Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino

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Sometimes, it’s as important to prove there is no answer to a question as it is to answer it.’

Having read two Higashino books in these recent months, I cannot help but marvel at how he keeps the reader, well, reading.

Especially with a detective/crime story that is so quiet and relatively uneventful compared to many others out there which are more action packed. That makes it sound like nothing happens in this book but that is not true.

There is a death. A man is dead, poisoned by arsenous acid, likely something he drank in his coffee. A woman, his wife’s employee, is the one who found him. His wife Ayane is the main suspect – her husband had told her that he was leaving her for another woman – but she was hundreds of miles away at the time. What about Hiromi, the one who found him? It’s a locked-room mystery and Tokyo Police Detective Kusanagi is on the case. But he is smitten with Ayane, and unable to believe that she has anything to do with her husband’s death. His assistant, Kaoru Utsumi, believes otherwise. And so, she seeks the help of Professor Manabu Yukawa, a physicist whom Kusanagi often ropes in to help out, except now the two of them seem to have had a bit of a quarrel.

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It’s one of those crime stories where possibilities are tossed around, then shot down. Compared to other crime cases, this one seems rather simple. A man poisoned. And you pretty much know who did it, but the how is really just something you try to puzzle out, along with the detectives on the case.

Salvation of a Saint is a far quieter story than the last Higashino I read, Under the Midnight SunBut I enjoyed it for its intriguing details, its puzzle of a crime and the way Higashino’s ‘villains’ are often themselves victims.

The thing with reading translated works is having to wait for translations to emerge from publishers. This series with Kusanagi and Yukawa is known as the Detective Galileo series. The Devotion of Suspect X (a very good read) is the first in the series, Salvation of a Saint is the second. The third book, A Midsummer’s Equation, (published in 2011) was just released in English earlier this year. It is really confusing! The Devotion of Suspect X is book 3 in the series, but Salvation of a Saint is book 5, A Midsummer’s Equation is book 6. At least according to Goodreads. But when I check Wikipedia I realize that some of the books are classified as short stories, so book 4 (which I now guess to be in terms of publishing order) is a short story, so perhaps that is why the English language publishers decided to skip it? Confused! Also, disappointed! I would love to read his short stories too. Higashino also has another series called the Detective Kaga series, but so far only one of those has been translated into English, called Malice. And once again, the English language publisher has picked a book in the middle of the series, in publishing order, this is book number 4. As I cannot read Japanese, I am at the mercy of publishers who would be willing to have his work translated!

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Pleasantville by Attica Locke

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Jay Porter is back.

He was the star of Attica Locke’s intense Black Water Rising, published in 2009.

But I didn’t know Jay Porter until I signed up for this Pleasantville tour. I just jumped onto the tour bandwagon because  I saw Attica Locke’s name and decided, yes, I have to get on this tour. Because her Cutting Season was a great read. Not an easy read. But it was a little dark and twisty and as a result quite intriguing.

I didn’t know that Pleasantville takes place fifteen years after Black Water Rising. You don’t necessarily have to read Black Water Rising before Pleasantville although I would highly recommend it. It took me just a few days to read Black Water Rising. It startled me with its intensity and its complexity. And I couldn’t wait to read Pleasantville – or really, anything else by Attica Locke!

Here’s the synopsis of Pleasantville:

In this sophisticated thriller, lawyer Jay Porter, hero of Attica Locke’s bestseller Black Water Rising, returns to fight one last case, only to become embroiled once again in a dangerous game of shadowy politics and a witness to how far those in power are willing to go to win.

Fifteen years after the events of Black Water Rising, Jay Porter is struggling to cope with catastrophic changes in his personal life and the disintegration of his environmental law practice. His victory against Cole Oil is still the crown jewel of his career, even if he hasn’t yet seen a dime thanks to appeals. But time has taken its toll. Tired and restless, he’s ready to quit.

When a girl goes missing on Election Night, 1996, in the neighborhood of Pleasantville—a hamlet for upwardly mobile blacks on the north side of Houston—Jay, a single father, is deeply disturbed. He’s been representing Pleasantville in the wake of a chemical fire, and the case is dragging on, raising doubts about his ability.

The missing girl was a volunteer for one of the local mayoral candidates, and her disappearance complicates an already heated campaign. When the nephew of one of the candidates, a Pleasantville local, is arrested, Jay reluctantly finds himself serving as a defense attorney. With a man’s life and his own reputation on the line, Jay is about to try his first murder in a case that will also put an electoral process on trial, exposing the dark side of power and those determined to keep it.

