I’ve always assumed that Lana Lee, the main character of the Noodle Shop Mysteries, is a stand-in for the author, Vivien Chien. Near the beginning of Killer Kung Pao, Lana goes to the salon to have her hair dyed gunmetal gray. I know Chien likes to dye her hair fun colors so I checked her Instagram to see if she had tried gunmetal gray. Instead I saw her post about being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My heart sank. Cancer is always sad and scary but some cancers frighten me more than others. Ovarian cancer is one. Vivien Chien is a young woman. Her career is taking off. And she’s fighting cancer. It makes me very sad and it was in the back of my mind (and sometimes the front) while I was reading Killer Kung Pao. It reminded me how much Chadwick Boseman’s death affected me. And, how much my parents’ deaths from cancer changed me. Fuck cancer.
Killer Kung Pao starts with Lana witnessing a fender bender between June Yi and Millie Mao. Both women are known for being unhappy, disagreeable people. After a screaming match, Millie calls the police and an ambulance. The next morning, Lana heads to Asian Accents, the salon at Asia Village, to get her hair dyed gunmetal gray. June arrives shortly after Lana, followed by Millie a while later. June and Millie immediately start yelling at each other. Jasmine, the owner of Asian Accents, manages to stop the fight. A few minutes later, the lights go out. When they come back on, Millie is dead and there’s a nail lamp floating in her foot bath. Everyone, including the police, assume June did it, except for June’s twin sister Shirley. Shirley begs Lana to investigate and prove June is innocent. Lana reluctantly agrees.
I loved this book. Chien is really coming into her own as a writer. She’s streamlining her plots and expanding her main character’s inner monologue. Lana’s thoughts and actions seemed more realistic and understandable in this novel than in previous ones. She added a new minor character who dislikes Lana, but is loved by everyone else. I look forward to seeing how that relationship develops. But Chien’s biggest success with this book is making the audience care about an unlikeable murder victim and an unlikeable suspect. It was a risky proposition but she pulled it off.
I hope Chien’s surgery this week went well and she makes a swift recovery. Actually, I hope she kicks cancer’s ass so hard it’s scared to go near her or anyone else ever again. I know that’s not very realistic, but that’s the wish I’ll put out in the universe, and maybe, just maybe, this time it’ll come true.