Cover Image: Dead Dead Girls

Dead Dead Girls

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Member Reviews

DEAD DEAD GIRLS was released June 1, 2021. It is the first in the Harlem Renaissance series and is a must for fans of mysteries and historical fiction pieces. 

It’s 1926 and Louise is most happy when sneaking into speakeasies. She finds that she is happiest on the dance floor with her house mate turned girlfriend, Rosa Maria. Louise has had a hard life. At 15, she escaped from a kidnapper and was dubbed the Harlem Hero. Now in her late 20s, she lives in a group home while happily waitressing at a cafe. Her relationship with her family is strained, but she still finds time to visit with her younger twin sisters, who I just adored. 

Around Louise, though, girls are dying. Girls who look just like her. After an altercation with the police,  Louise is given the option to aid them in their case or go to jail.

I’m not sure how believable it is that the police would ask someone they’ve arrested to aid them in their case, but I really do not care. Louise is such a fun character and I loved learning more about her past as well as watching her grow as a person throughout her story.

This was a quick read with some great characters and atmosphere. I felt that there were some very repetitive phrases (Louise stands to her full height A LOT in this book) and their could have been a little bit more depth with certain characters. While I was able to figure out the killer, this is a book that I feel like didn’t suffer from that not being a surprise.

I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley free for review. All thoughts are my own.
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This was a really compelling read. I loved the setting/time period as well as the sleuth, and the ending felt strong. It felt so immersive, too, like I really was watching something unfold in the 1920s.
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I loved the idea of this novel but unfortunately, I didn’t love it. While I loved the characters the mystery part of this book did not meet my expectations. There was no shock or surprise factor throughout the whole book. I did like how the story was from the perspective of a black lesbian in the 1920’s. This was a quick and fun read but probably will not read the others in the series.
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(3.5) I found some parts of this book to be a bit choppy, or not well paced, but overall I thought that it was a pretty good book. I think that the cover is absolutely gorgeous and the art is phenomenal. I really liked Louise and thought that she was a strong character as a whole. I do think that the twists were amazing and developed really nicely, I just wished that the chapters were either a bit longer or cut at a less awkward pace. I am someone who is obsessed with this era, so I adored the storyline, the mystery of it all, and truly felt transported to a different time. I think that most of my issues with the book are more along the lines of editorial issues and less about the story itself which I think all in all was pretty great!
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Dead Dead Girls swept me up into a muggy Summer in 1920’s Harlem from the first chapter. Louise is a 20-something, independent gal from a religious family. Ten years ago, she saved herself and other girls from the man who had abducted them. Everyone who heard the story had high expectations of Harlem’s hero. Now, Louise is a waitress at Maggie’s and just enjoys going out dancing with her girlfriend and friend. She doesn’t want the attention that situation brought her, so it makes sense that she’s reluctant to begin investigating the string of murders that start at her job’s doorstep.

I enjoyed the intrigue of this book! Here are some of the things I was happy to see addressed in the book:
+Harlem daily life and connections with neighbors
+Black & Latinx characters
+Queer characters & reality of queerness
+Expectations of Black women at the time

Afia also included plenty of people who made good suspects for the investigation. However, there were some things about Louise that I found a bit odd. In some scenes, she had natural suspicions of the people she was with but, in others, she seemed too trusting and almost oblivious. I couldn’t understand why a young Black woman would think it was a good idea to go for a walk alone at night knowing that there’s a serial killer chilling somewhere in her neighborhood. At another point, she has an inkling of who the killer is and instead of her staying home to make a smart, methodical plan to take him down, she goes dancing? 

There was only one thing about the writing, itself, that bothered me and that was the repetition. Two things popped up a lot throughout the book:
This phrase: “she pulled herself up to her full height,” and how often Louise mentioned that her dad didn’t want her around. 

