Welcome to the Ho-Lee Noodle House, where the Chinese food is to die for. . .
The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.
Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up deadafter a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzyto say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-outit’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.
“Vivien Chien serves up a delicious mystery with a side order of soy sauce and sass. A tasty start to a new mystery series!” Kylie Logan, bestselling author of Gone with the Twins
"Deathby Dumpling is a fun and sassy debut with unique flavor, local flair, and heart.” Amanda Flower, Agatha Awardwinning author of Lethal Licorice
About the Author
Vivien Chien was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio where she grew up in a mixed-race home, making for some very interesting cultural experiences. She found her love of books and the written word at an early age while writing short stories about her classmates in elementary school. Currently, she writes side-by-side with her toy fox terrier who refuses to sit anywhere else. When she’s not writing, Vivien enjoys frequenting local Asian restaurants, frolicking in the bookstore, and searching for her next donut.
She is the author of the Noodle Shop Mystery series, including Death By Dumpling.
Read an Excerpt
You know in the movies where someone says "You can't fire me, I quit!" ... maybe don't do that in real life. Unless you don't mind working as a server in your parents' Chinese restaurant for the rest of your life.
Turns out finding a new job wasn't as easy as I thought and my portion of the rent wasn't going to pay itself. My roommate and best friend, Megan Riley, didn't have the extra funds to cover my half of the bills, so there was no time to waste being "in between jobs." And to top it off, those pesky credit card people kept calling me day and night. Without any other options readily available and an ever-so-conveniently open spot at my parents' restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House, I gave in.
My parents were thrilled that I needed them for something again. However, I was not. At twenty-seven, depending on my parents was not my idea of a good time. Especially since they had been trying to convince me that working at the noodle house was my destiny well before I went to college. Somehow, I had always managed to escape that reality, until now.
Lana Lee, at your service. Literally.
Things to know about me: I'm half English, half Taiwanese, and no, I don't know karate. I'm definitely not good at math and I don't know how to spell your name in Chinese.
The last time I had straight-up black hair, I was in high school. Since then, I've spent a lot of time bleaching and dyeing my hair this color or that. Currently, it's chestnut brown with some golden peek-a-boo highlights. My mother had repeatedly assured me that one day dyeing my hair wasn't going to be fun anymore, and I should enjoy life without graying hair while I still could. But, what can I say, I get bored.
Leaving the house without putting on makeup means there's an emergency. Or that I've been forced out of the house against my will. If that's the case, send help.
I still have hope that the world can be a better place. This last bit has led some to call me an idealist once or twice. As far as name-calling goes, I'll take it. We've all been called worse, right?
Oh, and I have a problem with doughnuts. I love them and they love me. My older sister, Anna May, is always warning me that it's going to catch up with me at some point. That day may come, but for now, pass me the Boston cream.
And that's really the important stuff.
Aside from that, it had been six excruciating months since I started working full-time for my parents. Several factors came into play, helping this particular pursuit of employment along. We start with a foul breakup, then the previously mentioned quitting of former job, and my parents' sudden loss of their only fulltime day-shift server, Lily. Really, Lily couldn't have picked a better time to walk out. I've considered sending a card of thanks.
I'm not the biggest fan of the restaurant business. That might have something to do with spending most of my childhood trapped in the back room of my parents' restaurant. As a child, I came to the restaurant every day after school where my mother would keep me stowed away in the back room near her office. She had set up a makeshift living room of sorts with a TV and couch, even a small desk where I could do my schoolwork. It wasn't until Anna May was old enough to babysit that I was allowed to go home after school. Then that started a whole new saga of my life. I called it "Stuck with Miss Know-It-All."
When I agreed to start working at the restaurant, my mom was so excited that she let me make up my own schedule. And if I was short on money, I was able to pick up extra shifts without any trouble. It didn't solve all of my money problems, but it got the bills paid, which was priority one in my life right now.
So, things could have been worse ...
I counted the ways that life could be worse as I made my way down to Mr. Feng's office with his lunch order.
Our family's restaurant, along with Mr. Feng's office, is located in the charming plaza of Asia Village, a quaint shopping center filled with what I liked to refer to as "Asian stuff and things." You name it, we got it. Need Asian food, drinks, or candy? We got it. How about a stuffed Hello Kitty for your granddaughter? We got it. Maybe you miss KTV or need some old Chinese movies? We have that too. In all, there were thirteen stores, a giant Asian grocery, my parents' restaurant, and a new karaoke bar, the Bamboo Lounge.
