Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Dial A for Aunties (2021) tells the story of a young woman who accidentally kills her blind date and turns to her phalanx of aunties to help her. It’s part crime story/rom-com with a lot of humor that won her the 2021 Comedy Women in Print Prize. In late March, Sutanto’s Four Aunties and a Wedding, the anticipated sequel to Dial A, was released in the US. In addition to these two books, Sutanto has written several other books in different genres including The Obsession (2021), The New Girl (2022), and the forthcoming Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit. Splitting her time between Jakarta and Singapore, she recently signed an additional 5 book deal with Berkeley for additional books including the third and fourth books in the Aunties series. Murder & Mayhem had the opportunity to speak to Sutanto via email about her Aunties series.
Murder & Mayhem: When did you realize you wanted to write a crime/murdery book? Or did the idea come first before the murder?
Murder always comes first! *shifty eyes* Hah, I think it was a natural development after years spent reading R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and Stephen King. I also feel like if you identify as a woman in this world, you’re probably going to harbor a lot of rage, so writing about murder is almost inevitable.
Why the decision to focus on the wedding industry for both books?
I love weddings! I was a wedding photographer in Oxford, England and I loved everything about weddings. Whenever I come across a rom-com that’s set around a wedding, I get this sense of excitement, like, “Heck yeah, bring it on!” So when I thought: Hmm, should I set this story at a wedding? I immediately got so excited about it.
How was it to write Four Aunties and a Wedding with a different series of twists from Dial A for Aunties?
Honestly, it was really challenging. I felt like I really had to be careful not to recycle the same old jokes but at the same time, I had to retain the charm from the first book. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be!
How do you see the series fitting into the crime/mystery genre? I’ve been using the phrase “meet kill” or “kill cute.”
I love that! I see the series as something like [television show] Jane the Virgin! Plenty of romance and comedy and kidnappings and murder.
Murder & Mayhem: In an interview with Read More Co, you said, “I read so many thrillers and I get really annoyed about the fact that most of the victims in these books are the female characters! In my books, I try to turn that trope on its head and have my victims be the men, and I find it so freeing in a sense.” Why do you think so many crime books feature women’s deaths or violence in general against women?
I don’t know the demographics of who reads mysteries but I feel that it’s got to be a larger percentage. Should we be more mindful of the types of crime/mysteries we read? I love reading crime/mysteries and I think people should read whatever they want to read, but yes, I do think it pays to be more aware of what we are taking in. I have two young daughters and I’m reading a lot of classic fairytales to them and I notice that from a very young age, we’re trained to see female characters as victims. Often, when I read these stories to my girls, I switch up the characters so that the damsel in distress becomes a prince in distress and the one saving him is a princess. I think it’s just so ingrained in many societies to see women as victims.
How do your Aunties books compare with your writing? I know you have several books coming out this year, which is so cool! How do you feel about moving across genres/plots, etc.?
It’s been such a blessing that all my publishers have been so incredibly understanding with me hopping between genres. I have heard of publishers being more possessive, but all my publishers have been so supportive. I LOVE moving between genres because after I write a lighthearted rom-com, all I want to do is dive into my dark side and come up with a twisted suspense. It keeps me from getting bored! I realize that I am so so lucky to have such accommodating publishers.
What mystery writers inspire you?
Oh my gosh, I’m always screaming this from the top of my lungs whenever anyone asks for a book rec: GILLIAN FLYNN! She is a genius. Gone Girl is basically my bible. She is such a game-changer. She basically took a male-dominated genre and was like, “Let me show you what this genre can do” and it revolutionized the entire space. I am so grateful for authors like her. Other mystery writers I admire are Tana French, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, and May Cobb.
Thank you to Jesse Sutanto for talking with Murder & Mayhem about her amazing Aunties series!