Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice For Murderers (2023) by Jesse Sutanto

Vera Wong, the sixty-year-old owner of “Vera Wang’s World Famous Tea Shop” – yes, that’s the correct spelling – has a life full of routine. Everything happens at a fixed time and in a fixed way, because Vera knows best. Vera knows the best way to do everything – if only her son would listen to her, he’d be happily married in no time at all.

So when she opens her tea shop one morning to find a dead body, she knows what to do. After marking the outline of the body (to save the police some time) she decides that she knows the best way to track down the killer. Especially when the San Francisco police are convinced that the victim died of natural causes – but what do they know?

OK, I’ve seen this on the supermarket shelves and when I also saw it for 99p on Kindle, I figured, why not? It’s really not clear from the blurb whether this is a cosy, a traditional proper mystery, or some new take on the genre. To quote the Amazon page:

“Knives Out meets Kim’s Convenience for anyone who loves solving mysteries by Richard Osman and Janice Hallett, and watching Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders.”

That’s a lot of things to compare something to. I’d argue that Knives Out, Richard Osman, Janice Hallett, Death In Paradise and Midsomer Murders are quite different takes on the murder-mystery genre (possibly there’s an Osman-Midsomer overlap) hence my confusion about what sort of book to expect.

What we have here is Vera – who is a wonderful lead, by the way – quickly generating a shortlist of four suspects and then inveigling herself into their lives to find out their secrets and either expose them as a murderer or sort out their lives because, after all, Vera knows best. And you never know, she might actually learn something in the process.

So this is mostly a character piece, with the point of view being switched from character to character between Vera and the four suspects, as we gradually learn more and more about what secrets their hiding. So I suppose there’s a bit of a link to Death In Paradise there, not in the locked room mystery sense, but the each-suspect-hiding-something thing. And you know what, it’s all rather lovely. The characters all seem pretty real, and as things improve for each of them, I really became concerned that one of them was going to end up being revealed as a murderer.

We basically have three options here – one of the four is a killer, a mysterious fifth person is the killer, or the victim died of natural causes after all, despite all the dodgy things he was up to. Obviously I’m not going to say which of the options is the truth, but I will say that the ending is very satisfying (and, like the rest of the book, very moving). And in this sense, it does make the comparison with Richard Osman’s first book make sense. And, like Osman’s books, there isn’t a clue in sight that I noticed at least. Well, technically, there is something that could be judged as such, but it’s not so much hidden as buried…

All in all though, while this might not appeal to the reader who wants a deep and perplexing mystery, this is a very satisfying, funny and uplifting book that you’d need a heart of stone not to enjoy.

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