I would have loved to see more character development for Louise, as well as her girlfriend Rosa Maria. I’m sure we will see more about them in the next book of the series.
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Louise Lloyd é sequestrada em sua adolescência, mas consegue fugir e libertar todas as outras meninas que estavam na mesma situação. Ela ganha o apelido de “Heroína de Harlem”, mas dez anos depois, consegue se livrar desse fardo. Trabalhando como garçonete de dia e se divertindo durante a noite, Louise leva uma vida normal em seu bairro, até que muitas meninas começam a desaparecer e seus corpos encontrados após alguns dias. 

As meninas têm algo em comum: todas são negras e trabalhavam em um clube noturno. Após encontrar um corpo na entrada de seu local de trabalho, Louise ganha a atenção do detetive responsável pelo caso. Em uma noite, ela discute com um policial e acaba presa por desacato. O detetive, sabendo de sua fama de heroína, convence Louise a ajudá-lo no caso em troca de retirar as acusações. Louise então se vê sem escolha, a não ser encarar seus medos e ir atrás de um serial killer para proteger as meninas do bairro.

O enredo do livro muito me agradou. A situação inicial, o mistério e a investigação são elementos que geralmente me prendem em um livro. Infelizmente, não foi o que aconteceu com esse. O desenvolvimento é fraco, algumas coisas são desconexas e parecem que só estão no livro para preencher espaço. Por muito tempo tive sensação de que a história estava parada, os fatos estavam apenas sendo repetidos para um volume. O final é previsível, você descobre quem é o assassino sem muito esforço, enquanto a personagem só descobre faltando pouco para o fim do livro. Há também a forma como a autora descreve algumas situações, completamente estragando o elemento surpresa quando revela que talvez um personagem não fique até o fim do livro. Apesar disso, a personagem principal é inteligente, forte e corajosa, além de ser muito amorosa com as irmãs e com a namorada. É uma leitura decente, mas nada muito surpreendente.
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I enjoyed this historical mystery! 

The quick rundown: After a run-in with the law, Louise is given the choice of helping the police find the killer of young ladies in her Harlem neighborhood or go to jail. Louise chose option number one.
Louise's detective work isn't without challenges, as the killings bring up her own terrible memories of being kidnapped when she was the same ages as these young girls.
The police never found out who kidnapped her.
Louise must race against time to help the girls in her neighborhood to not become the next victim. 
I like a good mystery and this one was pretty good. The writing is easy to follow and understand. The chapters are short and that was fine with me. However, I wanted to know more. We were on a roll, then the story was over, suddenly. Despite that, I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next book in the Harlem Renaissance series.
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I normally don’t read historical fictions books, but once I saw this cover and read the blurb I knew I had to give it a chance. I really enjoyed this story and the timeline as well. Louise was a refreshing character and I was all for the lesbian romance while trying to catch a murderer. I will say that I didn’t suspect the murder at all. I had three people of interest and I was wrong. I enjoyed the pacing of the story, but I did feel that the last chapter was abrupt and the ending caught me off guard. This is the first book in the series and I look forward to the next story. I also suggest checking out the authors note. Not a lie was told!
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This historical mystery is set in 1920’s Harlem, and the background of the underground clubs sets the stage for what will be a series of murders of young Black girls.  When Louise was younger, she was a victim of an attempted kidnapping, but she managed to free herself and three other girls.  Jump to years later, Louise is working as a waitress, and enjoying dancing at night at clubs, Louise becomes enmeshed in the “Girl Killer” murders, working to find answers before the next girl is murdered.  A good start to a new series, I appreciated the atmosphere created,as well as the strong main character.  Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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It’s 1926, and Louise, a resident of Harlem, has just hit a police officer because she thought was hurting another girl, and because she has a temper. She should be booked for assault, but Detective Gilbert says if she will help him solve the case of girls who are being killed in the neighborhood, he will make the case disappear. I didn’t buy this premise at all--since the police were pretty disrespectful to the Harlem residents, it seemed unlikely that this white officer would ask Louise to help with a case. Sadly, the killer’s identity was pretty obvious, too, and the ending was unsatisfying I was looking forward to reading a mystery set during the Harlem Renaissance, but this novel was a major disappointment--two and a half stars.
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This was amazing. A murder mystery set in the 20s? I was all for it. It was an amazing historical that mixed some modern day  issues (TW: trafficking) with racial and political issues of the day. WHat it lacked with some plot issues it def made up for in character development. I was totally enthralled. I can't wait for her next book.
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I was really excited about this one, but it ended up not being my cup of tea. I wasn't a huge fan of the writing or how the story was handled. I think this had potential, but maybe just needed a little bit more editing to be something really good.
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“She had been a showgirl, a waitress, a lover, a dancer…And now she was a detective too.”

