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+
Lovely review. Definitely want to read this. But…I will wait for library or used book store availability — neither of which give any benefit to the author or publisher. I do not understand the pricing of ebooks, that’s certain.
@LML: My library bought (IIRC) 5 ebook copies and had I not gotten this arc to read, I would have been all over one of them. It is a delightful book but yes, I can understand waiting.
My increased reliance on the library is due not just to the cost of books but to the fact that I moved from a house to an apartment and simply have less space. I’m now 35th in line for this so will have to be patient. Patience is a virtue but that doesn’t stop me from hoping the 34 people ahead of me are fast readers.
@Susan/DC: Read faster! My library usually uses 21 day loans for everything but has, on occasion, started with 7 days for things that they think will have long waiting lists.
I enjoyed this quite a bit, but it was a little disconcerting to see a sixty year old consistently described as “the old lady” while reading on my sixty-third birthday.
@Etv13: Yes! I’m not that far from 60 either so the first time Vera’s age was mentioned, I was thought “Wait, she’s in her 60s? That’s not old!”
I remember being ten years old and thinking that fifty was ANCIENT. Now fifty is an age I might enjoy revisiting. I imagine the author is young if sixty seems old to her.
@Jayne: The standard loan period in my library (Washington, DC) is 21 days. Books automatically renew unless someone else has requested it. I try to be considerate and read quickly if I know there are others in line, but sometimes Life (and other books) intervene, and my experience has been that others are usually fairly considerate as well. If all 34 people ahead of me took the full 3 weeks, it would be almost 2 years till I got to meet Vera Wong.
Interesting to know that she’s 60. I did wonder about her age since her description leads you to think she’s very old and I couldn’t figure out how she could have a millennial son. If she’s “only” 60, then it becomes possible.
@Susan/DC: The book cover image certainly made me think of an 80 year old.
I just checked my library and the wait time for an ebook is currently 15 weeks. Our check-outs automatically return at 21 days but if no one is waiting, you can opt to either extend your current borrow (before it expires) or check it out again.
I live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and was able to immediately borrow this ebook on the day you reviewed it. I was surprised it was available without a hold.
Also, Vera reads as much older than 60 to me. I spent Saturday evening with a 99 year-old Italian woman who seems younger than Vera. Kareni is right, the author must be very young!
@Susan/DC: Does your library offer Libby? If so and you have an e-reader, or a tablet or phone you are willing to read on, you can put yourself on hold for the ebook as well (separate hold list). I’m assuming your hold is on a print book because of what you said about automatic hold renewals (I have never seen those on Libby, even with multiple library cards) but I could be wrong.