Northeast Ohio — more specifically, Fairview Park — isn't what you'd typically consider "Asia Central"; the original Chinatown area started out on the east side of Cleveland. It grew as Asians started to flock to the surrounding areas, and then for a time, it began to diminish. Right now, however, it was on the upswing.
Clevelanders tended to gravitate toward their own part of town despite the fact that the other part of town wasn't even that far. Mr. Feng, our property owner, who happened to be a dedicated west-sider, craved a more convenient location. And thus Asia Village was born. Though small, it has both charm and character. At the entrance to the parking lot is an ornate, arched entry gate decorated with gold dragons wrapping their scaly bodies around vibrant red poles. Beyond that is Asia Village itself, a tiny city of pagodas all in a row.
Inside, cobblestoned walkways wind around a large koi pond smackdab in the center of all the stores. There's a footbridge that crosses over to the other side, and if people feel like lingering by the water, they can feed the koi fish. Strung from the ceiling are red paper lanterns wishing good luck and long life, and above those are massive skylights that fill the plaza with so much natural light, you could swear you were still outside.
Some of the shop owners made their storefronts as authentic looking as possible. They kept to the traditional colors of red, gold, and black, adding Asian characters and symbols however they could. Other shop ownersdecided to use metal and wood textures, taking the more modern approach. For a sampling of Asian styles from past and present, Asia Village was without a doubt the place to go.
I stood now in front of the meager office of Feng and Sung. It was the most plain of all the storefronts, with two large windows, one on each side of the door, covered with miniblinds. Their names in both English and Chinese were emblazoned on the right window in gold lettering. A gold dragon sat between the words, separating their names.
Just as I was about to reach for the brass door handle, I heard yelling from inside. I stepped back, rethinking my entry, and stared at the door, miniblinds staring back at me. Well, this was awkward. The blinds were closed for privacy, and I had no idea who was in there and whether or not I should go in. I didn't want to interrupt whatever was going on.
Before I could overanalyze the situation, the door whipped open and a chubby Asian face glared at me, her cheeks red with anger. It was Kimmy Tran, and it was safe to say she was a little ticked.
Kimmy was my age and we had known each other since we were toddlers. The Tran family ran a shop called China Cinema and Song, an Asian video and music store; they'd had it for about as long as my parents had owned the restaurant. And because our parents were friends, we spent a lot of time together in our youth. As adults, we weren't terribly close friends, but there's a certain bond that develops after you spend hours together contemplating Barbie life scenarios, so we'd kept in contact despite our lives going in different directions.
She slammed the door behind her. "What a selfish jerk!" she yelled.
At a loss for words, I hugged the bag of takeout. Heat from the freshly cooked food seeped through my shirt.
"Do you have any idea what that slimeball is up to?" she asked, pointing furiously at the door. Her hair was wrapped in a sloppy bun on the top of her head, and it shook with each word.
I shook my head. "No ..."
She began to pace in front of me, clenching her fists. "He's raising the rent fifteen percent!" She stopped briefly to gauge my reaction. When I didn't respond, she began to pace again. "Fifteen percent! Can you even believe that? My parents can't afford what the rent is now! It's high enough already!"
This was the first I'd heard of Mr. Feng raising the rent. I would have to ask my mother if she'd heard the same thing. "How did you find this out?" I asked.
"He slipped it in while he was telling my mother about this great plan he came up with to make Asia Village better." She stopped to face me, placing her hands on her hips. "Better for who? For him and his wallet?"
"Well, maybe there is more to —"
"No, Lana. There are no 'well, maybes.' He's a jerk and he's selfish and someone has got to stop him before he runs us all out of here," she said, waving her arms in the air. "He forgets that our parents were the ones who backed him up in the beginning and stuck with him through all the rough times. Now this is how he's going to treat the people who were there for him? It's absurd."
She had a point with the whole parent thing, but I wasn't sure if I should egg her on. She seemed pretty fired up on her own and I didn't feel like getting into this discussion so early in the day.
"I'm telling you, Lana, that man is asking for it. One of these days he's going to make the wrong person mad." She gave a final huff and stormed off.
Well, that was bracing.
