Hello readers and welcome to the sixth entry of this year’s Reading List. As mentioned in a previous entry I am mainly focused on my backlog of “old white dude” authors since setting aside the Reading List last year. However the last book I read was quite challenging and I needed a bit of a palate cleanser, so I decided to pivot to a type of genre I haven’t hit since way back in the first year of this whole reading experiment: the “cozy” mystery novel. To that end I picked up a recommendation from my wife, the first in a series (The Noodle Shop Mystery) entitled Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien that came out in 2018.
This was a breezy book and one I enjoyed coming back to each night and day that I read it. The story revolves around Lana Lee and her family’s noodle shop. It’s in the Asia Village, a sort of mall for Eastern-themed shops run by other Asian folks, some of whom become suspects in the mystery of who killed one of the two property managers who run the place, Thomas Feng. The book surrounds Lana and her roommate Megan as they attempt to figure out who swapped out the dumplings that Mr. Feng was deathly allergic to in order to kill him. The first suspect is the cook for the Ho-Lee Noodle House, but suspicion soon circles other characters who are involved in the Asia Village in one way or another. Another seemingly attempted murder heightens the suspense and Lana and Megan go to some lengths to try and figure out the secrets behind the mystery.
As I stated, this was the first “cozy” mystery novel I’ve read since The Cat Who Played Post Office in 2016, and back when I was pulling lessons for writers from novels I’d say the same three from then hold here (keep reader interest, reading for pleasure, make sure your “hook” catches people). I found myself very interested in the mystery at all times as Lana is a great narrator, and it was also pleasurable to enter this world of characters each time I sat with the novel. The “hook” is also quite interesting as it showcases an Asian culture with which I wasn’t too familiar with but found to be quite detailed within the world of the book. While the language could be fairly rote at times (characters are always crossing their arms over their chests or putting their hands on their hips; cliched language unfortunately abounds) it didn’t matter to the overall story and I found myself wondering who the murderer was all the way to the final pages.
I would recommend this novel to anyone searching for a new(-ish) mystery series that hooks one right away with great characters and settings and sets up potentially more in the future (this novel had the first two chapters of the next one excerpted at the end, and continued to draw my interest). Up next I decided to stick with the mystery genre and read another author whose book I’ve had sitting on my shelf for years: Harlan Coben and his initial 1995 Myron Bolitar novel Deal Breaker. Thanks as always for joining me on this reading adventure.
John Abraham is a published author and freelance journalist who lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Mary and their cat. He is writing a speculative dystopian novel and is seeking representation and a publisher.