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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Strong Rain Falling: A Caitlin Strong Novel by Jon Land

Shop Indie Bookstores

Strong Rain Falling: A Caitlin Strong Novel

Strong Rain Falling: A Caitlin Strong Novel by Jon Land
ISBN-10: 0765331500  $25.99
Publisher: Forge Books (August 13, 2013), 368 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the author.

I've been following Jon Land's Caitlin Strong character from Strong Enough to Die, the first book in the series.  This latest and 5th in the series, Strong Rain Falling, is one of my favorites.  If you're new to the series, you can read Strong Enough to Die without having read the earlier novels because Land gives us the backstory of the main characters.  Having said that, I'd still recommend reading the novels in order if only because you get a fuller sense of who they are and what drives them.

For those new to the series, the lead character, Caitlin Strong is a third generation Texas Ranger and one of the only women in her group.  Whether her toughness is genetic or environmental, we'll never really know but there is no question that Caitlin Strong has that edge that makes the best Texas Rangers and has caused them to be feared and respected throughout Texas and much of the Southwest and Mexico.

First, she's tough.  Like Lee Child's Jack Reacher and Carol O'Connell's Detective Mallory, Caitlin Strong doesn't react to danger the way normal people do.  She's trained to rush into the fray, but she does it with lightning reflexes, almost unnatural strength and grace, and with quick intelligence.  Like her father and grandfather before her, she's the sort of person that you want on your side.  "One riot, one Ranger" is the often repeated saying but fortunately with Caitlin Strong on your side, it's not just a saying.

Caitlin's love interest is the prickly Cort Wesley Masters, a man known to be as dangerous and deadly as Caitlin.  Cort's life took the opposite direction as he was less fortunate - crime, deadly confrontations, limited options - he'd ended up protecting some of the most notorious criminals in the US and below the border.  But Cort mellowed out, turned respectable with his love for Caitlin and the discovery of two young sons.  More than anything, fatherhood sobered him up and forced Cort to change his way of life.  The scenes where Cort has to pull back and restrain himself are some of the more interesting and fun in the book.

In Strong Rain Falling, Caitlin takes Cort's elder son, Dylan, to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island to interview for college when they are attacked by armed men.  Cort and his younger son, Luke, face similar deadly force in an amusement park in another state.  As Caitlin investigates it turns out that the boys are the main targets because of a secret that their mother's family has kept.

These attacks coincide with the brutal mass murder of five children in Willow Creek, Texas.  We discover that these events are tied together somehow.  I don't want to give away any of the plot details, so I'll stop here.   A historical backstory, further adventures of the early Texas Rangers, a seemingly unbeatable opponent, horrendous odds, a complex and fast-paced plot, and characters that we come to care about all come together in Strong Rain Falling.  You'll want to block off a chunk of time when you  start Strong Rain Falling - you won't want to put it down!