Monday, April 1, 2019

Death by Dumpling, by Vivien Chien

This mystery is set in an enclosed shopping area called Asia Village, in Cleveland, Ohio. It is narrated by 27-year-old Lana Lee, who impulsively quit her job one day. "You know in the movies where someone says, 'You can't fire me, I quit!' . . . maybe don't do that in real life. Unless you don't mind working a a server in your parents' Chinese restaurant for the rest of your life." Her parents are thrilled to have her back at the Ho-Lee Noodle House. Lana isn't, but she needs to pay rent on the apartment she shares with her best friend Megan and her other bills.

I liked Lana's voice from the start. "Things to know about me: I'm half English, half Taiwanese, and no, I don't know karate. I'm definitely not good at math and I don't know how to spell your name in Chinese. . . Oh, and I have a problem with doughnuts."

On the day the story opens, Lana takes a lunch-time delivery to Asia Village's owner, Mr. Feng, in his office. As she arrives, another tenant named Kimmy Tran storms out and informs Lana that he is raising rents on the stores by 15%. Her parents won't be able to afford that. Lana takes the bag of food in to Mr. Feng and chats with him for a few moments, then returns to the restaurant. A couple of hours later, her mother's best friend Esther Chin rushes into the restaurant to find Mrs. Lee. She brings the shocking news that Mr. Feng was found dead in his office. Even worse, he died from an allergic reaction to the shrimp dumplings that Lana delivered to him. But everyone in the Village knew of his deadly allergy. Peter, the cook at the Noodle House, was always very careful in preparing and cooking his food. Lana took Mr. Feng his usual order of pork dumplings, so where did the shrimp dumplings come from? When the police arrive, Peter is taken into custody. But Lana finds that fingers are also pointing her way, since she delivered the food to Mr. Feng. She and her roommate Megan decide that the police are on the wrong track, especially in suspecting Peter, so they decide to do some investigating on their own. Megan even buys Lana a book about how to become a private detective. The actual detective in charge of the case, the dark and brooding Lt. Adam Trudeau, takes a very dim view of this.

I enjoyed this story very much. It was interesting to explore the Village, with its community of owners running a variety of stores, and some of their loyal customers. As in any community, there are alliances and sometimes hostilities. There is also history between the members, which plays a big part in the story. It was fun too following Lana and Megan's detective work. At one point, Lana starts the kind of "motive, means and opportunity" list that comes up so often in Golden Age mysteries. However, she and Megan quickly lose control of it, with additions and deletions scribbled all over the place. Mine would look the same, I'm sure. And I enjoyed the family dynamics between Lana and her parents, and her over-achieving older sister Anna May as well (a law student).

This was a very satisfying mystery, with a vivid sense of place. Despite the restaurant setting, there is no food porn here, but people are always eating, and I did find myself thinking of noodles more than once. I am pleased that there are two more books in the series, Dim Sum of All Fears and Murder Lo Mein (that one published just last week).


  1. The title alone totally made me laugh. I think I might have to try this one. :)

  2. All three have great punning titles! I hope you enjoy this one.

  3. Oh my gosh this sounds so fun! I really do want to read more mysteries this year, so I'm in the process of collecting recommendations -- it sounds like this is a good one to add to my list.

    1. Can I also recommend Ovidia Yu, if you haven't read her - both the contemporary series and the new one set in the 1930s?

  4. This sounds like a very entertaining series! I love reading mysteries, especially in the summer, so I will definitely check this out :)


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!