I took a culinary journey to the Indian subcontinent when I read Gone With the Wings, the first installment of the Meera Patel Mystery series by Leena Clover. The series is set in a small Oklahoma university town and features a savvy university librarian. In this story, Meera’s arch nemesis Prudence Walker is found dead and naturally, Meera is a prime suspect after being seen locked in battle with the victim. With her best friends Tony and Becky, Meera sets out to prove her innocence. The trio are supported along the way by a cast of amusing family members, loyal neighbours and fantastic South Asian meals. There is also mysterious woman lurking in the shadows whose presence hints at a delicious story arc in the future.
This story finds its anchor, much like Meera does, in family. The Patels are a tight-knit unit. They argue, drive one another crazy, worry about one another and love deeply. Meera is a dutiful daughter, sister and granddaughter who brings out the protective instincts in those around her. The role of each family member is clearly defined and their interactions showcase the intermingling of South Asian tradition with American customs and norms.
The food is a character all on its own. You cannot read this book when hungry. Pages of scrumptious meal descriptions will leave your mouth watering. If you’re handy in the kitchen, though, there are recipes to make some of your favourites at the end of the novel. My favourite so far is the Masala Fried Chicken and I hope to try it soon. Sylvie and Jon’s gumbo will tickle the palate of those who like a Cajun kick; and ensures your gastronomic sojourn is as diverse as the student population of Pioneer Poly.
Fun fact (verified) from this book: “Desi” is a name commonly used by those of South Asian ancestry to refer to themselves.
Some things I liked:
• The glimpses into Indian and Indian-American culture add a unique and thought-provoking element. The character of Jyothi is used well to highlight culture shock and how international students cope (or not) with it.
• The tornado scene: Really descriptive scene that captures one of nature’s vagaries and the characters’ reactions to it.
What I did not like:
• More tension was needed in this story. I never got fully invested. I did not get that ‘can’t put this book down’ feeling.
• Situations I would have liked to have been ‘shown’ were simply retold to the reader, making it harder to get into the story.
• A couple supporting characters were well developed but others (including the main character) still need building. I’m hoping this will happen in later stories.
While I would not call this a favourite, I did think this novel was a modest start to a new series and I would like to try at least the second book.