Review: Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu

Review: Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia YuAunty Lee's Chilled Revenge (Singaporean Mystery, #3) by Ovidia Yu
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print
Series: Singaporean Mystery #3
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Rosie “Aunty” Lee—feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant—is back in another delectable, witty mystery set in Singapore.
Slightly hobbled by a twisted ankle, crime-solving restaurateur Aunty Lee begrudgingly agrees to take a rest from running her famous café, Aunty Lee’s Delights, and turns over operations to her friend and new business partner Cherril.
The café serves as a meeting place for an animal rescue society that Cherril once supported. They were forced to dissolve three years earlier after a British expat killed the puppy she’d adopted, sparking a firestorm of scandal. The expat, Allison Fitzgerald, left Singapore in disgrace, but has returned with an ax to grind (and a lawsuit). At the café one afternoon, Cherril receives word that Allison has been found dead in her hotel—and foul play is suspected. When a veterinarian, who was also involved in the scandal, is found dead, suspicion soon falls on the animal activists. What started with an internet witch hunt has ended in murder—and in a tightly knit, law-and-order society like Singapore, everyone is on edge.
Before anyone else gets hurt—and to save her business—Aunty Lee must get to the bottom of what really happened three years earlier, and figure out who is to be trusted in this tangled web of scandal and lies.

My Review:

aunty lees delights by ovidia yuI was introduced to the Aunty Lee series by this book. When I decided to be part of this tour, I figured that book 3 of a series wasn’t so far in that I couldn’t manage to catch up, so I was able to sink my teeth into the first two books in this delicious series, Aunty Lee’s Delights and Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials, and I’m glad I did.

Not that a newbie to the series couldn’t start with Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge. The author does a good job of catching readers up with the setting and cast of characters. But it does add a bit to the fun to see how everyone has changed from the beginning. Also how the writing has evolved. While I enjoyed both of the first two books, this is definitely the best one yet.

Aunty Lee is everyone’s favorite grandmother, although the reality is that she isn’t anyone’s actual grandmother. She was the late MK Lee’s second wife, and he already had two children. Aunty Lee never had any of her own, and her stepchildren have, so far, not managed to give her any grandchildren to spoil.

So Aunty Lee pretty effectively spoils the entire neighborhood, especially through her award-winning home-cooking restaurant, Aunty Lee’s Delights. Rosie Lee doesn’t need the money, but she needs the work to keep her occupied. And to help her get involved with solving murders.

With a sprained ankle keeping her on the sidelines, Aunty Lee is feeling depressed and slightly useless, until a murder walks into her restaurant.

Not exactly literally. Three old friends, including Aunty Lee’s business partner, are waiting at the restaurant to meet with the woman who is threatening to sue them. But she never arrives. Instead, the police come to say that the woman has been murdered, and the dead woman’s sister shows up a few minutes later, ranting and raving. As she generally does.

While Aunty Lee may be sorry that a woman is dead, and particularly sorry that her business partner is temporarily a suspect, she is energized by the thought of a murder she can help solve being delivered right to her doorstep.

She’s so happy, in fact, that she takes the dead woman’s sister home with her, hoping that in comfort and privacy the woman will reveal some of the secrets she is so obviously keeping. Meanwhile, Aunty Lee dives into the three-year-old incident that brought all the principals to her little cafe.

Back then, her partner Cherril was part of an animal rescue society, along with her friends Brian Wong and Jacqueline DelaVega. The woman who was planning to sue them, a British ex-pat, adopted a puppy from their rescue society. A few days later, when she decided that she didn’t want the poor puppy any longer, she had him euthanized instead of returning him to the shelter, as she had contracted to do. When Allison Fitzgerald went into repeated tirades at the police, the animal rescue society, and anyone else within earshot, she became the quarry of a horde of internet bullies. Not just because she killed a poor, defenseless little puppy, but also because she lied about it, violated a contract, and showed zero remorse. Allison and her family were hounded out of Singapore.

Now she’s back. And she’s dead. And her sister is accusing the animal shelter people she lied to three years ago. And the dead woman’s ex-husband. And anyone else she can think of.

It’s up to Aunty Lee to sort out the truth from layers and layers of lies and deceptions. Building a case is like putting together a new recipe – all the pieces have to fit just right. Aunty Lee is perfectly willing to tinker with all the flavors until they finally — do.

Escape Rating A-: Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge is the best book in the series so far. The recipe for the series has come together in a way that makes this dish especially flavorful. Or especially interesting, since we are, after all, talking about murder.

The title is a play on the old saying, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” The case that Aunty Lee has to solve revolves around figuring out exactly who is getting revenge on whom, because at the outset there are plenty of options. And this was a case where, although I had figured out one part of the mystery, I was as lost as everyone else on who done it and why. But I couldn’t wait to find out.

