If you are looking for a novel featuring a standout female main character for your Mother’s Day reading this year then look no further than Vera Wong ZhuZhu, the proprietor of Vera Wong’s World-Famous Teahouse. Her adult son, Tilbert complains that the teahouse is slightly misnamed (she thinks a connection with the designer is good for business) and it also isn’t exactly ‘world-famous’ but the shop really had been doing well–until recently. Vera sticks to her daily routine of waking at 4:30, walking briskly around the neighbourhood, and opening her tea shop without fail until one morning she finds a body on the floor of the restaurant. What do you think a sixty-year-old widowed tea house owner would do when they find a body in their place of business? Well, since it’s Vera we are talking about here, she first prepares the restaurant by placing fresh flowers and a photograph of herself in her twenties (to remind the officers that she used to be ‘a looker’), brews them a custom tea which is designed to help their investigative skills and draws an outline (she had to use a Sharpie because she didn’t have tape) around the body to save them time before she even calls the police. Vera is a resourceful, practical woman who is ready for anything. Ready even for a dead body in her tea shop. What would any other sixty-year-old widowed tea house owner do in this situation? I’m not sure I even want to know, now that I’ve met Vera.
The person on the floor is Marshall Chen, a young man entirely unknown to her. The details of his life do not remain a mystery for long. Vera gets to know his wife, Julia, and their daughter, Emma when she begins to investigate the death of Marshall because she is not the kind of woman to leave things alone. Vera also meets Marshall’s twin brother, Oliver, when he comes to the teahouse to see the place where his brother died, and two other young people, Riki and Sana, who have an interest in Marshall’s death. Vera is suspicious of all four. Everyone has secrets in this case and Vera has so many ways of getting people to spill. She uses a mother’s ability to sense deception, can outwait anyone with unwavering patience, and is not above guilting them into answering her questions. She is also aware that her cooking skills are a powerful bribe so she never arrives without her arms full of plastic containers of delicious food. It’s hard to come away from time spent with this book and not want to eat or cook something.
Vera is a top-notch nurturer and a determined investigator. She keeps careful notes on her progress (very Vera-style – in the early days she considers that Marshall might have been poisoned by the KGB) and finds herself making five new friends, especially with young Emma, although she makes it clear to the adults that they are her main suspects. Her ability to blend tough love (she doesn’t mind telling anyone that they don’t eat well enough, should make better choices in their parenting, could decorate their home with more flare, should probably be dating a different person) with generosity make Vera a character who exudes warmth and makes a reader hope that she has the chance to solve another mystery very soon. Author Jesse Q. Sutanto recently posted the news that powerhouses Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey are backing a TV series featuring Vera so the chances are very good that we’ll be seeing her back in the teahouse again soon.