And this is the clearest introduction I can offer for the excellent Louise Lloyd, main character of Dead Dead Girls, the debut novel by Nekesa Afia. Of course, Louise doesn’t arrive at that realization about herself until well into the narrative, but I still think it’s an ideal description. Set in 1926 Harlem, New York City, Dead Dead Girls follows the reluctant (at least initially) transformation of Louise from waitress/club dancer to a murder mystery solving detective amid the racism and criminality of Prohibition.

I think it’s important to emphasize that Dead Dead Girls deals with mature subjects, and is not suitable for younger audiences. While the actual murders aren’t enacted on the page, the fatal wounds of the victims are described in detail (though, I believe “delicacy” in this case would not only be ineffective, but absurd). I should also add a content warning for an on-page near rape, which is ultimately avoided, but not before the main character is subjected to violence. Still, this is a suspense/murder mystery, and the author has some significant points to make, so it’s fitting.

I briefly tried to make a comparison between various suspense novels I’ve read that might be relatable in a review, but I don’t think there are any. Dead Dead Girls is unlike anything else, placing it solidly in my “keeper” column. Given that it’s set in the 1920’s I had some concerns about the potential overuse of jargon from the period, but what little was used was done so in a way that felt naturally spare and utilitarian. Instead, there are plenty of other things woven together to keep the narrative within the author’s chosen time and place, and her skills regarding the application of these techniques to her storytelling was very welcome.

As a whodunit, Dead Dead Girls did not disappoint. Given that Louise is a young, beautiful black woman during the 1920’s—not to mention her own personal history—feelings of unease and distrust are simply an everyday part of her world. So, as different characters add to her frustration, her second-guessing and irritation make perfect sense as well as clouding the trail to the real killer. And if that wasn’t enough to keep the audience on edge, when things seem too good to be true two-thirds of the way through a narrative, you know the whole situation is about to get ugly. 

Dead Dead Girls is not an easy story. It felt heavy and significant, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to read it. It is a forthright exhibition of the ever-present racism in our country that neither innocence nor youth can escape, both being so viciously disregarded under the symbiotic institutions of prejudice and hatred. But, it is also a well-crafted mystery with a touch of sweetness here and there that was thoroughly rewarding to experience. Unmasking the murderer was only part of Louise’s journey, and watching her deliver justice was very much a darkly satisfying thing. Though I didn’t see any information about the next novel in the Harlem Renaissance Mysteries, I have no doubt it will be just as wonderful.
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This one unfortunately was a DNF for me. I absolutely loved the premise of this book, featuring a young, vibrant, intelligent Black lesbian woman as an amateur sleuth, and the conversations around race and bigotry were well done. However, the writing just didn't do it for me. It felt choppy, making for a read that didn't feel smooth or natural to me as a reader. I do think this book will have lots of fans and that the writing may appeal to other readers -- it just wasn't for me.
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This book drew a masterful picture of Harlem in the 20s. Louise Lloyd is a survivor of a kidnapping, which she is trying to put behind her. She spends her days working at Maggie's Café and her nights at the Zodiac, as a dancer. She’s also gay--no one knows about this, and she's also estranged from her family. When a string of disappearances start in Harlem followed by killings, Louise is forced into helping the police. As she investigates, Louise starts to wonder if these killings are related to her kidnapping. 