Allison Fitzgerald, now calling herself Allison Love, sues the animal shelter principals, Cherril, Brian and Jacqueline, because she believes that the internet bullying they encouraged led to her divorce and estrangement from her children. She wants payback.

Allison’s sister Vallerie came to Singapore with Allison. Now that Allison is dead, Vallerie wants revenge on whoever killed her. And she’s certain that the murderers must be those same people. With the possible addition of Allison’s ex-husband.

Cherril, Brian and Jacqueline left the old case behind them long ago. Or did they? Cherril certainly has, she is now happily married and equally happily involved with Aunty Lee’s restaurant. But Brian and Jacqueline, not so much. Even after all these years, Brian is still in love with Jacqueline, and Jacqueline is still in love with…getting herself out of Singapore. She’s decided that Allison’s ex-husband is her ticket to a posh life somewhere far away.

It’s up to Aunty Lee to wade through the mess. She finds her way to a solution by learning about the people, mostly through what they eat, and especially through what they say while they are eating. And by being very, very nosy.

It works. And it works deliciously.

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Review: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

Review: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia YuAunty Lee's Deadly Specials (Singaporean Mystery #2) by Ovidia Yu
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Singaporean Mystery #2
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 30th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Rosie “Aunty” Lee, the feisty widow, amateur sleuth, and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite.
Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation involving prominent citizens makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There’s no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee’s Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung at their opulent house.
Rumor has it that the Sung’s fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sung’s house, her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is a storage house she discovers locked? What is the couple arguing about behind closed doors? Where is the guest of honor who never showed up?
Then, Mabel Sung and her son Leonard are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee’s special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. Aunty Lee has never carelessly prepared a dish. She’s certain the deaths are murder—and that they’re somehow linked to the organ donor scandal.
To save her business and her reputation, she’s got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer whose next victim may just be Aunty Lee.

My Review:

For a book that uncovers a very serious topic, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials still retains its feel as a cozy mystery. While so much of the trouble revolves around Aunty Lee’s catering business, the case she finds herself in the middle of deals with the very dark side of compensated organ donations and medical tourism.

A lot of the people involved in this case turn out to be really sick, and they didn’t get that way from eating Aunty Lee’s cooking – not that they don’t try to blame the whole thing on her and her catering. Aunty Lee would probably have involved herself anyway – she does that for fun – but attacking her catering business closes out her one method of dealing with loneliness and widowhood – by fixing other people food and fixing other people’s problems.

aunty lees delights by ovidia yu(Word to the wise – just as in the first book in the series, Aunty Lee’s Delights, Aunty Lee cooks a lot, and it all sounds exotic and positively yummy. Even the things that may seem very strange to us, like fried anchovies. Do not read this book when you are hungry – you will find yourself spontaneously raiding your own kitchen, and possibly kitchens for several houses around!)

The story begins with Aunty Lee scouring the newspaper, and having her friend and companion Nina scouring the internet, for news of a suicide victim. A young woman came to Singapore to find her missing fiance, and commits suicide when neither he nor his body can be found. Her young man disappeared after agreeing to come to Singapore to donate a kidney. This type of organ donation for cash is strictly illegal in Singapore, but the young couple needed the money to get married. When he disappears, she is left bereft and pregnant.

While at the beginning Aunty Lee’s nose for trouble seems to be leading her to something unrelated to her own life, as usually happens the case quickly draws closer to home, even though the police and everyone else urge her to drop it – sometimes with threats.

Things start out simple. Aunty Lee caters a party for a family that seem to be movers and shakers in the Singapore upper crust. One of the fun things about Aunty Lee is that while she acts as if she is just a caterer and restaurant owner, she herself is actually a member of that upper crust. And as is often the case, the people who are looking down on her for working are really people that she could buy and sell several times over.

The house party falls apart fairly spectacularly. First a young man gatecrashes the party looking for his missing friend. Then two members of the family are found dead after eating one of Aunty Lee’s more famous dishes, a delight that is notorious for poisoning diners if the dish is not prepared properly. Of course, Aunty Lee always prepares everything properly.

But even as she is cleared of any possible involvement in what now looks like a murder-suicide, the family is still determined to drive her out of business so that she publicly takes the blame for the mess. It seems to Aunty Lee that the family is moving heaven, earth and their powerful social network, in order to suppress any attempt to search for the real killer.

And that’s where Aunty Lee steps in, up to her neck. Her honor is under threat. And she is all too aware that she will be prey to loneliness and depression without her business (and her need to look into everyone else’s business) to keep her occupied.

As they say, curiosity killed the cat. And if Aunty Lee isn’t careful, she might find herself in the same pickle.

Escape Rating B: At the beginning the case, or Aunty Lee’s involvement in it, seems more than a bit shambolic. There are too many suspects, many too many motives, and no clear path to zeroing in on a single one of either. Even Aunty Lee comments to herself, or to the portrait of her late husband that she regularly talks to, that she has all the elements of a case but they aren’t fitting together quite right. This recipe is missing a key ingredient.

