Unsolicited, amateur sleuthing pays off in this mystery novel

by Shuyler Clark

In Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, Jesse Q. Sutanto’s fine balance of comedy and heart make for a smooth reading experience. Image credit: Amazon.com

With her husband passed on and her adult son emotionally distant, sixty-year-old Vera Wong spends her days operating her teahouse in an increasingly gentrified San Francisco. The lack of customers and excitement weighs her down until she discovers a dead man in her teahouse. Believing the cause of death to be murder and deeming the police investigation insufficient, Vera takes matters into her own hands and vows to solve the man’s murder.

From the author of the bestselling series Dial A for Aunties, Jesse Q. Sutanto’s latest release, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, is a charming, cozy mystery told from the perspectives of the five characters entangled in Marshall Chen’s death. The characters are the book’s strongest aspect, with each having clearly defined motives for why they became involved in the investigation. Although the romantic aspects are a bit cheesy, the characters’ relationships develop organically.

Interestingly, the main antagonist of the story is Marshall Chen rather than his murderer. From the beginning, readers get a sense of Marshall’s abusive behavior. The depictions of the survivors overcoming trauma that stemmed from Marshall’s abuse—especially in the case of his wife, Julia—are heartfelt and realistic. Vera’s advice for the characters hits hard and could prove helpful for anyone in a similar position.

As far as plot goes, Sutanto does an excellent job intertwining the various plot points to create a compelling narrative. Topics like gentrification and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) help serve the plot and character arcs. One example: Vera’s teahouse losing business to the newer cafés. The ending is a bit predictable, which may be expected when readers see multiple perspectives. While not inherently a flaw, it may have improved the element of surprise if there were fewer perspectives.

Sutanto’s writing style helps tie everything together. Her fine balance of comedy and heart make for a smooth reading experience. While there are cases of repetition that are noticeable enough to be distracting, especially with overused idioms, the prose flows well overall.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is a lovely, humorous mystery perfect for fans of the genre. Its theme of reclaiming oneself in the face of adversity is sure to resonate with readers.

“Reading Between the Lines” columnist and SCN board of directors member Shuyler Clark

Shuyler Clark is a graduate of Stockbridge High School and Lansing Community College. When she is not reading or writing, she can be found snuggling with her birds.

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