Saturday, August 31, 2013

Aunty Lee's Delights: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovidia Yu

The blurb:

After losing her husband, Rosie Lee could easily have become one of Singapore's "tai tai," an idle rich lady devoted to mahjongg and luxury shopping.  Instead, she threw herself into building a culinary empire from her restaurant, Aunty Lee's Delights, where spicy Singaporean home cooking is graciously served to locals and tourists alike.  But when a body is found in one of Singapore's beautiful tourist havens, and when one of her wealthy guests fails to show at a dinner party, Aunty Lee knows that the two 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 -- billed at first as a pleasure cruise -- may mask a deeper purpose.  Investigating the murder is rookie Police Commissioner Raja, who quickly discovers that the savvy and well-connected Aunty Lee can track down clues even better than local law enforcement.

Wise, witty, and unusually charming, Aunty Lee's Delights is a spicy mystery about love, friendship, and home cooking 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 results.


I ordered Aunty Lee's Delights after seeing the enthusiastic blurb by Louise Penny, one of my favorite authors.  There were a lot of things that drew me to Ovidia Uy's detective novel. I'm a huge fan of detective cozies and I've spent plenty of time in Southeast Asia and was looking forward to a mystery set in Singapore.

Aunty Lee reminded me a bit of Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple.   We learn that Aunty Lee has a reputation for solving small mysteries among her friends and acquaintances.  When she learns of a body found on one of Singapore's tourist beaches, Aunty Lee can't help but puzzle over who might have died and why.   Aunty Lee's Delights is booked for a private wine tasting which she complements with her distinctive Pelacan dishes, and throughout the prep period and hosting her guests, Aunty Lee is fixed on finding out as much as she can about the death.  When it later turns out that she knows woman who showed up on the beach, Aunty Lee takes the death personally.  She takes it upon herself to investigate, looking into avenues that the police wouldn't be aware of,  and her gentle questioning and contacts gives her a unique chance to discover the truth.

Aunty Lee doesn't hesitate to pry,  but she does it in such a way that I found myself imagining everyone around her shaking their heads with wry smiles.   Aunty Lee's interaction with the young Police Commissioner Raja had me chuckling - it reminded me of Miss Marple and how she'd exasperated the local detectives in Saint Mary's Mead.   I found many of the supporting characters in the novel likable.  PC Raja was one of the more memorable characters - hardworking, good natured, and appreciative of Aunty Lee's kindnesses.  Aunty Lee's Filipina maid/assistant Nina proved to be smart and quite able to deal with the petty slights and machinations of Aunty Lee's daughter-in-law Selina.

While the solution of mystery wasn't particularly stunning, I loved Aunty Lee's Delights because of the characters that she'd created.  I'm very much looking forward to reading Aunty Lee's next adventure.

ISBN-10: 0062227157 - Paperback $14.99
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 17, 2013), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore's best-known and most acclaimed writers and playwrights.  She received a Fullbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa's International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.  She speaks frequently at literary festivals and writers' conferences throughout Asia.


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