I have slightly mixed feelings on this one, but overall I enjoyed it! I think this might actually be my first true cozy mystery, although I’ve read books that you might stretch to fit into that genre, like the Inspector Gamache books, but the cozy part is only a small part of that series. As far as I understand it, a true “cozy mystery” involves very little stress on the part of the reader, usually takes place in a small town with eccentric villagers, heavily features food and books or both at the same time, and often the main character is a proprietor of establishments that provide either (or both!) of those things, yet somehow they keep getting roped into solving crimes!
In this case, Lana Lee, recently single and jobless, depressed, and now working at her parents’ Chinese restaurant, delivers an order of dumplings to one Thomas Feng, a regular customer who is allergic to shrimp and is the owner of the commercial complex in Ohio called “Asia Village” where Ho-Lee Noodle House rents space, along with many other Asian-owned businesses. An hour later he is dead. Everyone who works in the Noodle House is now a suspect, as are many other people who work in the Village, and of course secrets start spilling out.
What’s giving me mixed feelings here, to sum up: This felt like a first novel in all the worst ways. Abundant use of cliched dialogue, bare characterization, little justification for the main character to get involved in the investigation (she just decides to? for some reason?). Characters doing things to move along the plot, and not because there was an inherent reason to do so. And, honestly, beyond a handful of lines in the narrative, the main character just didn’t feel like she had much of a personality. I wish this book hadn’t been written in the first person. It can just so easily wash out character, especially with greener authors. I also wanted waaaaaaaay more food descriptions, and for food to be much more central to the book than it actually was, even despite it being the murder weapon! People, if you are setting your book in a delicious Chinese restaurant, I expect BOUNTIFUL and NUMEROUS descriptions of all the food you can bring yourself to include.
I did have fun with this. The Asian Village makes a for a great setting, for multiple reasons. The congregations of multiple Asian cultures in one place (I think many were Chinese, but not exclusively so) was a really smart choice to set a series in. There is a ton of potential there for future stories. There were also some glimmers of interesting characters that I hope she can flesh out in the future, particularly Lana’s best friend and roommate, Megan. I did enjoy the time we spent in her parents’ restaurant as well. One of the few characters I did think was really well fleshed out was Lana’s mom (the others were Kimmy Tran and Donna, the murdered man’s wife). I also thought that, despite the clumsy way the plot ended up from point to point, the mystery itself was nicely constructed, with good red herrings and twists, but wasn’t inherently unsolvable.
I’m going to read a few more books in this series, which seems to be doing very well, before I decide for sure if this is an author or series to give up.