Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

So many fiction series start out well then hit a sort of sophomore slump: Ovidia Yu’s Aunty Lee mystery series manages not only to avoid this pitfall but to improve (vastly, in my opinion) on her debut. While the food writing and observations regarding Singaporean mores and personalities are as excellent as before, the mystery is much stronger, with a denouement that felt far less contrived than in its predecessor. It’s not a perfect book by any means — it doesn’t feel like a seamless read due to several rather odd transitions — but it was an incredibly satisfying read for a crime novel junkie like myself, who misses her Southeast Asian homeland.

I also felt that Ms Yu was getting more comfortable with her characters, and with saying perhaps unpopular things. Her first book in this series felt much more circumspect in her treatment of homosexuality; Deadly Specials, however, has a liberal tone in addressing the subject. Similarly for her gentle poking at both government and Singaporean rigidity, exemplified by Aunty Lee’s casual, “Suitable art is just propaganda” when warned that the portfolio she’s about to look at may contain art that’s not very “suitable” for a lady of her age and station. But what I really enjoyed were Ms Yu’s observations, via a discouraged Aunty Lee, regarding the purpose of life

Why bother cooking chicken curry and catching murderers and exercising to lose weight when at the end of it all you wound up dead and not caring about anything?

(don’t worry, she bounces back and tells you) and, even better, her critical examination of class and privilege and religion, extrapolating the issues in the book to hint at how they’re a universal problem

“According to [her], the laws necessary to maintain social order are not the same as God’s laws. To her, that meant she had a God-given right to save her son by any means that did not upset the social order.”

Heady stuff for a cozy mystery, and very promising for future installments. I already have the third book on my wish list!

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