Which she doesn’t find for about the first third of the story. At that point, things start making more sense and the pace picks up considerably. We’re still not there yet, but you can feel Aunty Lee closing in on a solution.

Aunty Lee sometimes plays herself for comic relief, pretending to be a confused little old lady when in fact she’s sharp as a tack and surprisingly spry for her age. As well as quite well off. And the police commissioner is an old and dear friend, which always helps when you insert yourself into murder investigations on a regular basis.

But the underlying story in Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials is not funny at all. The world of compensated organ donation is ugly and brutal. While the results in this particular case are ultimately tragic, as well as deadly for too many people who didn’t even know they were on the fringe of this dirty business, the problems that are exposed are dire and have no good solutions. The needs of people who will do almost anything in hopes of a better life are easily exploited by those who have enough money to circumvent the rules. And because it all operates under the table, it becomes a criminal enterprise where even the innocent are at risk.

That part of the case leaves the reader, and Aunty Lee, with no good answers. Only hard questions.

Review: Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu

Review: Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia YuAunty Lee's Delights (Singaporean Mystery #1) by Ovidia Yu
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Singaporean Mystery #1
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 17th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This delectable and witty mystery introduces Rosie "Aunty" Lee, feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore's best-loved home cooking restaurant
After losing her husband, Rosie Lee could easily have become one of Singapore's "tai tai," an idle rich lady devoted to mah-jongg 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 co-exist peacefully, but where tensions lurk just below the surface, sometimes with deadly results.

My Review:

Following in the footsteps of Jane Marple, Mrs. Pollifax and Precious Ramotswe, Rosie Lee is a woman of a certain age who is constitutionally incapable of keeping her nose out of other people’s business – especially when that business is murder.

Everyone calls her Aunty Lee, and Aunty Lee’s Delights is the name of her restaurant and catering business. It seems to also be Aunty Lee’s delight to solve murders and fix people’s lives – to the point where she gets bored when running the restaurant is the only thing on her plate.

So it’s a real, if slightly perverse, treat when the body of a young woman washes up on the nearby shore. Aunty Lee can’t resist bringing up the mystery to everyone in her circle of family, friends and acquaintances, in the hope that someone knows more than the papers are telling about the late “Jane Doe”.

We also meet the cast of characters who both surround Aunty Lee and who are possible suspects in the case. Because it turns out that Aunty Lee, and everyone else involved in her stepson’s “wine and dine” business, knew the victim. The question hinges on which of them the late Laura Kwee knew much too much about.

And when another young woman’s body washes up on the shore, it’s up to Aunty Lee to expose the killer before he kills again – and before the police arrest one of their many possible suspects for a crime that they did not commit.

But in this case of secrets and lies, no one involved is quite who or what they claim to be, including the killer.

Escape Rating B: Aunty Lee’s Delights is the first book in the series by author Ovidia Yu. As a first book, it carries the weight of introducing all the continuing characters, as well as making Singapore come alive for readers who are not familiar with the city-state.

Her main character, Aunty Lee, is surrounded by family, friends and lifelong connections, some of whom are much more likeable than others. Rosie Lee is a bit of a different heroine – on the one hand, she is an elderly detective. On the other, she only acts old when it suits her purpose. At the same time, her lifelong membership in the upper class of Singapore gives her access to a wealth of social power and connections to people in high places.

Her own inner circle is close. Her companion and caregiver, Nina, helps her in the restaurant and with all her “cases”, sometimes whether Nina really wants to or not. Her stepson Mark is kind of sweet but completely ineffectual – he starts multiple businesses that never succeed, and Aunty Lee bails him out over and over. His wife Selina (Aunty Lee calls her Silly-Nah) seems to be a heartless bitch. I’ll confess to hoping that marriage doesn’t last.

The mystery is fairly cozy. Aunty Lee knows all the possible suspects, both of the victims and the police commissioner. Having friends in both high and low places is always helpful. All of the possible suspects have secrets, and Aunty Lee is an expert at ferreting out people’s secrets, whether or not they lead to murder.

aunty lees deadly specials by ovidia yuThis turned out to be a fun and interesting story. I enjoyed the Singapore setting, it is new to me but the author brought it to life in a way that draws the unfamiliar reader into Aunty Lee’s world. It was also a refreshing change to read a mystery where the case is resolved with brain instead of brawn – or firearms. If you are looking for a different kind of mystery in a fresh setting, Aunty Lee’s Delights is a treat. I’m looking forward to diving in to the next book in the series, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials.

Warning to readers – do not read this book while hungry! The descriptions of the traditional Singaporean dishes that Aunty Lee cooks throughout the story all sound absolutely scrumptious, whether familiar or not. You’ll want to try everything!