Miss Marple gone Asian!
Synopsis of Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu: This delectable and witty mystery introduces Rosie “Aunty” Lee, feisty widow, amateur sleuth, and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home-cooking restaurant. After losing her husband, Rosie Lee could have become one of Singapore’s “tai tai,” an idle rich lady. Instead she is building a culinary empire from her restaurant, Aunty Lee’s Delights, where spicy Singaporean meals are graciously served to locals and tourists alike.
But when a body is found in one of Singapore’s tourist havens and one of her guests fails to show at a dinner party, Aunty Lee knows that the two events are likely connected. The murder and disappearance throws together Aunty Lee’s henpecked stepson, Mark, his social-climbing wife, Selina, a gay couple whose love is still illegal in Singapore, and an elderly Australian tourist couple whose visit may mask a deeper purpose. Investigating the murder are Police Commissioner Raja and Senior Staff Sergeant Salim, who quickly discover that Aunty Lee’s sharp nose for intrigue can sniff out clues that elude law enforcers.
Wise, witty, and charming, Aunty Lee’s Delights is a spicy mystery about love, friendship, and food in Singapore, where money flows freely and people of many religions and ethnicities coexist peacefully, but where tensions lurk just below the surface, sometimes with deadly consequences.
My two centsI rather enjoyed this debut of Aunty Lee into my mystery reading life. I'm going to keep an eye out for the next book because this first taste has made me curious to find out what else Aunty Lee pokes her nose into, and who else she ends up feeding (and by extension, coaxing to talk). Plus, I keep imagining Aunty Lee saying Silly-nah, Silly-nah and I can't help but chuckle! (Silly-nah or Selina is one of the characters).
Let me tell you how I naturally gravitated to this book, and how I found each of these aspects:
Asia. It's written by an Asian woman and it takes place in Singapore. I'm biased; I'm Asian and I seriously need some representation of Asian women in literature! Aunty Lee is of the kick-ass variety but of the lovable sort that I couldn't help but like her. She's like an Asian version of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple (although Aunty Lee is a much better cook) who is so unassuming. I know that older women almost always fall under the radar and Aunty Lee reminds me of a nosy, overcaring aunt or grandma, well-meaning, even a little annoying, with an extensive social network ... which makes for perfect sleuthing.
I've also had the pleasure of visiting Singapore and kind of fell in love with the place. Singapore has a cosmopolitan vibe and is a mish-mash of old and new so to have it described in such intimate detail reminds me of the sights, the sounds, the people, the food ...
Oh the food. Look at that cover, enticing! Aunty Lee runs a restaurant known for her delicious home cooking. Food smoothes out all paths; there's no better way to get people comfortable and loosen inhibitions and tongues. All the food described is Singaporean fare so if you're unfamiliar with the cuisine, you're in for a treat. Sescriptions are easy to imagine, and they made me hungry: be it chrysanthemum tea, spicy Peranakan dishes, bubor cha cha (a coconut-based soup dessert of yams) or deep-fried chicken potato curry puffs. Then there are the little witticisms and food-based bits of advice or insight ... I thought these were such a nice touch and really sets this book apart from many of my foodie reads.
Mystery. Now, this was a huge draw for me. I love my mysteries, and I think this is a cozy mystery done right. I think it lies in its combination of an engaging busybody and the business of making and eating food, with the mystery that has a decidedly modern twist. I won't go into too much detail.
In sum, a woman's dead body washes up on the shores of Sentosa (think Singapore's version of a sprawling manmade playground with everything from beaches to hotels, spas, restaurants, sports, and zoos and more). During Aunty Lee's private dinner party at her restaurant, an stranger stumbles into her restaurant looking for another guest who doesn't show up... and what unfolds are revelations about people who aren't who they seem to be, admissions of lesbian relationships (and more), and the weight and stigma of flouting parental and societal expectations, all set within Singapore's unique multi-cultural landscape. In the end, justice is served (oh but of course!), along with a hefty serving of pig's foot.
***Uh-ohs: I had a few qualms about this book. One, which is a pretty big one given that this is a mystery: I couldn't quite understand how Aunty Lee made the connection between the missing guest and the murder ... now that's jumping to conclusions! Or maybe I missed something?
While the cultural aspect was a huge turn-on for me, it was also a big turn-off. I found the depiction of Nina, Filipino maid and Aunty Lee's sleuthing sidekick, a stereotype and fear it may be misconstrued as offensive; personally I've had enough of Filipinos being portrayed as domestics with bad accents. (I guess the good thing is that Nina is portrayed positively with her connections and her hardworking attitude.) I feel there may have been a few more racial slurs, particularly in the depiction of expats and immigrants, but I may be reading too much into it.
Verdict: Overall, I enjoyed this little foodie mystery set in Singapore and look forward to reading more of Aunty Lee's adventures. I'm giving this series a chance because I really like the whole concept. I just wish the mystery side was just as delicious as the food described.
About Ovidia YuOvidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries that have been published in Singapore and India.
Connect with Ovidia on Facebook and Twitter.
Don't forget to check out the rest of the tour!
I received an Uncorrected Proof from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 17, 2013)