TITLE: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers
AUTHOR: Jesse Q. Sutanto
PUBLICATION DATE: March 14, 2023
TROPES: Found family
What would you do if you woke up one day and found a dead guy on the floor of your teashop? Call the police, of course. But as an elderly Chinese widow and empty nester, Vera Wong has all the time in the world to figure out who the killer is. After all, no one is more adept at solving this mystery than an old Asian lady with a unique talent for being inquisitive.
In Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, Sutanto brings together the most unlikely set of characters to prove that family can be found in the most surprising ways. Although it’s marketed as a mystery, what exists at the center of this story is a whole lot of heart.
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?
Let me start by saying that I have mixed feelings about Vera. She’s an old-fashioned, traditional Chinese mother who’s pushy, lacks boundaries, believes she’s always right, and knows what’s best for everyone around her. But on the other hand, she’s the kind of force you want on your side. Her nurturing nature makes it easy for people to gravitate toward her. She has the perfect tea for every mood and is always ready with a plate of comfort food when you need it. But underneath all her fierce mother hen facade is a person who suffers silently from loneliness, like everyone else.
Her amateur sleuthing skills were hilarious. Her analysis of people’s behavior was so off the mark that I sometimes worried about her investigation, even though I knew this was mainly for comedic relief.
Her character development is heartwarming and makes you realize how much of her actions were well-intended, even if the execution is really poor.
The character of MARSHALL CHEN (the man who’s dead) is pretty one-dimensional. He’s made into the villain, which I guess was necessary to give everyone a motive for his death. But I wish we had gotten another side to him to allow the reader to have more mixed feelings towards him.
The other characters throughout the story have their own reason for killing Marshall. And as we move through each POV, we get to know each of them and their backstories. Jesse Q. Sutanto did a good job of creating diverse characters with a possible single ulterior motive, and by the end of the book, you are hoping that none of them is the actual killer.
The plot is where this book falls short for me. I enjoyed the book’s found family aspect and felt that it saved the story. But the mystery component wasn’t as developed as I would have liked, and the big reveal at the end was underwhelming. While I didn’t guess who the killer was, I was disappointed by the motive behind the killing.
The 3rd person omniscient POV worked well for this story, and I enjoyed getting into the head of all the characters. It also kept the “whodunit” suspense throughout the novel.
The writing was casual and unfiltered, like you were hearing each person’s thoughts as they arrived in their head. And while this made it easier to follow along, I found it very repetitive. If I read Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers in parts, I would need the repetition to remember the details, but for a straight read-through, I found it made the book unnecessarily long. But I enjoyed the author’s sarcastic tone, which kept the book lighthearted and funny.
The descriptions of all the teas were beautiful and had my mouth watering, wanting to taste them all. Kudos to the author for all the research she had to do on the teas and how to combine them.
Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is like a good cup of tea that I would enjoy drinking once but easily forget afterward. If you’re looking for a book with easy-to-read prose and emotionally complex characters, this book is definitely for you. Just keep in mind that it’s not as mysterious as you might expect.
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Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers
RATING: ★★★/5 ᐧ || ᐧ In Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, Sutanto brings together the most unlikely set of characters to prove that family can be found in the most surprising ways. Although it’s marketed as a mystery, what exists at the center of this story is a whole lot of heart.
Author: Jesse Q. Sutanto
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