Arsenic and Adobo

By: Mia P. Manansala

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 dealing 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 to an Agatha Christie case.

With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect and the landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network and her barista best bud, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case to save everything her family loves and herself.

Since this story is a cozy mystery rather than a high-octane thriller, it should come as no surprise that the plot could be described as “fluffy.” The mystery is the framing device used to propel our main character to assess her life and the relationships she has with her family and friends. Lila realizes that she needs to step up to help her family save their restaurant while also trying to keep herself out of jail on murder and drug charges.

That last sentence makes it sound more exciting than it really is. The story doesn’t have a ticking clock as much as the author would lead you to believe. Lila’s sleuthing is so calm, I would argue that the murder wasn’t really the focus of the narrative at all but rather the thing that brought the people in Lila’s life together. It was also a way for Lila to travel around to different restaurants and try new food. Her appreciation of food and the sheer quantity described makes me feel that Arsenic and Adobo is a love letter to the culinary arts with a side of murder.

A trope of cozy mysteries is that the characters feel more like caricatures than fleshed-out people. We have a feisty grandma, a kind aunt, the hot new dentist, and a sarcastic best friend. Among other people but the point is that no other character besides Lila really seemed to have any strong motivations. They hang around to give Lila people to worry about and provide the story with sympathetic characters to root for.

I hesitate to call Lila “dynamic,” but she does experience a small amount of growth at the end. I also realized while analyzing my feelings about this book that I tend to prefer those stories written in third person where we get more depth from all characters rather than just one character. In this case, first person makes sense because we only know what Lila knows but perhaps third would have made the side characters more relatable.

My main criticisms are as follows: If you take out the murder, the drama is reminiscent of high school. There is a love triangle that now must be dealt with in the sequels. Lila is initially arrested as the number one suspect in the murder but the only person who seems to believe that she did it is the lead detective and no one else cares. To me, that was weird and made her arrest seem like just another plot device.

This was was a simple and fun story where I got to learn about Filipino culture and food like adobo and ube crinkles. I cannot think of another story I’ve read recently that featured a Filipino main character if I’ve ever read one, so that was unique. We need more stories with diverse characters.

Not much substance here but it was a good palette-cleansing book. I plan to read the sequel when I need another fluffy story.

Overall rating: 3

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