Aunty Lee’s Delights is Not So Delightful

I do love a good mystery set in a foreign country, where I feel like I’m traveling in addition to the fun of figuring out the solution. Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu is set in Singapore, and the main character, Aunty Lee, runs a restaurant, so the book also promised mouth-watering descriptions of food. Right up until the last chapter or two, the book was everything I wanted.

Aunty Lee is a perfect smart, kind, nosy, Miss-Marple-esque amateur detective, underestimated by most people, with her maid/companion Nina as her sidekick. The story intertwines with meals at Aunty Lee’s restaurant as well as the peculiarities and race relations of Singaporean culture.

Right up until the last chapter or two, the book was everything I wanted. Aunty Lee is a perfect smart, kind, nosy, Miss-Marple-esque amateur detective, underestimated by most people, with her maid/companion Nina as her sidekick. The story intertwines with meals at Aunty Lee’s restaurant as well as the peculiarities and race relations of Singaporean culture.

It becomes clear fairly early on that the two murders to be solved relate in some way to anti-lesbian sentiment among some of the more traditionally minded characters. The book itself is not anti-lesbian–Aunty Lee does not share this sentiment and tries to explain to Nina why it’s wrong–but I can see where this theme would be upsetting for some. But this is not a main part of the story until the very end.

****SPOILERS****

We learn that one of the dead women, Marianne, lied to her parents about going on vacation with friends and instead intended to meet up with her girlfriend. Her girlfriend is alive and well and pretty clearly had nothing to do with Marianne’s murder. We know that Marianne and the other dead women, Laura, had been communicating, but not the real subject of the communications. All fine. Then at the end, all of a sudden, there is a complicated story about Laura trying to trick Marianne into some type of anti-gay conversion therapy conducted by one of the other characters. Marianne dies accidentally, and somehow he winds up killing Laura as well. It’s bizarre and confusing.

It isn’t clear why this random man is running a conversion therapy program (he’s also a scammer), why Marianne couldn’t just leave this villa where it was taking place, etc. There is also a strange bit where he tries to kill two other minor characters with Molotov cocktails–characters who, as it turns out, wanted to put their son into conversion therapy. So why would the “therapist” want to harm them? The whole story just completely fell apart. I had a hard time following what was going on, and none of it really made any sense. It was SO DISAPPOINTING because, up until the very end, I thought I had found a great new mystery series. NOT RECOMMENDED.

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