This cosy mystery was a struggle for me to read. I only kept at it because I wanted to find out who the murderer was. I probably could have just flicked ahead to the last couple of chapters, but I’d already invested a certain amount of energy into it and wanted to get the full solution, not just a name. I’m glad I persevered because the last few chapters seemed a lot more interesting and I read them much faster than I’d been going before that. That might just have been because I could see the end in sight! And because the characters finally stopped eating!!!
Arsenic and Adobo did have some positives. Most of the cosy mysteries I’ve read have been squarely focussed on white, middle class characters. The Filipino background of the main character and her family made an interesting change. There are a lot of descriptions of Filipino food (so, so many descriptions of the food!) and about Filipino family dynamics that were interesting.
But the focus on food was also a negative for me. The descriptions were endless! I couldn't swear that there is a single page in this book where someone wasn’t eating or cooking or just talking about food: describing it in detail, with every texture and smell analysed. To me, it felt like this was what bogged the story down. I wanted the characters to just get on with their amateur detecting, not head out for yet another meal. And I don’t care how nice the characters are, if I knew someone had been arrested for murdering a person by poisoning their food, I wouldn’t expect them to turn up to the victim’s wake with a pile of food for the mourners. That’s just a little insensitive.
The other issue I have is the problem I have with many cosy mysteries - the insertion of a random amateur into a murder investigation. Not that Lila, our main character, is all that random. She’s the main suspect for the first murder and is actually arrested early on and out on bail for most of the book. Lila has returned to her small hometown to help her Aunt and Grandmother save their failing restaurant. A food blogger has been giving them terrible reviews and business is not going well. The food blogger is also Lila’s ex-boyfriend. So when he drops dead in their restaurant while eating lunch, Lila and her relatives are instantly suspect. She is the one who is arrested when the detective assigned to the case discovers a bag filled with drugs in her locker. Lila starts to ineptly investigate the mystery to clear her name and to try to save the family restaurant.
But she shouldn’t need to investigate the mystery. The descriptions of the police investigation and their case against Lila seem incredibly sloppy. I used to watch Law and Order on television, where the detectives would always think they had a good case before the District Attorney’s Office would point out all the flaws in the police case and demand more evidence before they could prosecute. From what we get told of the case against Lila, I think a good defence lawyer would get her off quickly. I found the sloppy police case to be a very frustrating part of this book. Maybe Lila really did do it, but please, put up a decent case against her. And that includes actually finding out what the first victim died of, because * spoiler alert * it isn’t what the police initially say killed him, which becomes another example of sloppy police work.
I did enjoy finding out who did it at the end. I got there about two pages ahead of Lila but had to read on for another chapter before I found why. This book was lightweight fluff and it did have some funny moments, but Mia P Manansala is not a new favourite mystery writer for me.