It is marketed as a thriller and it is indeed, thrilling.

And like Black Water Rising, there is far more to the story than just the murder.

There are high stakes here, not just because a young girl has been killed, but because of who has been accused of her murder. There is much manipulation going on, deep and dark family secrets, money under the table, skeletons in the closet, and not to mention all that politicking. Jay is reluctant to be a part of this at first, he is recently widowed and struggling to raise his children. But he reluctantly steps into the courtroom, becomes entangled in this major mess and finds a target on his back.

When I finished Black Water Rising and started on Pleasantville, there was a big part of me that was hoping for things to have gone well for Jay Porter. I had felt very invested in his life after finishing the first book and just wanted the best for him. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who feels that way about characters! So it was a little sad to learn that things aren’t going so well for him. But I like how Locke doesn’t just give in to her characters – or her readers. It’s not about “and they lived happily ever after” here. This is life, and life is hard.

Locke is truly a master at weaving an intriguing web of murder-mystery, the campaign drama of local politics, social commentary, community and more into an intelligent, complex story. It is an intense read, but wonderfully so.

 

Attica LockeAttica Locke is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Black Water Rising, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was shortlisted for the UK’s Orange Prize. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Attica at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Check out the tour schedule:

Tuesday, April 14th: Bibliophiliac

Tuesday, April 14th: Crime Fiction Lover

Wednesday, April 15th: Jen’s Book Thoughts

Friday, April 17th: Olduvai Reads

Monday, April 20th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Tuesday, April 21st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, April 22nd: Book Loving Hippo

Monday, April 27th: FictionZeal

Tuesday, April 28th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies

Wednesday, April 29th: M. Denise Costello

Thursday, April 30th: A Bookworm’s World

Monday, May 4th: My Bookish Ways

Tuesday, May 5th: Reading Reality

Thursday, May 7th: Kritters Ramblings

Friday, May 8th: Drey’s Library

Tuesday, May 12th: Tina Says …

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

 

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Synopsis:

In the third novel of this unique and masterly crime series, a deathbed plea from his wife leads Sir Cecil Lawton, KC, to seek the aid of Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator. As Maisie soon learns, Agnes Lawton never accepted that her aviator son was killed in the Great War, a torment that led her not only to the edge of madness but also to the doors of those who practice the dark arts and commune with the spirit world. Determined to prove Ralph Lawton either dead or alive, Maisie is plunged into a case that tests her spiritual strength, as well as her regard for her mentor, Maurice Blanche. The mission will bring her to France and reunite her with her old friend Priscilla Evernden, who lost three brothers in the war, one of whom has an intriguing connection to the case.

 

It’s always a bit odd reviewing a book in a series. Do I talk about the series expecting any blog readers out there to know about the characters and their background? Or do I have to begin at the beginning?

Good thing I actually have a post about the first Maisie Dobbs book, right here! So I can cheat a little bit.

But here’s what you might need to know about Maisie Dobbs:

– she was a nurse during the First World War

– she honed her investigative skills while under the mentorship of Dr Maurice Blanche and now runs her own agency

– her first job was as a maid, and her employer catches her reading in the library and sends her off to school. She’s a bit of a prodigy

– this book is set in 1930s London.

Pardonable Lies is the third book in the series.

And Maisie has not one but three mysteries to uncover. Two men lost at war. One young girl accused of murder. How will she manage?

To make things worse, there seems to be someone following her and trying to kill her!

That always makes things exciting.

And it is interesting to see how Winspear is developing her character – as well as bits about the other side characters that feature in Maisie’s life. Winspear has a good eye for details and setting the scene when it comes to 1930s London. Often it is subtle, the street scenes, the clothes Maisie wears, little details like bandages and newfangled technology like long-distance phone calls! I mean, how did detectives or the police manage then without recording devices?

But while I was reading this book, I had another on my mind that I was also reading (why yes, I always have several different books going at once – do you?). A different crime series, involving a rather precocious youth.

I know it’s unfair to compare Maisie Dobbs to Flavia de Luce. Flavia is young – a child really although if she heard me say that she would likely slip some poison into my next cup of tea or something more devious like eye drops. But she is so much fun to read about, and I feel like she’s become a good (imaginary) friend of mine. The Flavia de Luce series is one that I never hesitate to jump on, grab hold off and lose myself in.

