Fri
Sep 22 2017 2:00pm

Review: Meddling and Murder by Ovidia Yu

Meddling and Murder by Ovidia Yu is the fourth book in the Aunty Lee Mysteries series.

We’re back with another excellent installment of the Aunty Lee Mysteries series, with one thing notably missing but an addition that I’m going to flatter myself into thinking is about me (cue the Carly Simon right here). In this fourth book of the Singapore-set series, Aunty Lee is quite cross at her Filipina maid, Nina, who refuses to let Aunty Lee encourage the romantic attentions of Inspector Salim, the police officer who’s been in love with Nina over the course of several books now. Nina knows how difficult it is for two people of such differing social statuses to have a successful relationship, much less marry, as Salim has proposed. She’s too much of a realist to encourage him, so she has decided to snub him altogether. This greatly annoys Aunty Lee, who believes in true love and working things out.

Ovidia Yu not only presents their differing viewpoints with honesty and sensitivity but also includes Salim’s own complicated thought processes as he struggles to reconcile his love for Nina with his love for his country:

Why hadn’t he offered to leave Singapore with her? He had a law degree; he would manage to support them somehow, at least after he had served out his bond or paid it back. Interracial marriage had never been a big issue in Singapore. Inter-religious marriage could be a bit touchier but, unless the families involved wanted an excuse to make trouble, most people found a way around it … or went to live in Australia or Canada.

Salim did not really want to leave Singapore. He knew from his time abroad that he would be able to fit in almost anywhere. But there was no other place in the world to which he felt an equal commitment. He had a stake in the survival of the tiny struggling island city. Someday he hoped to pass this on to his sons and daughters. And he longed to share this love and commitment with the woman he loved.

It’s this bit of friction that makes it so Aunty Lee doesn’t put up too much of a fight when her annoying stepdaughter-in-law Selina attempts to blackmail her into loaning out Nina to Beth, a woman whose maid has run away. Ordinarily, Aunty Lee would never dream of allowing Nina to work (quite illegally) for another person, but Nina makes the mistake of letting on that her concern for Aunty Lee being alone without her is yet another factor in the way of her relationship with Salim. Highly aggrieved by this reference to her advancing years, Aunty Lee decides to prove to Nina that she can manage quite well on her own. 

But neither Beth nor the man she shares her house with is all that they seem, and soon, Aunty Lee and Nina—though separated by pride and more sinister forces—find themselves racing to find out what happened to the missing maid before the same fate befalls Nina herself.

It was so good to be back in Ms. Yu’s Singapore! She isn’t afraid to poke at the seedy underbelly of life on the island and discuss the uncomfortable truths that hide behind the country’s very proper, respectable facade. And, to be clear, she doesn’t do this in order to shame the country (though, in all honesty, if Asian people with maids would read this book and realize that they need to start treating their helpers as human beings and not virtual slaves, then a little shame is a good thing!) but to highlight a very real problem that doesn’t get enough attention in either Singapore or its neighboring countries, which suffer from very similar problems.

Full disclaimer: I’m from Malaysia, and while my immediate family has always hired locals and treated them literally like family, I know plenty of people who hire foreign maids and treat them horrendously.

But Meddling and Murder isn’t all social justice and controversy, it’s also extremely humorous—as here, where Cherril, Aunty Lee’s business partner, is trying to shoo her out of the kitchen:

What was there left to manage? Aunty Lee looked at the huge clay pot where the stock was simmering, rich with chicken, pork bones, pork belly, and her own personal tweak to make the soup sweet … dried shallots, dried octopus, and dried flat fish. It might be boiling but it was certainly not ‘ready.’ Cherril was just trying to show Aunty Lee how well she had learned to manage in the kitchen. If she had been a minor concubine in Old China it would be time for the empress to have her poisoned or put down a well. But since they were in modern Singapore Aunty Lee knew the younger woman was only trying to prove her worth.

And oh those food descriptions! The first three books came with recipes so mouthwatering that I launched my Cooking the Books column with them, so I was rather disappointed that this novel did not have any recipes included. Perhaps if we pester Ms. Yu enough, she’ll see fit to add some to her next books.

Speaking of additions, there was a new character in this novel with a rather unusual (for Singapore) surname. I’m going to pretend I was the inspiration for that. I totally think this song, er, character is about me. As if I needed more reason to be addicted to Ms. Yu’s charming, clever series than to see what my namesake will do next!
 

Cooking the Books: Aunty Lee Mysteries
Aunty Lee's Delights Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge

 

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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