Arsenic and Adobo is a decent cozy mystery that is pretty aware that it is that, as well as a romance. It pulls off one of those things better than the other. What I don’t get is how Lila can open the novel with “my life has become a rom-com cliché” but be so dense about a romance that doesn’t involve her. There’s obviously something going on with her Tita Rosie and a certain detective, but she (Lila and Rosie both) never even says anything. Lila certainly notices when she’s got her own romantic issues, both past (wow, she’s got some bad exes, one of whom ends up murdered; seriously though, the attempt to sort of redeem Derek towards the end is unnecessary and totally undermines all the lives he’s destroyed) and present. The present potential triangle seems inevitable, but I really hate that kind of thing, especially when the heroine seems to have no idea how to make a decision. There’s the lawyer brother of her childhood bestie as well as the cute kind-of-new-to-town dentist, and while I appreciate that Lila has too much to work through at the moment to really get into a romantic something (actually kind of good for her on that), the set up that just kicks the can further to a presumed sequel doesn’t bode well. At least there’s one happy couple by the end though.
The murder and the investigation is actually kind interesting, and naturally, since Lila has a history with the guy who died and it happens in her aunt’s restaurant which said ex seems out to destroy, she and her family are suspects, she’s not supposed to be investigating, but she and her aunties and all their relatives and other connections do anyways. All of this is expected, but this is a cozy mystery, so some degree of tropiness is expected and appreciated. There’s also an actually reasonable balance of food time (Filipino, US diner, Japanese, and coffee shop mostly) and murder time, which doesn’t always work, but it does here mostly. The one complaint I’ve got about the murder mystery side is that a big part of the eventual scheme revealed is totally visible a mile away but no one really sees it or says it until really late, and then one key reveal and confrontation is based on a reason that isn’t given until after the confrontation is underway. That’s not fair to me; I don’t like it when mystery solutions end up being something the reader has no clues about until it’s too late. I know that is a classic strategy sometimes used by the like of Agatha Christie, but I still don’t like it.
The characters themselves are mostly entertaining personalities, as long as you like the big family, small town kind of vibe, with everyone into each other’s business but well-meaning most of the time. There is kind of a strange vibe though with Lila her bestie Adeena, and their expectations and understanding of each other. They have some real unresolved issues at times, especially with how much they seem to expect the other to understand really important personal things without being told. With that kind of communication block, it also make Lila’s totally classic rom-com sudden discovery of her desire to stay home at the end less believable.
I may be reading too much into some of the details, and this really is a good fun read, but there’s also plenty of issues that can distract you if you let them. If you can ignore them until the end, then it’s probably fine.