Monday was a holiday here in the U.S. so I took the day off from blogging. It was the most depressing Independence Day of my life what with the recent Supreme Court rulings and then the mass shooting at the 4th of July Parade in Highland Park, IL. I’ve been in Illinois the past two weeks helping my mom who had a dog leash accident and subsequent hand surgery. She’s healing very well and should have full use of her hand by August. Although she lives some 40 miles away from Highland Park, the news hit fast and hard. For those who are concerned about the survival of our democracy, it has been an exhausting time period. But I shan’t digress down a political rabbit hole.
While I did bring Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff with me from Connecticut, it was feeling a bit too heavy to drag along to doctor’s appointments and is not the kind of book I can dip into for a few minutes here and there. I also wasn’t feeling it for bedtime reading. So I cruised the shelves at the local Barnes & Noble and picked up the first book in Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series, Death By Dumpling.
I don’t read very many cozy mysteries, but I am drawn to them. They usually have great covers, interesting settings and/or characters, and the descriptions make me want to read about how the quirky protagonist solves the crime. However, their execution often falls flat for me perhaps because I don’t “buy” the naive shenanigans.
Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series has caught my eye several times in recent years. So when I came upon it again at Barnes & Noble last week, it was the perfect time to give it a try.
Death by Dumpling (2018) is the first book in Chien’s series. Twenty-seven year old Lana Lee is the protagonist. She quit her previous job in a huff and couldn’t find a new one. To pay the bills she’s working at her parent’s restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House. She’s also far enough removed from a bad breakup that people in her life are pressuring her to date/find a new boyfriend (or in the case of her mother, a husband).
Lana lives with her best friend, the blonde-haired Megan Riley, and her black pug, Kikko. Lana’s mother is from Taiwan and her father is white. His last name, Lee, is a name some assume to be Asian. People are often surprised when they meet her big white father. She also has a believable, somewhat antagonistic relationship with her older sister.
The Ho-Lee Noodle House is part of Asia Village plaza in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s what Lana calls, “a quaint shopping center filled with what I like to refer to as ‘Asian stuff and things’” (3). Most of the shops are owned by the original tenants of the village who have been friends or colleagues for decades.
On the day that kicks off the action, Lana delivers the landlord’s standard lunch order. Mr. Feng is allergic to shellfish so every precaution is take to prepare his food. During her interaction with Mr. Feng, Lana notes his ever-present epipen poking out of his shirt pocket. Later that day he’s found dead next to shrimp dumplings which are obviously NOT his standard order. Mr. Feng’s epipen is nowhere in sight. Lana, as the delivery person, is a suspect.
The action, albeit rather slow, takes off from there. Lana tries to clear her name and that of the chef, a life-long friend, who made the order. There are good red herrings. Chien makes terrific use of the life-long relationships and tight knit community of Asia Village.
From what I understand, a love interest is a cozy mystery convention (like most fiction, right?). Two men are potential love interests: one is the detective investigating Mr. Feng’s death and the other is a young man who Mr. Feng took under his wing to groom as his business successor.
I was jealous every time Lana’s mom made her a bowl of noodles.
The shenanigans are not too over-the-top and the resolution is satisfying. As a reader in her mid-50s, younger protagonists are sometimes too cutesy, annoying, or just plain boring, but Lana has potential to grow on me. I also liked the cast of characters and will eventually read the second book in the series, Dim Sum of All Fears. If I didn’t have my Big Book Summer readalong book going (The Warmth of Other Suns) and my Vintage Book Club book to read (East of Eden by John Steinbeck), I’d probably grab a copy now.