This book really grew on me. At first I just thought it was a (very silly) cozy mystery, but in reality the mystery is just an excuse for Vera Wong — a kind of Chinese Mary Poppins — to make everything better for everyone. Definitely upbeat!
Vera Wong runs a tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Vera Wang’s World Famous Tea House in fact, though it is named after the famous Vera Wang not the proprietor Vera Wong, and doesn’t appear to be very terribly famous as it rarely has any customers. Everything changes one morning, though, when Vera heads down to the shop and finds a dead body clutching a thumb drive on the floor. Based on her unshakeable premise that a criminal always returns to the scene of the crime, Vera soon has four “suspects” who, while still under suspicion (from Vera’s perspective), also become close friends and subjects for Vera’s meddlesome, tyrannical and yet heartfelt ways.
What started as a kind of stereotypical Chinese auntie persona for Vera really blossomed with individual personality as the story went on. One of my favorite scenes: Vera reads Rumplestiltskin to an impressionable young girl and rails against the utter stupidity of the story in favor of an alternative Chinese folk story that addresses the situation … differently. Some actual interesting comments on tea as well. And the resolution of the mystery nicely surprising. Very pleasant read.
Some good quotes:
“In Chinese culture, respect only flows in one direction, from the younger to the older, like a river. The older generation doesn’t owe the younger ones respect; if any is given it is done so out of kindness and generosity, not necessity.”
“Lipton, like many other Western brands of black tea, uses inferior tea leaves that are then roasted at a higher temperature, killing all traces of subtle flavoring. The result is a strong black tea that can stand up to aggressive boiling and generous amounts of sugar and milk.”
As an opening line, this one tickled me: “Vera Wong Zhuzhu, age sixty, is a pig, but she really should have been born a rooster.”
Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on March 14th, 2023