And Maisie, well, compared to Flavia, there is an aloofness. Her work is her life. Sure the work might be exciting, thrilling even, but when she’s not working, I’m not all that sure who she is sometimes.

Again, as I mentioned, it’s not entirely fair. I’ve read seven Flavia books and just three Maisie Dobbs. So I’m still in the process of getting to know Maisie Dobbs.

She kind of reminds me of House MD, yes, the TV doctor addicted to Vicodin, whose love is not the medicine or the healing of the patients but about the puzzle. Especially when she talks like this:

“Sometimes it’s as if truth were like a festering wound, ready to break open and be cleansed. It seems as if the information I am seeking is just there, lying in front of me on the path, asking to be discovered, asking for a kind of solution – or absolution. Then again, it can evade me, like a small splinter that escapes under the skin. Then I have to wait, be patient. I have to wait for it to fester.”

One of the best things about reading a book like this is beginning to understand how life must have been like as a woman in those times, a single woman, a career woman, a woman who has come up in the world and risen above her ranks. It has such wonderful historical details of life during that time that the less-than-stellar plot resolution is easily forgiven. Hopefully the later books in the series – there are seven more for a total of ten books – will give me a better complete picture of Maisie Dobbs!

Pardonable Lies is a well-researched, atmospheric, fun read. I would encourage those who are interested in historical fiction and less traditional mystery series to give Maisie Dobbs a try.

winspearJacqueline Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Leaving Everything Most LovedElegy for EddieA Lesson in SecretsThe Mapping of Love and Death, Among the Mad, and An Incomplete Revenge, as well as four other national bestselling Maisie Dobbs novels. Her standalone novel, The Care and Management of Lies, was also a New York Times bestseller. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel and was a New York Times Notable Book.

Find out more about Jacqueline at her website, www.jacquelinewinspear.com, and find her on Facebook.

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I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Check out the other tour stops!

TLC Book Tours: The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

The Monogram Murders

 

I first knew of Hercule Poirot from David Suchet’s portrayal of the Belgian detective with that snappy mustache. I think it was my Mum who enjoyed watching this series, well, whatever the reason, I remember watching some episodes as a kid.

And here I should add that for many years I (silly me!) scoffed at Agatha Christie and other mystery writers and never went anywhere near the ‘Mystery’ sections in libraries or bookstores at all.

I have since learnt what a fool I’ve been! Today I read far more widely than I used to, thanks in part to all you wonderful book bloggers out there! And have been poking around quite a few mystery/crime/detective series, and not just liking but loving them! Among those I’ve enjoyed are Laurie R King’s Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli series, Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri Paiboun series, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. In the past couple of years, I’ve even read Sherlock Holmes! This was largely due to the excellent BBC series. And that was a huge step for me, as my sister and I were given a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories when we were kids and that book was nothing more than a bookend to us!

But yes, Agatha Christie. She of the 66 detective novels, of which 33 star Hercule Poirot.

Of which I have perhaps read four? I hope to slowly increase that number, because they are a delight to read.

But this one, this latest Hercule Poirot mystery, is written by crime novelist Sophie Hannah, who, in an interview with The Telegraph, said that she decided to construct “the most intriguing possible mystery and bring it to Hercule Poirot”.

It must be HUGE shoes to fill, writing such a book. And Hannah has done a pretty good job at it. Here’s the plot summary:

 

Hercule Poirot’s quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered.  She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim…

 

From the young woman’s “I’m already dead, you see, or I shall be soon”, the mystery intrigues. And Hercule Poirot is on the case. A large part of the narrative is told from the point of view of a Scotland Yard policeman, Catchpool, who is intelligence but lacks confidence in himself. Poirot takes on the role of mentor here, encouraging Catchpool to figure things out but it is Catchpool, or at least something crucial he says, that leads to Poirot eventually solving the case. (Hannah found the name ‘Catchpool’ – as well as several other names she uses in the book – on a headstone in an old cemetery!)

And while I’m not as familiar with Poirot as others may be, but not long after finishing The Monogram Murders, I read Evil Under the Sun (Hercule Poirot #23), which I selected at random to get a better feel for Christie’s Poiroy, and it feels like Hannah has captured his mannerisms well. However, after reading Evil Under the Sun, Monogram Murders felt too lengthy,  so I checked Goodreads: At 352 pages (hardcover version), The Monogram Murders is longer than many of Christie’s books, which seem to have fewer than 300 pages. For instance, Evil Under the Sun is 220 pages long. What is with all these book lengths these days? The book felt like it went on too long here and there, especially after I read Evil Under the Sun which seemed more crisp and efficient.

