Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia was a debut historical mystery that I was pretty intrigued by when I downloaded the ARC in 2021 - and well, here we are. And of course I was intrigued! It's set in the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance! What's not to love about that concept? Unfortunately, while I found the heroine intriguing, I was let down by the pacing and writing.
It's 1926 and young Black women are turning up dead in Harlem. Their bodies are being dumped in front of Maggie's Cafe, where Louise Lloyd works as a waitress and where the dead girls all worked in the not-so-secret speakeasy run by the proprietor's son ahem serving the customers more than bootleg liquor if you catch my drift. Ten years earlier Louise escaped the clutches of a kidnapper and rescued captive girls in the process. She was dubbed the "Hero of Harlem" - notoriety she's been running from since and that helped lead to her estrangement with her father. Through a series of happenstance (OK, it's Louise's temper getting the better of her) she ends up in the cross hairs of the cops - and the lead detective on the dead girls' case says they won't press charges on one condition - she has to help them. Frankly Louise can get into places, talk to people, that the white cops cannot.
What I liked best about this book was Louise as a character - she had depth and contradictions that I found intriguing. Her estrangement from her father, her relationship with her three sisters, her relationship with her girlfriend. The author really embraced the era and setting and it's also a book that is unapologetic queer.
Unfortunately the pacing is a mess. Most reviews cite a slow beginning, but I was more bored with the final 1/3 of the story - which by then our "bad guy" has been unmasked and the whole thing slogs on until I literally noticed there was less than 5% left and we were rushed to the final showdown. The transitions between chapters were also a problem which didn't do the pacing any favors. To give one example: in the final chapters of the story Louise breaks into an apartment and finds a secret compartment. Then the chapter ends. One would think that at the start of the next chapter would be Louise still in the apartment revealing what she found, right? Nope. It's a completely different scene - we have no idea how Louise got out of the apartment undetected, and what was in the secret compartment isn't revealed until several pages into the next chapter.
Nothing about the pacing of this story was smooth and while I liked the story for the most part, I was just ready for it to be over by the time I got to 60%. I will say this though, the author wasn't afraid to "go there" and kill her darlings. There's a shocking turn towards the end that actually made me gasp in a "Oh wow, I can't believe she did that..." sort of way.
Will I read the next book in the series? Jury still out but it's looking doubtful. Frankly I found Louise's lover a little annoying and it seems like she plays a more prominent role in Book 2. Maybe? But honestly, I'm feeling kinda meh about the idea at the moment...
as a historical fiction and mystery aficionado, this was an unputdownable read featuring an unforgettable, diverse cast of characters and a vividly-depicted time period.
Harlem in the 1920s? Yes Please!
I absolutely loved the beginning of this book - it was giving me cozy mystery vibes with an intelligent female sleuth at it's helm. But at the halfway mark, I struggled with this one. It seemed like the author just did not care and was slouging though. Almost as if this wasn't the story she wanted to tell. It was disappointing as I was really enjoying myself in the first half. I had so many questions that were left unanswered. This was ok.
Louise Lloyd is dubbed the "Hero of Harlem" after she is kidnapped, escapes, and frees the other girls who were trapped with her. Ten years later, Louse is 26 and just wants to live in obscurity working at Maggie's Cafe by day and The Zodiac by night. However, her plans are foiled when a girl's body is found outside the Cafe, but this isn't the first missing and murdered girl in Harlem and Louise somehow gets roped into trying to solve the case.
Set in 1920s Harlem, this had the potential to be a noir detective-type case with a reluctant citizen sleuth...but it fell flat. The cover is absolutely gorgeous and is what initially drew me into reading the book, but the synopsis was also so intriguing...and sadly, that's about where the good ends...ok there's also BIPOC representation and LGBTQ+ representation.
Ok so the bad (and I really hate to be so critical because, again, SO. MUCH. POTENTIAL.):
-Lack of transitions throughout the books, which made it difficult to determine how much time has passed and some were attempts at cliffhangers that just didn't work. It was a jolting experience to the reader as some scenes just didn't connect or seem relevant
-Lack of true motivation from the actual murderer. The murderer even mentions that other suspects were red-herrings...not really...it's called bribery and it doesn't count if it was so out of left-field
-Louise is a truly terrible sleuth. She has no sense of finesse, it doesn't make sense that she is even on the case (but again, bribery...) aside from being an entryway into the community.