The relationship between the residents of Black Harlem and white law enforcement is sensitively and honestly depicted. And an unexpected positive of this story was Louise’s relationship with Rosa.  I really liked this book and look forward to reading future books in this series.
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I love the Harlem Renaissance and reading anything about it-- both fiction and non-fiction! In line with the time period, this mystery reads like a classic detective noir with a little Gatsby. The characters aren't perfect and there's a lot of shady things going on. You have a little bit of anti-hero-ness going on with several characters as well. Additionally, you have a main character who is independent and queer.

The book opens with a young Louise, escaping from being abducted and saving the other girls abducted with her. This gives her the label of "Harlem's Hero"-- a past she has tried to shed and this label. However, her life of partying in speakeasies and dancing the night away is disrupted when young Black girls begin showing up dead near the place she works and she is recruited to help solve the cases to avoid jail time.

It's a puzzling mystery to solve that has her recalling her past, working with enemies, and putting those she loves at risk. It gets slow at parts and wasn't too excited or surprised by the ending, but I am definitely interested in seeing how this series continues. A final note, that this cover is gorgeous!

I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from Netgalley and Berkley Books. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.
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I typically like historical mysteries and this was no exception. Set in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, Dead Dead Girls is the story of Louise Lovey Lloyd, a Black woman in her mid-twenties who works in a cafe during the day and spends her nights at (mostly) glamorous night clubs with her girlfriend. In the prologue to the book, Louise is a fifteen year old girl who gets kidnapped while walking home at night and finds herself held in captivity with several other young Black girls. She manages to fight against their captor and free the rest of the girls, earning her lots of attention and the moniker "Harlem's Hero" (which is also a sometime nickname of Luke Cage). I liked that the book started out with what could have been the climactic scene of another story - the kidnapping and escape. The main timeline of the book takes place ten years after that, in 1926 and mostly in Harlem. Louise has a run in with a police officer and ends up punching him in the face. To avoid jail time, she agrees to help an NYPD detective work an ongoing case of young Black girls once again going missing in Harlem, but these girls are showing up dead after a few days. Louise teams up with the detective and also takes a few teenage sex workers under her wing to try to protect them, but the murders just get more and more violent. This is definitely not a cozy and not for the faint of heart, but it's a pretty spot on take on society and the media and the way they did (and very much still do) consider young Black girls to be essentially disposable. The only gripe I had with this is that chapter frequently ended with some kind of foreshadowing statement along the lines of "Later I would wish I had listened. to her." This kind of sentiment was so frequently at the end of chapters that I started noticing when a chapter *didn't* end with that kind of statement. Still, a pretty incredible, very atmospheric debut novel. I can't wait to see what Nekesa Afia writes next.
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I hoped for more from this mystery set in the Harlem Renaissance. Afia is a welcome new voice, and her characters are well developed. But the structure of the book is choppy, and the atmosphere that would have made it a real winner is lacking.
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What I loved about Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia:
The taboo love affair between two young women.

The scene settings of secret speak easies during the prohibition era.

A plot that sets a young woman of color as a leader to solve a serial killer mystery.


What didn’t work for me in this story:
The story needed more character development.

Events jumped too quickly from one to the next.

Louise acting as liaison for white cops wasn’t quite believable as written.


Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia is a debut novel, built from a fabulous plot idea.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t effectively executed in my opinion. I skipped through several chapters to read the two ending chapters. It turns out that I had predicted the killer correctly, very early on in the story. I also predicted an important murder. I do believe the author has success ahead of them. This book was just a near miss for me.
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This book is billed as historical fiction and as a mystery thriller. It’s said to be the first of a series.
I have to say that a lot of this story was hard to follow for me.
Set in Harlem in 1926, Louise Lloyd, who was kidnapped when she was a teenager, works to maintain a normal life. She works at Maggie’s Cafe and goes out on the town to the Zodiac, a Harlem speakeasy, in the evenings.
When a young woman turns up dead in front of Maggie’s, Louise faces the fact that the deaths of two local Black girls are probably related.
Louise is forced to help the local police solve the case after being arrested. (It’s either that or go to jail.)
I never really warmed up to any of the characters in this book, so it’s doubtful that I would read others in the series. It's not poorly written, just didn't appeal to me.
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