Sunday, November 24, 2013

Singapore Mystery: AUNTY LEE'S DELIGHTS, Ovidia Yu

Reading the Scandinavians lately? Or returning to a secret stash of the warmer (in every sense) Venetian mysteries from Donna Leon? Preparing for the Anglo-Saxon year-end holidays by exploring the bottom book shelf for a British police pair or even a classic Agatha Christie?

Here's a treat to indulge that "international mysteries" wanderlust while also savoring a well-plotted, clever traditional mystery: AUNTY LEE'S DELIGHTS from Ovidia Yu.

No translators involved -- Singapore is an Asian island-nation where the four official languages are English, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese, and author Yu writes in her native language, English, with delicious tidbits of words and customs that may be new to American readers. And she braids her lively sense of humor, love for Singapore, and lifelong experience with mysteries as she brings Aunty Lee to the case of a murdered young woman found at a nearby resort.
"Now they are finding bodies on the beach! I tell you, that place is bad luck! Do you know it used to be called Pulau Blakang Mati? That means 'Island of Death.' Before your time, of course, but everyone in Singapore will remember. Crazy, right? Go and build a tourist resort in a placed called Island of Death."
That's Aunty Lee expounding to her assistant Nina, as the two of them prepare a feast for their small café-style restaurant, where they provide "good traditional Peranakan food" and the sauces and special items that Aunty Lee used to sell from home. Now, though, with the latest modern equipment, and Nina's help (especially with Internet searches!), Aunty Lee can keep up with a more demanding business.

Mystery readers will recognize the device of a dinner, a murder, and sorting through the couples and singles on hand to eat and drink, to figure out motive, means, and opportunity -- while Yu's quick pace and richly detailed storytelling keep the magic of Singapore up front, along with the delight of Aunty Lee herself, a woman both determined and curious -- characterized by kiasu, or "fear of losing out." Whatever is happening, Aunty Lee wants to know all about it, and won't let go of her newly adopted role of pushing the police and the possible killer to a steamy revelation.

Grab a copy for relief from the pressures of holiday prep, or to explore someplace you might never see in person (or plan to visit!), and for the fun of meeting Aunty Lee and Nina. Better eat something before you start, though, or the culinary delights involved may have your stomach growling as you read! A good pick for a gift, too. Light, lively, and delicious.

PS - There's an enjoyable interview with Yu -- well known in Singapore for her more than 30 plays, as well as TV presence, and a highly published mystery author in India, too -- at Jungle Red. Fun to get acquainted with the author and the start of "Aunty Lee" as Lucy Burdette asks the questions.

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