Monday, 6 March 2017

Cold Vengeance, Hot Case: Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge A Treat

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 06 March 2017


The third instalment of Ovidia Yu's Aunty Lee crime series begins with an arson at a veterinary clinic in Singapore.

And the intrepid, sometimes foolhardy Rosie Lee, the protagonist and proprietor of a Peranakan café in Binjai Park (and, perhaps, her creator's in-universe avatar), has to navigate the clues and suspects with a sprained ankle.

In Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge, British expat Allison Fitzgerald is subjected to trial by Internet after she had a puppy euthanised at the clinic that has been torched.

A traumatised Allison left the island state, only to return several years later to sue those she held responsible for her misery. One of those is Cherril Lim-Peters, Rosie's friend and now business partner, hence Rosie's involvement.

However, Allison gets killed and that would've been the end of it, if not for the deceased's sister, Vallerie, who tagged along and has to remain and help the police with their investigation.

Pitying Vallerie, Rosie lets her stay at her home. None too thrilled with this arrangement is Rosie's Filipina domestic helper and sidekick, Nina Balignasay, who is suspicious of the new guest and is cross with her boss for getting hurt while climbing up a stool and an upturned pail on a coffee table.

Not to mention the fact that the paranoid, shrill and condescending Vallerie is the archetypal nightmare Caucasian tourist. For the rest of the book the gwaipoh proceeds to make everyone's lives miserable, including the reader's.

“Aunty Lee liked catering funerals almost as much as she enjoyed catering weddings. Funerals were less happy as occasions, of course, but there was far less chance of someone getting cold feet and backing out.”

Nevertheless, Nina hopes that "the presence of a guest would prevent [Rosie] from climbing onto things." No such luck.

Soon, the kaypoh (nosy) Singaporean Miss Marple is all over the case, during which she confronts her frailty and mortality, the dark side of people, and the complexities of online shopping and Skyping. Meanwhile, the body count starts to rise...

Readers hoping for more of the same from Yu will not be disappointed. The author rambles her way towards the denouement and into our hearts in her inimitable way, occasionally deviating to dish out social commentary and homespun wisdom.

Anyone with a favourite aunt who goes off on different tangents during a conversation can perhaps relate.

A passage conveying the thoughts of recurring character Inspector Salim, for instance, also sells the upper-middle-class residential area of Bukit Tinggi, makes a case for attracting foreign talent to Singapore, talks about genetics in guppy breeding, and hints at Salim's possible latent crush on Nina. Plus, gratitude to Rosie's sleuthing and cooking, of course.

“...how a man ate his crab (and whether he had the tenacity to dig the sweetest meat out of the claw tips) showed so much about his character.”

We also learn that Rosie's not keen on making kuih with machines (“too much system”) or forcing young national servicemen to run in the sun in the name of national defence because they might drop dead and you don't need that much exertion to fly a drone.

Our heroine still smiles from her jars of homemade sambal and achar, and who else can rock a kebaya blouse with a pink Converse T-shirt, kaffir lime-green yoga pants and pink-and-green Nike shoes?

Others get to shine this round. Nina's presence is bigger here, and we see more of several minor characters, even the Robocop-like police staff sergeant Neha Panchal. Further developments in the lives of some cast members are possibly teased, too.

One thing though — did Vallerie Love have to be such a walking ulcer? The folksy prose, wit and the mouth-watering descriptions of food could barely offset her loathsomeness, which clings like the memory of a horrible aftertaste.

“It was always easier to deal with the greedy than the crazy, because you could follow their reasoning even if you didn’t share their values.”

Still, this is the satisfying continuation of a series we've been waiting for. However, gratification soon gives way to concern over the longevity of the series. The work that went into this book appears to be more than that of the previous two, and the fourth novel is on the way.

I hope the author takes it easy. Look at Aunty Lee, after just two books fall down already.



Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge
A Singaporean Mystery

Ovidia Yu
William Morrow
338 pages
Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-06-241649-0

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