Bob’s Pick: Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala
Mabuhay! or Welcome! to the first of a series of murder mysteries collectively known as the “Tita Rosie” series. Ms. Manansala introduces us to a world involving a Filipino community living in Shady Palms, a suburb just outside the city of Chicago. The main character of the story is Ms. Lila Malacang who together with other aunts and relatives is assisting her aunt Rosie in the restaurant business.
Like many Filipino restaurants, Rosie’s is a small and family style restaurant. Among Its cuisine could be many Philippine delicacies such as the national dish, adobo, grilled meat in a spicy sauce, sinigang, a spicy meat and vegetable soup or for dessert “ube” purple ice cream with a flavor similar to Hawaiian taro. A recipe for making adobo is even included in the back of the book.
The story starts with Lila’s ex-boyfriend, Derek visiting the restaurant with his stepdad. Halfway through his meal, Derek falls ill and collapses on the table. An ambulance is called and Derek later dies in the hospital. The cause of death is initially diagnosed as arsenic poisoning. Because of their previous history, Lila subsequently becomes the main suspect in his murder investigation.
We follow Lila’s exploits in conducting her defense and her own investigation into the murder. Lila has a cheerful, friendly, socially engaging and upbeat personality. Like most Filipinos, she is very family oriented, loyal and helpful to all her friends and relatives. She has a large network of these friends and relatives assist her in her investigation. As she interacts with her friends, it is interesting to see how well she has maintained her relationships with them throughout the years. Most of her friends she has known since high school.
In conducting her investigation, she surveys all the other restaurants in her small town. In the process, we also get introduced to Mexican food, Italian food, Japanese food and BBQ. It turns out that while he was still alive, Derek caused trouble for each of them. The type of trouble he caused was similar in all cases and related to Lila’s own investigation.
Ultimately, all the “í’s” get dotted and “t” crossed. Instead of being a chef, Lila’s chief calling in life should have been as a detective. This is probably why the chief detective in the story was not too fond of her but loved her pastries.
In reading this book, one thing I found humorous in general is why so many murder mysteries are paired with food. Can’t have a murder unless it’s on the menu. I’ll have the seafood with a drowning! In fact, don’t just drown me with seawater, white zinfandel will do just fine, lol. Guess it simultaneously satisfies one’s hunger for both food and solving a murder mystery.
Still, I really enjoyed this book and welcome a young author to inject some interest and attention to her Philippine heritage. Filipinos in general are not attention seekers and that is why we hear so little about them. They have a proud history with America and fought alongside Americans in World War II.