Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala
Series: Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery #1
Published by Berkley on May 4, 2021
Genres: Cozy Mystery, Thriller
Amazon, Audible, Libro.fm, Barnes & Noble
When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She's tasked with saving her Tita Rosie's failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.
With the cops treating her like she's the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila's left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…
First, the title caught my attention, then that eye-catching cover, and then the blurb sealed the deal. I was all set to have a good time with the start of a new cozy mystery series. Diversity, family, food, and murder- what more could I ask?
Arsenic and Adobo introduces the main character, Lila Macapagal, a Filipino American woman who left her small town in Illinois to attend culinary school in Chicago. She has big dreams of her own restaurant, but that fell through when she caught her chef boyfriend cheating on her and her aunt asked her to come home and help in her restaurant before Lila finished school. Tita Rosie is the loving woman who inspired Lila, and family is everything, so she sets her dreams aside to come home only to get swept up in a murder when her high school ex dies after eating at the restaurant and she’s the prime suspect. Returning home was out of duty and she feels like a failure, but at least her bestie works in the coffee shop next door to the restaurant and there is her delicious older brother to secretly crush on when Lila isn’t up to her aunt’s adobo in murder.
I love seeing more and more diverse cozy mysteries series are appearing out there and I was particularly excited this one was a family of Filipino multigenerational women running a restaurant. The author infused the story with culture and food so rich that I was always hungry reading this one. She also generously attached some of the recipes.
Arsenic and Adobo is the first book in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series and it did spend time on introductions. I loved the group of characters including the ‘Calendar Girl’s who had been her mom’s best friends, her grandmother, her aunt, and even her bestie, but I struggled with Lila herself. She was a little all over the place for me between her personal concerns, her emotions, two guys interested in her, and the murder.
The mystery was not a strong point for a few reasons. Detective Park and the police handled the investigation as if Lila was the only possibility and did a few guesses and surface level looking around. Lila was arrested on little more than circumstantial evidence and even the hard evidence had more than one explanation for it that a good lawyer would sweep aside. I cut Lila some slack as the amateur trying to get herself off the hook. What really was a true niggle was the way her investigation bogged down the story. When Lila investigated the list of suspects she and her group put together, she asked the exact same sequence of questions at each interview and got the exact same no-help answers. This went on a half dozen times. I wish the author had written those interviews in such a way that maybe she came away from each one gleaning a different tidbit to help or the interviews would have been summarized after the first one.
Sure, this is a light, cozy mystery and fun at times particularly when Lila was with her family and they were cooking or cooking up investigation plans. I liked the book enough to want to give book two a go and see if things get better. I think cozy mystery fans who like a strong foodie element, quirky family and friends circle, and a light touch of romance with an easy mystery tone might want to check this new one out.
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