Homicide and Halo-Halo
Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery #2
By Mia P. Manansala
Author Website: miapmanansala(.)com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
Things are heating up for Lila Macapagal. Not in her love life, which she insists on keeping nonexistent despite the attention of two very eligible bachelors. Or her professional life, since she can’t bring herself to open her new cafe after the unpleasantness that occurred a few months ago at her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. No, things are heating up quite literally, since summer, her least favorite season, has just started.
To add to her feelings of sticky unease, Lila’s little town of Shady Palms has resurrected the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won many years ago–a fact that serves as a wedge between Lila and her cousin slash rival, Bernadette. But when the head judge of the pageant is murdered and Bernadette becomes the main suspect, the two must put aside their differences and solve the case–because it looks like one of them might be next. (Goodreads)
Homicide and Halo-Halo, the second Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery, is a bit of a disappointment after the great series debut Arsenic and Adobo. To me, it tries too hard to include too many hot topics, and maybe it is these issues that do not feel cozy.
Lila is struggling to deal with the ramifications of her traumatic experience a few months ago (see Arsenic and Adobo) and is having trouble getting into the opening of her new café with her partners/friends. When the local beauty pageant needs a judge at the last minute and approaches Lila to fill in, she sees it as an opportunity for free exposure and advertising for the café. There are threats to the pageant and when the head judge, who is a jerk and womanizer, is murdered Lila’s cousin Bernadette becomes the prime suspect. Lila does all she can to clear Bernie’s name and find the real killer while ignoring her own problems.
Cozy mysteries are not historically known for their diversity, and I feel there is currently a concerted effort by publishers to expand to include a variety of cultures and lifestyles to appeal to a younger, wider audience. I love all of the food references in this book and learn so much by reading about Filipino food and family dynamics here. There are lots of communities represented, and there are interesting, engaging characters to get to know. However, as I was reading I felt like items on a master list were being checked off…diverse people of color – check, LGBTQIA – check, PTSD – check, gender identity – check, polyamory – check, asexuality – check, me too themes – check, mental health stigma – check, death and grief – check. It is a lot to weed through all at once, and, though handled relatively deftly, often these themes took me out of the story. In the author’s notes, she does mention that this book is darker than the first installment. After two years of dealing with the pandemic and social/human rights issues, I want to read something comforting and diverting…and much of this book feels like an extension of real life instead of being cozy.
I enjoy Lila and her friends and family; all of their relationships are realistically flawed. I do not know if Lila is truly spoiled and self-centered or if her behavior and attitudes all have to do with the baggage she carries. I am sensitive to people’s mental health issues, but I wanted to shake Lila out of her denial that she needs professional help to get through her anxiety, unresolved grief, and post traumatic stress. I can only hope everyone will be healthier moving forward in upcoming installments.
I admit that the beauty pageant theme is unappealing to me, but it provides as a great backdrop for the murder mystery. It is easy to feel the victim had it coming, and there are plenty of suspects to consider. There are a few twists to keep things interesting, and I did suspect the killer’s identity early on, but it took me longer to piece together the motive. The mystery, however, is compelling enough to keep me reading past my bedtime.
Overall, Homicide and Halo-Halo is enjoyable, and I will definitely give the third book in the series a try. I just hope the forthcoming Blackmail and Bibingka is a bit lighter. Recommended to cozy readers who want something heavier than the average cozy.