Still the mystery was rather an enjoyable one, a tricky one that Christie herself might have thought of (please don’t yell at me for saying that, any Agatha Christie fans out there!). I’m still a rookie when it comes to this genre so I’m going to have to study up by reading more by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie – and whatever other crime/mystery/detective/thriller series/novels that you would recommend.

So recommend away!

 

Agatha ChristieAbout Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her books have sold more than a billion copies in English and another billion in a hundred foreign languages. She died in 1976.

Learn more about Agatha Christie through her official website.

Sophie Hannah

About Sophie Hannah 

Internationally bestselling author Sophie Hannah breathes new life into the incomparable detective. In this thrilling tale, Poirot plunges into a mystery set in 1920s London—a diabolically clever puzzle that will test his brilliant skills and baffle and delight longtime Christie fans and new generations of readers discovering him for the first time. Authorized by Christie’s family, and featuring the most iconic detective of all time, this instant Christie classic is sure to be celebrated by mystery lovers the world over.

I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Monday, September 15th: A Bookish Way of Life

Wednesday, September 17th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, September 18th: The Road to Here

Thursday, October 2nd: From the TBR Pile

Friday, October 3rd: My Bookshelf

Tuesday, October 7th: A Bookworm’s World

Wednesday, October 8th: Jorie Loves a Story

Thursday, October 9th: BoundbyWords

Thursday, October 9th: Wordsmithonia

Friday, October 10th: Books in the Burbs

Wednesday, October 15th: Olduvai Reads

TBD: Sara’s Organized Chaos

The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) – YS Lee

 

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This is the third book in The Agency series and perhaps the best book so far.

(Please note that as this is the third book in the series, there are potential spoilers for those of you who have yet to read the first two books! You have been warned!! ;p )

It feels like somehow everything blossomed in this one. The romance, her role in The Agency, the storytelling, the flow of the plot. It seems to have come into its own.

Mary Quinn is finally a full-fledged member of The Agency, a women-only detective agency (this is Victorian England so it is rather rare). But her first case hardly justifies her new role. She’s undercover at Buckingham Palace, working as a maid in Queen Victoria’s household to figure out who’s been stealing from the palace. Little things, not very exciting, at least not for Mary Quinn.

But it just so happens that the young Prince of Wales is witness to a murder in a seedy opium den. The accused is an opium addict, a Lascar, that is, an Asian sailor. More specifically, a Chinese man. And more significantly for Mary, a Chinese man with the same name as her long lost father.

Mary Quinn is forced to confront her half-Chinese background, instead of hiding it in the background as she used to.

“Mary stopped, drew a steadying breath, and resolved to do only what was necessary on this case without letting her emotions overtake her. To solve the mysterious thefts from the palace. To do all she could for Lang, while preserving her distance. And, most important, to keep her mixed-race parentage a secret. It was too complicated. Certain to mark her out as different. Foreign. Tainted. It was a hindrance and a handicap, when all she wanted was to blend in — with the outside world, but especially here.”

She has understandably been reluctant to reveal this side of her. Partly because of the political situation, partly because of how Asians (and those of mixed race) were perceived at the time. And also because her father, presumed lost at sea, hasn’t been in her life for years.

“He was gone — lost at sea when she was a small child — risking all on a mission to uncover truth. His death was the reason she and her mother had suffered so. The bone-deep cold and perpetual hunger. Her mother’s desperate turn to prostitution and, not long after, her death. Mary’s own years on the streets, keeping alive as a pickpocket and housebreaker. The inevitable arrest and trial, and the certainty of death — so very close that she’d all but felt the noose about her neck. And then, miraculously, her rescue. The women of the Agency had given her life anew. Mary Lang, the only child of a Chinese sailor and an Irish seamstress, was gone forever. She’d been reborn as Mary Quinn, orphan. Educated at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Trained as an undercover agent. An exciting, hopeful, active life had lain before her. Until this morning.”

And what do you know, once again, in her line of work, Mary chances upon James Easton, the man who sets her heart a pounding.

