Vera Wong is the owner and proprietress of Vera Wang’s World Famous Tea House, located in San Francisco’s Chinatown. She’s up every morning at 4:30 and can’t understand why everyone isn’t like this. She’s a widow, with a somewhat strained relationship with her only son, who doesn’t seem to appreciate his early-morning wakeup calls as much as you would think. Her tea house has just one customer per day, an elderly man who stays 10 minutes only. Vera is disillusioned but keeps herself going by fanning a feud with the neighboring business, a so-called “French patisserie” that is actually Chinese, if you can imagine. Until one day when Vera goes downstairs to start her day and discovers a dead body in her tea room.
Like most of us, Vera has watched cop shows on TV so she knows what to do and what to expect, and she is very disappointed when the police don’t behave as she thinks they should. She soon realizes she’s going to have to do everything herself. She also knows that murderers return to the scene of the crime, and so when 4 young people show up the next day, she determines they are all suspects and sets out to break down their defenses by befriending them. There’s Riki, a young Indonesian man trying to get his young brother to the US; Sana, an Indian artist who is used to overbearing motherly types; Julia, the caucasian wife of the dead man, and Oliver, his twin brother. They all form an unlikely group around Vera, who runs the show and insists on over-feeding them, mothering the dead man’s toddler and widow as well, and just in general getting everyone into line.
It can be very hard to write a certain type of elderly woman–determined, quirky, overpowering, funny–and do it well. Author Jesse Sutanto has succeeded. Vera is a force of nature who manages not to be sentimental or two-dimensional, and there were several times when she made me literally laugh out loud. The only flaw is that she seemed a little too sensitive to modern sensibilities of emotional pain and trauma, but that didn’t spoil the book for me. Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is definitely a feel-good novel, but it’s well done and super enjoyable. Highly recommended.