When Lana Lee adds a catering service to her family’s noodle restaurant in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, it’s not what she expected. At a birthday party for family friend Donna Feng, nanny Alice Kam is found dead in the outdoor swimming pool. It’s not an accident, as bruises are found around Alice’s neck and wrists. Lana attended the party as the caterer and heard the scream when a guest discovered Alice’s body floating in the pool.
So starts Egg Drop Dead, the fifth installment of Vivien Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series. Lana isn’t just the restaurant manager at Ho-Lee Noodle House; she’s also an amateur sleuth. Just as Agatha Christie brought the tranquil English countryside into many of her stories, Chien brings a warm and inviting ambiance to her books revolving around the Ho-Lee Noodle Shop.
Egg Drop Dead is marketed as “a satisfying and new cozy mystery.” Chien certainly accomplishes this, both with the setting and a strong cast of women characters, including the Mahjong Matrons, a coterie of four older women who hold court at the same table each morning, keeping tabs on the Chinese community. Lana teams up with private investigator, Lydia Shepard, a character she created back in college when she first started writing mysteries. There’s also Lana’s roommate and best friend, Megan Riley, a cocktail waitress and her mystery-solving sidekick.
As for the scenery, Donna Feng, the host of the ill-fated birthday party, owned the quaint shopping center that houses Ho-Lee Noodle Shop.
As you come through the red entry gate with is twin golden dragons, and enter the plaza doors, you’re greeted by beautiful skylights shining on a lantern-covered ceiling, a koi pond filled with healthy fish ready to be fed, and cobblestone walkways that head to an Asian shopping paradise. There’s a wide selection of themed stores carrying clothing, trinkets, cosmetics, books, and much more. Aside from that, the plaza houses our family’s restaurant, a karaoke bar—that I absolutely refuse to sing in—a grocery store, and a hair salon.
If it sounds like Chien has portrayed a Disneyfied Chinatown scenario, she sets the record straight from the very start when Lana refuses to wear the shiny qipao her mother has picked out for Donna Feng’s party.
I’m your not-so-average Asian American gal, recently turned twenty-eight, with not a clue in the areas of martial arts, math that goes beyond long division, or how to speak any dialect of Chinese. But I can use chopsticks like a son of a gun. So that’s something, right? If you had to find me a crowd, it wouldn’t be a problem because 50 percent of my hair is currently pink. I love hamburgers and pizza almost as much as I love noodles, and if you asked me to cook a proper Chinese meal, we’d both starve that night.
Lana and her family meet weekly for dim sum at another Asian shopping center. Along with her parents and sister, Anna May, they’re joined by her grandmother, A-ma, a recent immigrant from Taiwan. But Chien’s story isn’t just about Taiwanese-Americans. Donna Feng fled China at a young age and now in her fifties she’s still trying to escape her family’s troubled past. Enter the murder of Alice Kam, her children’s nanny.
The story moves quickly with several twists and turns requisite of murder mysteries. Although this is the fifth book in the series, Egg Drop Dead can also stand alone and the reader need not first read the previous four books to understand this story.