Review: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers – Jesse Q. Sutanto

Review: Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers – Jesse Q. SutantoVera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers
by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Date: March 14, 2023
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 352
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Put the kettle on, there’s a mystery brewing…Tea-shop owner. Matchmaker. Detective?

Sixty-year-old self-proclaimed tea expert Vera Wong enjoys nothing more than sipping a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy ‘detective’ work on the internet (AKA checking up on her son to see if he’s dating anybody yet).

But when Vera wakes up one morning to find a dead man in the middle of her tea shop, it’s going to take more than a strong Longjing to fix things. Knowing she’ll 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 decides it’s down to her to catch the killer.

Nobody spills the tea like this amateur sleuth.

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I always find the idea of a cozy mystery involving murder a bit of an oxymoron. But this book is as cozy as the perfect cup of hot tea on a cold day. Full of tea, delicious food, found family and an absolutely delightful elderly lady, it’s everything a cozy mystery should be.

“People always say that your wedding day is the happiest day of your life, but honestly, people should try solving murders more often.”

With her only son grown, Vera spends her days running the family teashop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. But with only one regular customer at her teahouse, she’s aware that she’ll soon have to close the shop and equally aware of all the empty hours she’ll have to fill. Finding that a dead body in her shop is at least something new and exciting. So when the cops refuse to listen to any of her suggestions, of course Vera is forced to start her own investigation. After all, doesn’t everyone know that the murderer always comes back to the scene of the crime?

It took a while for the book to build up to speed for me. We start out with solely Vera’s POV, but then there’s a ramp up as each of the other POV characters are introduced and we slowly find out how they’re connected to Marshall, the dead man. There’s Sana, an artist; Riki, a software developer; Oliver, Marshall’s brother and twin; and Julia, his wife, and their toddler daughter, Emma. By the time Vera’s inviting them over to a suspect’s house for dinner, though? I was absolutely hooked straight to the heartwarming conclusion. And this is definitely one of those books that leaves you with all of the warm fuzzies.

“Destiny, Vera thinks, is something to be hunted down and grabbed tightly with both hands and shaken until it gives her exactly what she wants.”

Vera is of course the heart of the book. She’s tenacious, undeterred by setbacks or her own son’s (reasonable) protests over her meddling. But even while meddling Vera isn’t short on hospitality or heart. She insists on serving her suspects her own special blends of tea and introducing them to each other (as, hilariously, “other suspects”). And of course, while she’s solving the murder she might as well add a bit of matchmaking, career coach, nannying and cooking to the list as well, right?

“No one is perfect, making right decisions all the time. Only those who are so privileged can make right decision all the time. The rest of us, we have to struggle, keep afloat. Sometimes we do things we are not proud of. But now you know where your lines are.”

It’s no secret that I have a large soft spot for found families. There’s something absolutely amazing about the way Vera takes this disparate group of people brought together by a murder and turns them into something good. That’s not to say that each of these characters don’t have their own reasons for not wanting the police involved or their own actions that they regret. They’re all imperfect people trying to do what’s right and sometimes failing – and that includes Vera. But what this new family gives them is more purpose, too, to get up and try again when things get hard. Or, more simply and more profoundly, the opportunity to cook the same dishes she used to cook for her husband and young son, to share that food and how to prepare it with a new generation.

Overall, an absolutely delightful cozy mystery. While the way the book wrapped up made me think that Vera’s days of solving mysteries are done, I will definitely be looking for mysteries from this author!

Content notes: View Spoiler »

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