“It was preposterous. A prank. Utterly ludicrous, to think that in a city of a million souls, she should keep crossing paths with this one man. She’d never believe it in fiction.”

Their paths may have crossed all this while but they’ve never quite figured out what they are to each other. Friends? Colleagues? Fellow Londoners? Potential lovers? She’s not sure how far she can trust him. He’s not sure what exactly she is all about. And Lee allows more thoughts and feelings to emerge in this one.

There are also some new discoveries about the very Agency itself, suggesting a different direction for the series in future books to come. I’m looking forward to them! It’s rather exciting to see how this series has grown and matured. Quite satisfactorily so.

 

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

 

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I read this book for both Diversiverse and RIP IX

TLC Book Tours: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

I have to be honest, I was all ready to settle down for an, erm, unsettling mystery with this book. Instead I found myself immersed in an intriguing story with such depth and history that it took me a while to emerge from this. And even longer to figure out how to write about it.

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“Still, she took it as a sign.

A reminder, really, that Belle Vie, its beauty, was not to be trusted.

That beneath its loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle, lay a hand both black and bitter, soft to the touch, but pressing in its power. She should have known that one day it would spit out what it no longer had use for, the secrets it would no longer keep.”

Caren Grey is the general manager of Louisiana plantation-turned-tourist attraction Belle Vie. They host weddings and dinners, school tours and your usual tourists, enticing with some lovely 18-acres of views, a 157-year-old building, hearty food (“grits, rolled with smoked Gouda, spinach, and bacon; chard out of the garden, with garlic and lemon; and potatoes creamed with butter and drippings”), and a play by the Belle Vie Players about the plantation’s history.

Caren’s job is to make sure things run smoothly. With an almost-degree (she never quite finished) from Tulane Law School, some might say she’s overqualified for the job, but with a young daughter, it’s the best she can do at the moment. Plus she has ties to the place. Her mother used to cook for the family who lived there, but Caren’s roots go even deeper than that – she is the great-great-granddaughter of slaves who worked the plantation.

Her usual morning rounds come to an abrupt halt when a body is discovered on the property. A female migrant worker, her throat cut, her body buried in a shallow grave on the edge of the property, near the sugarcane fields owned by a burgeoning corporation.

The sheriff’s department thinks they have their man. But Caren thinks otherwise. And sets about trying to put things right. She has her own reasons though – her daughter Morgan, just 9, is keeping something from her, and that something involves a blood stain on the sleeve of one of her school shirts. And more importantly, Caren and Morgan reside on the property, and it is disconcerting to know that there is a killer out there somewhere. As if the plantation weren’t already eerie enough, with its leaden grey fog and rumours of being haunted.

“It was the stillness that spooked her. Not the kind of emptiness that comes with actual vacancy, but rather a strained quiet that was trying too hard, the tightness that comes when someone somewhere is trying very hard to be still, to restrain every twitch and wayward breath.”

Locke effectively uses the murder mystery to frame some bigger issues – race relations, politics, modern-day slavery, corporations etc. It was interesting to see how the Belle Vie Players, caught up in telling their tale of slavery on the plantation years ago, fail to see the similar situation that the migrant workers face working the sugarcane fields next door.

And Locke has given us a character whose roots are firmly in reality. Her emotions are raw, her actions flawed, but Caren is a tough character to like. Given her background as a former law student, some of her actions were questionable, but as a mother intending the best for her child, understandable.

The Cutting Season is an absorbing, well-written, atmospheric read, right from its opening when a snake as long as a Cadillac falls out of a tree and onto a woman’s lap to the way Locke ends it, staying away from conclusions that are too perfect and too neat but thoroughly satisfying.

I can’t wait to read more by Locke – I’ve just requested Black Water Rising from my library.

tlc logoI received this book for review from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins

Check out the other tour stops:

Tuesday, September 17th: red headed book child

Wednesday, September 18th: Time 2 Read

Thursday, September 19th: Book-alicious Mama

Monday, September 23rd: BoundbyWords

Tuesday, September 24th: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, September 25th: Peppermint PhD

Thursday, September 26th: Lectus

Monday, September 30th: Booksie’s Blog

Tuesday, October 1st: Olduvai Reads

Monday, October 7th: M. Denise C. 