-There is no sense of time...it could have taken place in modern-day (and I often found myself forgetting that this was supposed to be the 1920s not 2020s).
-There was no time dedicated to knowing any of the other characters (eg. Louise's girlfriend, Louise's sisters, any of the victims, any of the suspects), which may have to do with this being told from Louise's POV so it's a lot of internal narrative and telling rather than showing.
Overall, it felt like this could have undergone another round of edits and research to add more depth to the book. High hopes for book two!
Almost a 4 star for me but not quite. There’s a lot of important historical topics portrayed here. There’s LGBTQ representation. There’s hate crimes towards Black people, especially Black women. I was very intrigued by the premise, but the writing fell a bit flat for me. I didn’t find myself eager to return to the story.
I enjoy mysteries, and I love an empowered woman who isn’t afraid to push boundaries, so this book checks those boxes. However, I did feel like the writing was a bit choppy, and the phrases sometimes felt repetitive and inauthentic. I get that the main character, Louise, was trying to blend into certain situations, but it rang hollow in many parts for me. I also felt like there were SO many more interesting directions that this story could have taken, but the plot felt trite and the characters sometimes felt like caricatures of people in similar roles at that time. It frankly felt like a low-budget, made-for-TV thriller, and I wish we had gotten more. I love the time period, and the characters have potential, but I was left wanting more.
I really wanted to love this one - a Black lesbian amateur sleuth investigating a serial killer in 1920s Harlem? cool! - but it fell flat for me. Hopefully it works better for you!
I really enjoyed Dead Dead Girls. I thought that the pacing and reader tension of the book was great, so clearly painstakingly thought out. The plot had me on my toes at all times and I was so consumed by it all. Some really great characters, that are so easily imagined.
Dead Dead Girls is a murder mystery set in 1920s Harlem. Our main character, Louise, is a young woman trying to live her best life a decade after an escape from a kidnapper, leading to a bit of fame capitalized on by her preacher father. Louise is your typical flapper, working as a waitress by day, and by the time night rolls around she's dancing and drinking it up at the local speakeasies. However, an argument lands her in jail, and to avoid a conviction the lead detective on the case of the aforementioned dead girls asks her to help out, as he is a white cop and not welcome in Harlem. Louise becomes a pretty decent detective over time herself and helps to solve the case, but not before trajedy and a bit of a twist ensues.
I really enjoyed this book, I loved the setting and the characters. They were all very real people with all of their triumphs and insecurites, including the fact that Louise is in a relationship with a woman, Rosa-Maria, and is concerned about the sustainability of loving a woman in the 1920s. They are a great couple, and their relationship was written so naturally that it didn't feel like it was adding a lesbian relationship just to add one. Louise is both confident and full of doubt and fear because she's working in a white man's world and the author really was able to deftly express that in her writing. There were a few places that could have used some better pacing, but overall this was a great first novel and I'm looking forward to reading more about Louise and Co. & more from the author.
I received a free ebook from NetGalley & Berkley Publishing
Has potential and I can see this series getting better over time but I did not love this first book. I found that there was not enough to make me feel like I was transported to the Harlem Renaissance. Other than some phrases and very brief descriptions, I needed more. The book starts off really intriguing but then becomes bland and predictable. I wish the rest of the book read the same as that prologue. I love the premise, a queer young Black woman solving a mystery, but I didn't feel like the story delivered.
Dead Dead Girls was a really fun mystery with a compelling protagonist. I found the setting refreshing as so many mysteries are so terminally straight and white. Nekesa Afia knows how to write a compelling protagonist and excels at atmosphere.
I'm going to start my review by saying the mean thing first, in hopes that everything else will seem brighter, drum roll: Who edited this book? Was this book even edited?
For a book by a major publishing house, I really cannot understand this prose. All the showing in this book. "I can see", "I can feel", "I decided" etc. etc. awful. And this is not even the first time that I'm seeing this trend lately. Editors, are you okay? But this is a topic for another day.