Shaking off her negative vibes, I repositioned the food in my arms and headed inside.
Mr. Feng's office was always dimly lit and a little on the dusty side. There were two desks at opposite sides of the small, rectangular room. On both of the desks sat those small banker's lamps with the plastic green lampshades and gold chains. Did anybody even really use those anymore? I'm pretty sure that Mr. Feng owned the last two in existence.
He had his back turned to me and was organizing something in a drawer. I purposely cleared my throat and he jerked up, turning around. Thomas Feng was not just our landlord, but a close friend of all the people who worked in Asia Village. He was a softspoken man in his mid-fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair and pronounced wrinkles around his eyes, which I'm guessing came with running a large property — and having two teenage daughters.
He kept this small office space for himself and his partner, Ian Sung, so they could have a quiet place to work on-site when necessary. I also suspected that Mr. Feng liked to have someplace away from home that he could claim as his own. Ian rarely showed up and the other desk seemed to be a courtesy, if anything.
Mr. Feng and Ian owned a couple other small properties in neighboring suburbs. Ian handled the other properties, which included a few small apartment buildings, a stand-alone Chinese grocery, and three duplexes. Asia Village — the first piece of real estate that Thomas had ever owned — was his pride and joy, and so he spent most of his days walking the plaza and checking in with the people he'd known for so many years and considered family.
"Lana ... what are you doing here?" he asked me.
"I came to drop off your lunch."
He looked at the bag in my hands and back up at me. "Where's Peter?" "Oh, he had a large takeout order to finish up and couldn't leave the kitchen. He asked if I could drop it off instead."
Mr. Feng furrowed his brow and seemed to forget I was there. I inched up to the desk and set his food down. "Is everything okay?" I asked.
"Yes, I'm just ... yes ... everything is fine, Lana."
"I ran into Kimmy Tran on my way in." I nodded toward the door.
He sighed. "I have learned the hard way that you cannot make everyone happy."
"I'm sure it'll blow over. You know how Kimmy can be."
Mr. Feng chuckled as he pulled his wallet out of the back pocket of his pants. "How is business at the restaurant? Are your parents doing okay?"
I nodded. "Things are going good enough that I don't hear any complaints from them."
"Do you enjoy working with them?"
I inhaled deeply, grasping for an appropriate answer. "It's not as bad as I thought. I didn't see myself here, but you never know where life is going to take you, I suppose."
He handed me the money and sat on the edge of his desk. "Appreciate your parents while they are still here. One day you will want them here and it will be too late."
I gave a polite smile as I accepted the money and said my good-byes.
Our family's restaurant has been around since the plaza's beginning. My mother, ever the traditionalist, insisted that our restaurant be decked out in red, black, and gold. Gold lettering above the door let you know that you were about to dine at Ho-Lee Noodle House, Number One Noodle Shop. And that is the only thing that has stayed the same for the entirety of its existence.
The inside followed the same theme with black lacquer tables, red walls, and gold accents. Even though the restaurant has been slightly updated a few times in the past thirty-odd years, the dining room was still partially separated into two sections. The smaller section used to be for when restaurants still had smoking sections. A portion of the restaurant was enclosed with an intricately designed wall of carved wood, with a doorway that led to the area we used for private parties.
A walkway separating the two areas takes you straight back to the kitchen. I had spent most of my childhood running up and down that aisle. And now, here I was running up and down it again, but in a completely different context.
The rest of the morning flew by and I was at the end of the lunch rush. The dining room was almost completely cleaned up and I focused my attention on wiping down a freshly vacated table. Dried sweet-and-sour sauce on a lacquered tabletop could be a real pain.
"Excuse me, young lady?" an elderly customer called from a few tables over.
Leaving the wet rag behind, I wiped my hands on my apron and gave a smile to the two elderly ladies looking up at me, their hair freshly permed with not a strand out of place. They must have been visiting the hair salon. "Did you need more tea, ma'am?" I glanced at her empty cup.
"Oh, no, thank you, dear. I've had so much tea, I'm ready to burst," she replied, chuckling to her friend. "If you could, would you bring us the check?"
"Sure thing." I headed for the front counter and printed a copy of their bill, placing it squarely on a little black tray with two fortune cookies. I placed it in the middle of their table with another sweet smile.
