By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Killer Kung Pao
By Vivien Chien
St. Martin’s, 2020
Lana Lee is back and she’s got a full plate. She’s still running her family’s Chinese restaurant in Asia Village in Cleveland, which is challenging at best. But just as she starts thinking about a weekend away with her boyfriend, Det. Adam Trudeau, she witnesses a car accident in the plaza parking lot. And of course, she must get involved.
The accident is between June Yi of Yi’s Tea and Bakery in the plaza and mahjong lover Mildred “Millie” Mao—two formidable women you wouldn’t want to cross. In the aftermath of the fender bender, each woman curses and threatens the other and Lana knows nothing good could come from it. And she’s right. The next day, Millie is found dead at a beauty salon in the village and Lana is back on the case.
Longtime readers of my column will know I love a good series and Chien’s Noodle Shop mysteries are no exception. She does a great job giving readers a new mystery, filled with twists and surprises. But what I really love is getting to know characters over the course of a series. And here, it’s not just about Lana.
Chien gives us glimpses into the lives of those around Lana. For example, her friends Kimmy (my personal favorite) and Peter have hit a special milestone in their relationship and it’s fun to see them navigate it through Lana’s eyes. There’s also something going on with Lana’s sister, Anna May—which we will hopefully learn more about in future installations.
I appreciate these details because Chien shows readers various personalities among Asians and Asian Americans. In addition to the multifaceted Lana, who we really get to know since the story is told through her eyes, we see the other characters grow alongside her. This may be Lana’s story, but we get a glimpse into the stories of other people that will have readers curious and wanting to know more about them.
Mimi Lee Gets a Clue
By Jennifer J. Chow
Mimi Lee has just opened her new pet grooming shop, Hollywoof, in Los Angeles. Her biggest concerns should be building up her clientele and thwarting her mother’s continuous matchmaking attempts.
But after a run-in with Russ Nolan, a local animal breeder who has been mistreating chihuahuas, she has to add one more item to her list of concerns—especially after he ends up being murdered. And thanks to their shouting match, Mimi is at the top of the police’s suspect list. So she has no choice but to solve Russ’s murder—and save the pups—herself.
Mimi is assisted by her handsome neighbor Josh, as well as her newly adopted, talking (yes, talking) cat Marshmallow.
The first in a new series, “Gets a Clue” introduces us to Mimi Lee: entrepreneur, animal lover, protective sister, and loving (if not sometimes annoyed) daughter. Mimi is a smart and strong young woman. She is determined and resourceful, but she doesn’t always know this about herself. On occasion, she experiences moments of self doubt, making her relatable to the rest of us.
In addition to the whodunnit mystery, Chow brings readers into the world of humans and the animals they love. As a non-pet owner, it was a glimpse into a bond I am not familiar with and from the outside, don’t always understand. But Chow shows what animal companions could mean to us. I particularly enjoyed watching the relationship between Mimi and Marshmallow. Even though their human-animal relationship is new, they get on almost right away—like a pair of bickering siblings. Marshmallow, a majestic Persian cat, is a sassy, smart-mouthed feline who always has a quick comeback for Mimi. But he is always ready to help when Mimi needs it. His loyalty to Mimi helps me understand the bond people share with their pets.
The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star
By Vaseem Khan
Mulholland Books, 2017
The city of Mumbai thrives on extravagance, spectacles, and larger-than-life characters, but even in the city of dreams, the bright lights are no guarantee of a happily ever after.
This is what retired police inspector-turned-private-detective Chopra finds out after the disappearance of one Vikram “Vicky” Verma—Bollywood’s biggest up-and-coming star. The playboy has left his latest film, said to be the most expensive in industry history, in jeopardy and his mother has hired Chopra to find him. And where Chopra is, his baby elephant sidekick, Ganesha, is sure to follow. The petite pachyderm is one of my favorite characters of this series. While he is a highly intelligent creature who comes through for Chopra and his team when needed, Ganesha is also a baby and it’s fun to see when his behavior reflects this. Who wouldn’t love to see a baby elephant acting petulant after not getting his way?
As the pair investigate, they uncover feuds, death threats, and bad financial decisions that prove many have motives for wanting Vicky out of the way.
“Bollywood Star” takes readers on an adventure as Khan dives deep into a flamboyant film industry. The plot is filled with enough surprises and twists to make your average Bollywood movie proud. Khan will keep readers guessing when it comes to Vicky and his fate and the culprit will surprise even the most adept sleuth.
I also enjoyed the story’s subplot, which delves into India’s transgender community, or eunuchs. As a community that has been shunned, targeted, and persecuted by societies throughout the world, Khan does a great job of reminding readers that they are human just like the rest of us. They have their own hopes and dreams, same as everyone else. And in a world that is growing more and more divided, we should all take care to remember that at the end of the day, we are all human.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.