Comfort Food and Cozies: Review of Homicide and Halo-Halo
Dive into this Delicious Murder Mystery sequel by Mia P. Manansala
Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia P. Manansala do what so many sequels fail to do: it does not disappoint. The reader gets the same fantastic Filipino culture and quirky characters. And while this is a cozy mystery (and a lot of fun to boot), the book tackles the seriousness of PTSD, grief, and the resulting trauma.
Lila Macapagal is back and not quite better than ever, but more on that later. Our main character trying to settle into life in Shady Palms after having solved the murder of her ex-boyfriend. Lila is opening her bakery and coffee shop with her best friend and puzzling out her love life while juggling the Miss Teen Shady Palm pageant as a former winner turned judge. But bad luck seems to follow Lila like a cloud as she finds herself at the center of another murder. At least this time, she's not the prime suspect. With Shady Palms notoriously do-nothing cops, it's up to Lila and her family to solve the case and clear the family name.
This book immerses you in Filipino-American culture. Lila's choices, and subsequently the intentions of those around her, are driven by their strong cultural identity. In fact, one of the standouts is how Manansala expertly weaves Filipino cuisine into the narrative. Well-developed characterizations mean that readers will find themselves learning, but it feels like anything other than a lecture. I liked that the author didn't shy away from the realities of the repercussion of a near-death experience would have been like. It brings a layer of depth and realism to the story having a heroine struggling with trauma.
And yet, while Lila's experiences are distinctly that of a third culture kid, I found more similarities than differences in comparing my upbringing. I believe that Manansala brought in other characters of color to show the shared commonalities of those in diaspora groups. There is a universality to all of us living outside of the dominant culture, particularly regarding attitudes around mental health, food as comfort, familial relationships, and intergenerational differences.
And while the novel's pacing is nowhere near fast, it's undoubtedly a pageturner. In these books, the writing is clearly about the journey more than the destination. The food descriptions often take centerstage, vivid and detailed to a mouthwatering effect. (I'm not a fan of halo-halo, but the picture that was painted was enough to make me reconsider my feelings on the dessert, and I want to try it again). Manansala trails breadcrumbs for her readers but expertly scatters a few off the path to mislead. (A good mystery shouldn't be obvious but should be solvable and the motives clear). Often enough in this genre, pointless twists are added for shock value that makes little logical sense in the arc of the story. Homicide and Halo-Halo avoid that pitfall keeping the reader engaged and guessing but not second-guessing how we reached the conclusion.
So if you are looking for a slow to mid-paced cozy mystery that centers on food and family, this book is perfect. The novel also includes the recipes mentioned. So, if you're anything like me, throw on the audiobook, cook one of the recipes, and let it take you on a thrilling and tasty adventure.
Do you like to cook and listen to audiobooks? Let us know in the comments!
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