"Beverly," the little old lady said, her eyes lighting up, "pick which fortune cookie you want. I think it's going to be a good one." She looked up at me and winked. "I do love these little things. You Orientals have the cutest traditions."
I groaned inwardly. That term is totally outdated, except when it's used to describe a vase or rug. Of which I am neither. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am far from politically correct, but everybody has their pressure points.
However, in this unfair world, the customer is always right. So, instead of correcting her, I kept my smile securely in place and walked away.
The two women were the last of the lunch crowd, and I had an opportunity to lounge up front for a while. On my little perch at the hostess booth, I looked out the glass double doors and watched the shoppers shuffle through the plaza with their bags and takeout packages, probably enjoying a day off from work. Lucky ducks.
Five shop lengths down, I saw my mother's best friend, Esther Chin, running through the plaza faster than I've ever seen her move. Within no time, she was thrusting open the double doors to our restaurant.
"Lana!" Esther's hands flailed in the air, her gold bracelets jingling with each movement. "Where is your mommy? I need her ..."
Esther was a tiny woman in her mid-fifties with cropped black hair and a deep love for floral prints. Today's ensemble consisted of a black silk top with bright pink chrysanthemums that perfectly matched her lipstick.
I looked at her, bewildered. "She's in the back room ..."
Without another word, Esther flew past me screaming, "Bettyyyyyy!!!"
What on earth was going on?
Before I had time to follow her, a family of four walked in. I plastered on "the smile" and grabbed some menus, leading them to a corner booth, far from the kitchen where potential action was about to take place. After getting them situated, I hightailed it to the kitchen to grab them water and see if eavesdropping was a possibility.
Our cook, Peter Huang, looked up at me as I walked through the swinging doors. "Dude, what the heck is going on? Esther just flew through here like she was on fire!"
Peter, the son of one of my mother's good friends who was our other fulltime waitress, had worked for the restaurant since he was eighteen. Now, at the age of thirty, he'd established himself as our head chef and did a bang-up job, if I do say so myself.
Excerpted from "Death By Dumpling"
Copyright © 2018 Vivien Chien.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great cozy with some fun twists and turns. I would highly recommend.
Ms. Chien’s debut cozy mystery is clever and witty. The setting is Cleveland, Ohio’s west side Asian neighborhood, with the story revolving around the Ho-Lee Noodle House, owned by the Lee family. In her protagonist, Lana Lee, Chien has created a resolute young woman who is loyal to her friends and family, and determined to solve the murder of the restaurant’s property manager – with support from a dishy detective. The first in a series, it will keep you guessing to the very end.
Fabulous first book by a promising new author Chien has really put her best foot forward with the first in her new noodle shop mystery series. It was perfectly paced, funny and had just the right amount of red herrings. Lana Lee is the quirky, likeable heroine in this series. She’s Asian-American, loves donuts, and experimenting with hair color. After quitting her corporate job (she is second-guessing that move), she has to return to waitressing duties at her parent’s Asian restaurant in order to pay the bills and help keep a roof over her and her best friend Megan’s, heads. As if it’s not hard enough to work for her mother, who tells her she needs to find a man to take care of her, she gets involved in a murder. Mr. Feng, the owner of the Asian plaza where her family restaurant is located, turns up dead, possibly from the food she had just delivered to him. Everyone is looking at her and her family suspiciously, and she’s afraid the rumors and bad publicity will put her mom out of business. Everyone in the plaza is like family to Lana so she can’t imagine who would have wanted to murder mind-mannered Mr. Feng. But in order to remove herself from the suspect list and clear her family’s name, she bumbles through an investigation of her own, along with Megan’s help, and meets a handsome detective along the way.
Death by Dumpling, Vivien Chien's debut book in her Noodle Shop Mystery series, is a light, fun, and very cozy read. A book that is so well-written that by the time I'd reached the end of the first page I was already hooked, and by the end of the first paragraph I was already making sure there's a sequel in the works (there is!!!). Lana Lee, recently unemployed and currently working at her parents' restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House in Asia Village, must step forward to solve the murder of Thomas Feng, landlord and longtime family friend, after he's found dead in his office and someone very close to Lana is suspected of murder. A real page-turner, and I read it in one sitting. A+++, 5 stars, and highly recommended - what more can I say? :-)
Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien was a delicious start to a new ethnic cozy mystery series. Lana Lee is once again working in her parents noodle restaurant after quitting her job and then breaking up with her two-timing boyfriend. She was an independent young woman who was handling a rough time as she is now having trying to decide where she wants to go in her life. When a murder investigation ensues of the property owner where her parents noodle shop is located, Vivien is determined to help the police. I enjoyed getting to meet the other shop owners in the plaza where the noodle shop is located. I also loved Lana's roommate. She added so much to this story, including some really funny moments for both of them during their investigation. The plot is quickly paced, there are several twists and enough suspects to keep readers turning the pages. I was not overly surprised as to who the murderer was at the reveal but it was still a "nail biting" experience. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley. All of the above opinions are my own.
