While it is not the work for which she received the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished writers, Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo feels so authentically from her soul, readers will recognize how this is the novel Manansala was destined to write – as only she could.
Arsenic and Adobo falls squarely into the cozy mystery tradition with all the beloved tropes and expectations that come along with that designation, however, the focus on Filipino culture brings a fresh, new perspective readers will not have seen before – especially in the crime fiction genre.
Our main character – and eventual amateur sleuth – is Lila Macapagal, who has returned to Shady Palms, Illinois after a particularly difficult break-up only to be challenged with helping to save her Tita Rosie’s Kitchen, which is a family-run restaurant suffering a downturn in traffic. When one particularly vicious food critic – who also happens to be Lila’s ex-boyfriend – dies in the restaurant, Lila’s bad times suddenly get even more complicated. Fortunately for Lila, Filipino families stick together; no one is going to leave her out in the cold for a crime she didn’t commit. And Lila is not going to let the Kitchen close!
Lila’s family and friends are people readers will want to spend more time with. Notice that this did not say characters, and that is because Mia P. Manansala has that elusive gift that allows her to truly bring her fictional creations to life – as though they are occupying the house next door. Particularly delightful is the bantering, yet loving nature exhibited by the trio of April, Mae, and June (the Calendar Crew), the reciprocated loyalty of her best friend, Adeena, and the “required for a cozy” pet, the endearing doggie, Longganisa. Manansala could have easily settled on the diversity that the Filipino family brings to the table, but instead she populates her world with a rainbow’s worth of varied individuals representing many backgrounds and experiences. Sort of like the real world, huh?
Mia P. Manansala also respects the intelligence of her audience. When she uses terms that may be unfamiliar to readers, she finds clever ways to get the meaning across without having to spoon-feed each definition to her audience. The descriptions of the food alone are going to have readers seeking out the nearest Filipino restaurant for dinner…which they will eat without putting the book down. Arsenic and Adobo is a fast and fun read, with a mystery that plays fair without being too obvious and just enough romantic tension to offset the murder. Readers will be clamoring for their next meal at Tita Rosie’s Kitchen, so anticipation for the next in this series will be high.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.