SARAH LOHMANN WRITES — Vera Wong’s days are often uneventful. Despite owning her own business, she finds that her once vibrant neighborhood and community have become monotonous—until a dead man turns up in her teahouse. When the police, however, don’t seem to take it as seriously as she expects, Vera decides to take it upon herself to solve the crime. Such is the premise of Jesse Sutanto’s novel Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers.

Along with Vera’s story, other accounts bring many enmeshed stories into focus. The mystery is infused with the Chinese language and culture throughout, and these aspects are crucial to how our protagonist interprets the story’s events. The novel was published on March 14, 2023, and Warner Bros. TV acquired the rights in April. Reportedly, Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films will develop it for television in collaboration with Mindy Kaling’s production company, Kaling International.

Author Jesse Sutanto

A Chinese-Indonesian author, Sutanto “grew up shuttling back and forth between Indonesia, Singapore, and Oxford.” She has written a variety of novels for adult and young adult readers, and her most famous book Dial A for Aunties, won the 2021 Comedy Women in Print Prize and was optioned for a film by Netflix. 

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers (2023) – 352 pages – $27.00 (hardcover) – HQ

The novel’s diverse cast offers a patchwork approach to the story, allowing readers to piece together information as it appears. From aspiring artist Sana Singh to Oliver Chen, twin brother of the deceased, each has a distinct voice, the most notable being the novel’s namesake: Vera Wong. 

Vera is a robust character whose voice is loud and immovable in the novel, and part of what makes the character stand out is her root in real people. In a virtual interview with The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Sutanto says that the “visor-wearing person” who inspired the novel’s protagonist is herself. She explains that every time she posts online poking fun at and pretending to be “that older Chinese mom character,” her neighbor comments: “‘What people don’t realize is this is literally just you.’” She clarifies, though, that other aspects of Vera are inspired by her parents. From waking up at four in the morning to superstitiously avoiding cold water, these “quirks” are drawn from behaviors Sutanto experienced at home. 

Beyond Vera, though, the other unique characters and their backgrounds are exposed as we make our way through the mystery and Vera’s snooping. Often bribing her way in with food, she gives the characters (and the police) precisely what they didn’t know they needed: life advice, a blessing on a budding romance, a hot meal, and the perfect way to solve a murder. Sutanto’s novel is an excellent choice for mystery fans looking for something with a bit of whimsy and humor. The twists and turns pair with personal development and discovery to show us that it is not only crimes that need investigating. 


Sarah Lohmann graduated from Knox College with a BA in Creative Writing and Asian Studies. She focused her research on film, translation, and literature. 

Edited by executive editor, Ella Kelleher.

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