Lana Lee has had better day. She's broke and unemployed and takes a job waitressing in her family's Chinese restaurant to keep a roof over her head. Along with her roommate Megan. Lana is a protagonist I likr whete she isdetermined and strong but has a few flaws. She's about to make it at the restaurant, when what is a mix up with dumplings leads to the property manager, Mr Feug, death. The suspicions fall on Lana, her family and the chef , Peter. It's a very good mystery with plenty of twists and turns.
Lana Lee has landed back at her parents’ Chinese restaurant as a waitress in an effort to get her life back together. She thinks she’s hit rock bottom, but she’s wrong. Not too long after delivering Mr. Feng his usual order of dumplings, the man is found dead. Somehow, he got shellfish dumplings instead of the pork he ordered. With the police looking at everyone at the restaurant, Lana starts poking around to clear herself and the rest of the employees. But is one of them really guilty? This was a very fun debut. The mystery is good, although the pacing does lag a bit in the middle. It does pick up again in the final third, giving us some great twists and turns before we reach the logical climax. The characters are mostly strong, which some room to grow as the series progresses. I did feel that Lana’s mother was the weakest characters, and I hope she is fleshed out more as the series progresses. I will definitely be back for seconds.
I absolutely loved this 1st book in a series by Vivien Chien! A noodle shop mystery! Refreshing new outlook other than bookstores or bakeries and the "usual suspects" of cozy settings. Young, single and working for her parents in their Chinese restaurant after a bad break up and quitting her job puts her back on familiar footing with her childhood surroundings. Lana and roomie, Megan, do a wonderful job of amateur sleuthing while Lana's mother tries to fix her up with a boyfriend at every turn. This book is so refreshing! So many suspects to choose from at the Asian Village Mall, which is at the heart of the story. Most have been there since it opened and ties are strong. I've already put her 2nd book on my "wish list" as I don't want to miss out on any further adventures . Recommend this book to everyone!
A well plotted mystery sprinkled with humor and a light seasoning of romantic interest. DEATH BY DUMPLING by Vivien Chien The First Noodle Shop Mystery It started with a nasty breakup with her boyfriend followed by quitting her job. Now Lana Lee is working at her parents' restaurant in order to pay her bills and keep her apartment. Being back at Ho-Lee Noodle House isn't the end of the world, but things get much worse when Mr. Feng, landlord of the Asia Village Plaza, is found dead after eating the lunch Lana brought him. To save the reputation of the restaurant as well as prove herself innocent, Lana sets out to solve the murder herself. DEATH BY DUMPLING is a solid start to a new series. Lana Lee is a fun protagonist with a biting wit. I love seeing the family dynamics as the adult daughter has to deal with being back, if not home, at her second home, her parents' Chinese restaurant. Her mom just wants her to find a husband and eat while her dad continues to treat her more like a child than the 27 year old woman she is. The secondary characters are fun too, from the gossipy Mahjong Matrons to the equally gossipy women from Asian Accents and the horrible Kimmy Tran! My favorite person is the enigmatic Mr. Zhang. I hope we get to read more about him in future books. Vivien Chien brings a wonderful cultural flair to her Noodle Shop Mystery series. Loads of interesting characters, most with secrets and hidden pasts, provide interest as well as possible motives. A well plotted mystery sprinkled with humor and a light seasoning of romantic interest make DEATH BY DUMPLING a terrific debut! FTC Disclosure – The publisher sent me a digital ARC provided through NetGalley, in the hopes I would review it.
When I saw this book cover, I was immediately interested. Unfortunately, I did not finish the book. I could not relate to anyone in the story and nothing captured my interest. I voluntarily read an ARC of this book provided by the publisher and NetGalley.