I can forgive the author, actually, I'm not blaming the author at all. It's a debut novel, these things are totally normal. It's the job of an editor to fix these mistakes. Hell, I'm not an editor, I'm just a reader and even I know this. And it stings so much because this book deserved better. It looks like who worked on this didn't give two f*cks.
End of the mean thing. It had to be said. And I'm not sorry I said it.
Now, onto the rest of the book.
The plot is what lured me into this originally, I actually predicted who did it, because I thought the author made it obvious. Mind you, I usually never get it right. The fact that I figured it out says a lot.
The pacing is choppy, weird and the book drags a bit.
I would have loved more atmosphere, more intense scenes, more creepy vibes. I saw hints of these here and there, but not enough to create much suspense. The stakes are pretty high, but they don't feel quite high enough, even though lives are on the line.
The characters were okay. The main character wasn't my favorite, sometimes she makes dumb choices just for the plot sake. She isn't as smart as she's supposed to be.
The love story was... there. As in, it gave me nothing. The two didn't have any chemistry and the romance between them isn't clear from the beginning. It comes out of nowhere and I was actually surprised. Obviously, they were a thing before the book starts, but I didn't catch it at first.
Overall, this had potential, and despite everything, Dead Dead Girls still manages to be a page turner. Hence, the not totally negative rating. Still, it didn't quite hit for me. I would still give the series and the author another chance though. Maybe with another editor.
I really loved the setting on Harlem. This book was unique and engaging. Thank you for letting me read and review this book.
Dead, Dead Girls is fast moving and keeps the reader engaged at each turn. The twists and turns in the plot make for an excellent mystery story. We are left wanting more!
Dead Dead Girls is a refreshing novel that broke many stereotypes. The main character is a queer African American, which is not the type of character you find in many mystery novels! Louise is a strong and spunky heroine who is very confident and self-assured! The novel is also very well-written! There are very few novels set in Harlem. Yet, this mystery made Harlem, New York come alive! There is jazz music, bars, and dancing! Thus, this novel is a very refreshing read! I recommend this for fans of the Jazz Age Mysteries, The Speakeasy Mysteries, and The Catherine Tregowyn Mysteries!
Right away this book was difficult to get into. The atmosphere, setting and plot idea of the book was great. But the writing was choppy and at times felt hard to follow.
DEAD DEAD GIRLS started out as a book I thought I would like. Set in the Harlem Renaissance with a mystery to solve seemed good. However, for me, it just didn't capture my interest. I felt like I wanted something more from the characters and the story. However, this may just be me.
Louise Lloyd is a young woman living in Harlem in the 1920s - a time of flappers, prohibition, and in Louise's part of town - murder.
I was initially drawn to this book by the beautiful cover and the excitement of reading something featuring what I assumed would be a strong, amazing black, queer main character solving a mystery and evading death. Unfortunately, when I dived into the book, it fell a little flat. Louise is a strong character at times, but she's never given any real character growth. She bumbles along the same path the entire time.
The mystery was okay, but ultimately easy to unravel and forgettable. This could be down to me reading tons of mysteries and expecting too much from a debut and first in a series. However, I usually want the first in a series to really wow me into craving the rest of it. I was sad to find that this first one did not intrigue me to even consider the second. I would still encourage others to give it a shot. The atmosphere of Harlem in the 20s with flappers dancing at speakeasys until sunrise is done quite well, but that's all I personally found enjoyable about it.
Although this book was not what I was expecting, I still enjoyed it. At times it seemed very cozy mystery-like to me, but I did like that it was raw and gritty at the same time. I'm still trying to work out why I wanted to read from the POV of the dead girls, especially since the murderer changed up the way in which he killed the girls. And, I unfortunately figured out who the murderer was with his first contact with Louise; which was a bit disappointing. But nevertheless, I did enjoy how the story unfolded.
DEAD DEAD GIRLS was a fun and different historical fiction. The setting, cover, and mystery plot all gave me huge expectations for this book. I’d say my expectations were met. It won’t make my favorites list, but it was a good escape. Thank you for the gifted copy!