May books are special creatures.
In May, I like a quirky book. A cheerful book. A book that can transport me almost instantly, because May, in my experience, is jammed full of events, activities, and to-dos that frankly, interrupt my reading to a ridiculous degree.
But take heart! Mia P. Manansala’s debut mystery, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, fits the bill perfectly. As the title suggests, it’s a distinctly Filipino take on cozy mysteries, brimming with humor, great food, and a fresh, modern feel.
Lila Macapagal leaves her life (and her cheating ex) in Chicago to help save her aunt’s struggling Filipino restaurant. Tita Rosie makes mouthwatering food, but a slew of bad reviews from a local food blogger have hurt business considerably. When the reviewer dies face-down in one of Lila’s fusion desserts, the restaurant is forced to shut down indefinitely — in part because Lila’s the prime suspect.
Backed by her best friend, a bevy of meddlesome aunties, and two potential love interests, Lila sets out to clear her name and rescue the family business, all while coming to terms with her decision to move back home and abandon her big-city dreams. If these beats sound familiar, it’s because they’re commonplace in cozy mysteries, but Manansala imbues these tropes with vitality and humor. It’s a winning combination, much like Lila’s baking or her best friend’s gourmet coffee creations.
Lila is a character to watch — she has a good heart, a sharp mind, and a strong sense of loyalty, and enough self-awareness to work on her flaws, such as her short temper and tendency to speak before she thinks. She’s a dynamic, appealing character, and that depth extends to the diverse supporting cast as well, particularly her best friend Adeena, her prickly cousin Bernadette, and Jae, the brother of the detective working the case. While the author mines all of Lila’s relationships for humor, there are plenty of complicated dynamics to fuel further installments.
The mystery itself is solidly built, with red herrings and suspects aplenty, and unexpected layers to the crime simmering beneath the surface of Lila’s hometown — as well as a surprising and satisfying final twist. The food descriptions, ranging from traditional Filipino dishes to sushi to mole sauce — were mouthwatering, but never overwhelming. And like any cozy mystery, there’s very little onscreen violence or gore, which I appreciate in a right-before-bedtime read.
If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries, ARSENIC AND ADOBO is an absolute treat: a breezy, clever charmer that’s perfect year-round…but especially in May.