Attica LockeAttica Locke is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Black Water Rising, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was short-listed for the UK’s Orange Prize. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Attica at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

TLC Book Tours: Aunty Lee’s Delights: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovidia Yu

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Salim took a tentative bite of the fried batter puff. If it was good enough for Commissioner Raja, it was good enough for him. Then he forgot all about the commissioner as the hot savoury mix of chili, onion, sardine, and – was it lime? – burst out of its crisp casing in his mouth. This was possibly the most sensational epok-epok he had tasted since his late grandmother’s death. Unlike the usual Chinese version, the pastry was thick and rich, and the savoury mix of seasoned fish, potato, and hard-boiled egg inside almost made him swoon. He looked across at Aunty Lee with something like devotion in his eyes.

Aunty Lee’s Delights in Binjai Park is known for its sweet and savoury kueh and fried tidbits. And her bottles of “Aunty Lee’s Shiok Sambal and Aunty Lee’s Amazing Achar and Krunchy Kropok”. But on this night it is the venue for a wine dinner, hosted by her stepson Mark, who fancies himself a bit of a wine connoisseur, pairing wines with local foods, more specifically Peranakan food.

Let’s meet the dinner guests, shall we?

The Cunninghams, Frank and Lucy, an old Australian couple, who “looked like retirees who were travelling to see the world and had chosen SIngapore as their first stop because of its clean, safe, English-speaking reputation”. But Aunty Lee’s nose sniffs out a secret that they are reluctant to share.

Harry Sullivan, a repeat diner, also an Australian, who loves being a white man in Singapore (he claims to be a hit with local women, for instance). He’s quite full of himself.

Mark Lee and his wife Selina (or Silly-nah as Aunty Lee likes to call her), the organisers of the event. Rather at odds with each other. Mark, the son of an old money family, had “grown up with that comfortable nonchalance toward money that a financially privileged childhood confers”. Selina, though, was an aspiring Tai-tai, or a wealthy woman who doesn’t have to work, and is thus resentful that her late father-in-law left all the money to his second wife, Aunty Lee. She’s bossy, he’s henpecked.

Rosie Lee, owner and chef at Aunty Lee’s Delights. Like her outfit of turquoise kebaya top, matching flared pants and sneakers with bright yellow laces, she is a mix of traditional and modern, experimenting and reverse engineering dishes of all sorts. She has two passions: food and news. She is best at being kaypoh (busybody). [I should add that “Aunty” or “Auntie” is often used in Singapore as a polite way of calling an older female, who might not necessarily be related to you. For instance, if I were to meet a friend and her mother, I would call her “Auntie”. Likewise for the term “Uncle”.]

Nina Balignasay is Aunty Lee’s domestic helper and sous chef in an unofficial capacity (as a maid, she isn’t supposed to be working outside of the home). She’s Aunty Lee’s eyes and ears and extra pair of hands.

Cherril Lim-Peters, a former flight attendant now the wife of a high-flying wealthy lawyer, is probably the only one there really interested in wining and dining. She is there without her husband Mycroft this time, and is quite delighted. Her sister-in-law Marianne was also expected but didn’t turn up either.

Laura Kwee who is supposed to help organize the dinner is conspicuously absent.

And Aunty Lee has the feeling that this has something to do with the dead body washed up on a beach.

As we – and police Senior Staff Sergeant Salim – soon find out, Aunty Lee’s nosy nose and connections everywhere (some are really Nina’s domestic helper connections) means that she is often the first to piece together the clues, all while cooking up a storm.

Aunty Lee is quite the character. She reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but with a greater focus on food. Of course she has her handy sidekick Nina to help with the snooping and cooking.

And oh, the food! Bubor cha cha (a hot coconut-y dessert soup with sweet potatoes, yam and more). Nasi Lemak (coconut rice served with fried fish, sambal chili). Epok-epok (spicy sardine puffs). All the good stuff that made me salivate a little, and think of home, while reading this book. So despite its not very exciting mystery, Aunty Lee’s Delights was quite a, er, delightful little read for me, full of the tastes and flavours of Singapore.

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I received this book for review from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins

Check out the other tour stops:

Tuesday, September 17th: Olduvai Reads

Wednesday, September 18th: Lavish Bookshelf

Thursday, September 19th: Wordsmithonia

Monday, September 23rd: Helen’s Book Blog

Tuesday, September 24th: guiltless reading

Wednesday, September 25th: Bibliophilia, Please!

Thursday, September 26th: Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, October 1st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, October 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, October 7th: A Chick Who Reads

Ovidia YuOvidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries that have been published in Singapore and India.

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