Harvard Affiliates Gather at Vigil to Mourn Palestinian Lives Lost


MBTA Ceiling Panel Falls and Nearly Strikes Rider, Prompting System-Wide Inspection


‘Still Unresolved’: Harvard Student Group Missing Approximately $30,000 After Leadership Dispute


U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Criticizes U.S. News Rankings at Harvard Law School Conference


Harvard President Bacow to Visit Middle East in Spring Break Trip

‘Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers’ Review: A Refreshing Take on the Female Sleuth

3.5 Stars

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers
Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers By Courtesy of Berkley
By Maxi Duncan, Crimson Staff Writer

When one thinks of the ideal amateur detective, none of Vera Wong's unique qualities — like repeatedly tampering with evidence and romantically setting up two of her suspects together — would come to mind. But when the elderly tea shop owner, who watches an unhealthy amount of “NCIS,” suddenly finds a dead body in her shop, she determines that she’s the only one who can solve the case. This kicks off Jesse Sutanto’s “Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers,” a novel that delivers on its promise of a quirky, comedic mystery. “Vera Wong” showcases Sutanto’s skill at creating hilarious and empathetic characters. Ultimately, Vera's characterization is what holds the book together, even when the corniness of its plot sometimes becomes too much to bear.

The writing in “Vera Wong” is very eccentric, with humor ranging from dry to absurd. Vera carries the book’s humor, shown during moments such as when she sends her son, Tilly, a TikTok and tells him to “slip and slide” into the girl’s dms. She also isn’t above taking unorthodox steps to solve the murder either, as she tampers with evidence multiple times and straight up tells those she suspects that they’re on her suspect list. The book’s ability to poke fun at itself allows the reader to laugh both at and with its characters. The humor truly shines in the novel’s most intense scenes, injecting moments of levity into heavy situations, such as the gentrification that threatens Vera's tea shop.

Throughout the novel, Sutanto uses Vera’s teahouse as an example of gentrification. As compared to the popular coffee shop that is run by non-locals, Vera’s shop is only frequented by one customer, and she opens her shop daily just to sit and wait until closing. Not only does Sutanto showcase the deterioration of Vera’s hope that the shop will eventually succeed, she also showcases the physical decline of the shop itself, which is being slowly taken over by yellowing posters and grime. Though the social commentary isn’t subtle in the least, its overtness drives Sutanto’s point home as she demonstrates the physical and mental effects of gentrification.

However, while the novel’s humor and imagery pulls the reader into the story, her constant pop culture references and inclusion of Gen Z slang pulls them right out. Having Vera make pop-culture references — like to the reality dating TV show "Love Is Blind" — makes sense, since it showcases her attempts to appear more young as she grapples with issues of ageism. But the other younger characters also frequently use pop-culture references and slang in a way that is decidedly cringe-worthy. Take, for example, when Julia, the wife of the deceased in the teashop, mentions that her charcuterie boards “absolutely slay.” It's unclear if the inclusion of the references and slang were attempts at humor or Sutanto’s attempt to ground her novel in the present. But either way the attempt goes sour, as most of Sutanto’s references have already gone out of style, ultimately aging the book itself.

Overall, though Sutanto sometimes leans too far into the corniness of the book through unfunny jokes and outdated references, the heart of the story still shines through. She creates her own pocket in the mystery genre, shining light on relevant issues today. Vera represents those who are rarely remembered by society, and Sutanto makes her into someone who will be hard to ever forget.

—Staff writer Maxi Duncan can be reached at

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.