Series: Noodle Shop Mystery #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on March 27th 2018
Genres: Cozy, Mystery
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks
Welcome to the Ho-Lee Noodle House, where the Chinese food is to die for. . .
The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that a return to the Cleveland area to help wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.
Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead―after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy―to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out―it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.
Death by Dumpling is the first book in a new cozy series by Vivien Chien, and I found it delightful. I’ve been on a bit of cozy mystery kick recently and finding not only a new series, but a new author, and a setting I haven’t seen before made my whole week.
Lana Lee has recently restarted her life. She broke up with her jerk boyfriend, quit the job that made her miserable, and started working at her parents’ noodle house. It’s not where she saw her life at 27, but it’s good, and she’s happier than she has been in a while.
Everything seems great until Thomas Feng, a family friend and the man who basically owns and runs Asia Village, is murdered and suspicion falls on Lana and her co-worker Peter. Lana realizes that the police are sure it was one of them, so it’s up to her to clear their names.
The story itself is a pretty standard cozy mystery; if you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll recognize the familiar tropes. What set this one apart for me was the writing and the setting. Vivien Chien managed to set up the entire history of Asia Village, where the noodle shop is located, the relationships between the major characters and the side characters, and the history of Lana’s family without ever feeling info-dumpy or seeming like she was trying to cram the information in. It was clear from reading this book that Vivien Chien lives in Cleveland, or had at least spent a lot of time there. (I checked her site; she currently lives there). I’m from Ohio as well, though not the Cleveland area, and I felt right at home reading this.
Asia Village is populated with some really fun characters. I’m looking forward to further books where we can get to know them better. Not only Lana, but her parents, (her mother, especially), her roommate Megan, her co-workers, and the rest of the business owners in the village were well drawn. Megan, in fact, did the most common sense thing I’ve ever seen in a cozy mystery and bought Lana a copy of a book called “How Regular People Become Private Detectives”. I don’t know why more baker/knitter/bookshop owner/chef/barista/whatever-turned-sleuths don’t immediately jump on Amazon and start looking up books on detecting the minute they decide to investigate a murder.
The mystery itself was compelling. So many characters had valid reasons to want Thomas Feng dead, but were also presented as rational people who probably wouldn’t resort to murder to solve their problems. Plenty of possibilities, but none that I considered actual red herrings. I figured out who the killer was before Lana, but then I changed my mind. Turns out I was right the first time. But I appreciated that the solution wasn’t broadcast from the first page.
This is a charming, well-written start to a new series. If you like a good cozy mystery, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Oh – I almost forgot! There’s a black pug named Kikkoman, so if that’s not reason enough for you to pick it up, I don’t even know what to say to you. I’m really hoping he shows up on the cover of one of these books.