. In his outstretched hand, a flash drive. Vera doesn’t know what comes over her, but after calling the cops like any good citizen would, she sort of . . . swipes the flash drive from the body and tucks it safely into the pocket of her apron. Why? Because Vera is sure she would do a better job than the police possibly could, because nobody sniffs out a wrongdoing quite like a suspicious Chinese mother with time on her hands. Vera knows the killer will be back for the flash drive; all she has to do is watch the increasing number of customers at her shop and figure out which one among them is the killer.
What Vera does not expect is to form friendships with her customers and start to care for each and every one of them. As a protective mother hen, will she end up having to give one of her newfound chicks to the police?
CW – Some characters are the victims of a controlling and emotionally manipulative person.
Dear Ms. Sutanto,
I’m glad that you thought of this “blobby idea” and that your editor urged you to run with it. Vera Wong is delightful – opinionated but delightful. There certainly might be a murder that kickstarts the book but I urge readers to look at it more as a “found family.” And the food!! I want to eat some of Vera’s cooking!
Vera Wong is very regimented in how she starts her day. Young people these days sleep hours away that they could be using to do things. She carefully chooses ingredients for the specialized teas she sells though sadly, due to the aging Chinese immigrant population around her, her clientele has been declining. In fact, there’s usually only one person who shows up each day but he and Vera enjoy their time discussing their children and lamenting this new generation. So when she discovers a dead body in her shop one morning, Vera is actually a bit energized. She watches TV crime shows and knows what to expect once the police arrive. Only they don’t seem to be treating it as Vera thinks they should so she guesses it’s up to her to solve what is obviously a murder.
She puts an obituary in the paper and sure enough, suspects appear – just as she thought they would. There are four possible ones and while Vera works to eliminate the innocent, she’ll just tidy up their lives a little. She is, after all, a Chinese mother and they can sniff out lies, force confessions with just hard stares, and delight in matchmaking.
It helps Vera that three of her suspects are of Asian ethnicity and have been raised to treat Aunties with respect – and a little fear. Before long, Vera is uttering commands and snapping out orders that Riki, Sana, and Oliver don’t dare not follow. It’s for their own good. Without the others realizing it, all of them actually do have things to hide about their relationships with the dead man and all fear what might happen if those things are revealed.
The plotting is tight, the pace is good, the relationships are tangled but make sense. Did a murder take place? There’s enough doubt to keep things interesting and enough suspicious activity before the death to spice things up: Could she have …? Did his action cause …? Well, he’s felt that way for a while … Wait, he wrote what …? She stands to inherit how much …? And yes, what about that evidence that Vera herself removed from the scene. Excuse Me??
When All Is Revealed I gasped (just a little) at how clues were cleverly, yet lightly, inserted and then just left to all be wrapped up (maybe a little bit too easily) at the end. Yes, of course! I remember now. That makes perfect sense. So the death is explained (Shsss, I’m not telling), a romance begins, two lives begin to be repaired, and Vera has a family again. This is a fun, cozy mystery with flawed but likeable characters, and an ending that didn’t come from nowhere. B+