Cover Image: Dead Dead Girls

Dead Dead Girls

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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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This novel does an excellent job raising the stakes from the very beginning of the book and perfectly lays out our circumstances. It makes clear sense why Louise would be investigating and what’s at risk if she doesn’t. I loved the character of Louise; she’s selfless without being self-righteous, which is such a precarious balancing act. Where this book fell short for me was the ending it. It falls apart and is pretty haphazard. Louise begins acting in a way that is completely out of character, and the resolution just felt like the book had been going on for too long, and the author was told to wrap it up 🥴 Even when I don’t agree with the ending or resolution to a mystery, I can still see the logic in it; this one, however, didn’t even provide me with that. Overall, though, it was a good book, and if you’re looking for a queer Black historical mystery, check out DEAD DEAD GIRLS!
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This started so good, brazenly rewriting the narrow, dumb, and hateful biases of 1926 America towards an enlightened Harlem Renaissance approach to race and sexuality, while spinning a story about a young, Black, lesbian waitress enlisted by the NYPD to assist in capturing a serial killer running amok on Harlem’s streets. Unfortunately, the author loses the thread in the back half, meandering through scenes that vacillated in tone and weight between madcap schemes and gothic solemnity through the lens of awkward maturation into adulthood that all ends up simultaneously suspended with as much natural chemistry as a glass of oil and water. Louise is a 26 year old barista, hanging tight in a charmingly insular world of late nights drinking and dancing with her girlfriend, Rosa Maria, and Rosa Maria’s brother, bartender Rafael. Louise is jarred from her blissful reverie when she witnesses a cop harassing a young woman, and intervenes by cold-cocking him. That leads Detective Gilbert to offer Louise- who has a famous past, nicknamed Harlem’s hero -the option of charges, or to become his informant/partner. That sets the gears into motion, and thoughtful examinations of marriage, family follow, as Louise interviews potential suspects and victims. The book has some non-sequiturs early on- like a comment about  how someone "didn't keep alcohol, illegal or otherwise, in the kitchen or the dining room." that begs the question of how alcohol can be kept during prohibition if it isn’t illegal. These slips are innocuous if irritating, but only become more common as the book goes on. A bigger problem is how heavy handed the book can be in telegraphing and foreshadowing the arcs of characters or the plot. The last third also contains lapses in logic in the main and ancillary characters which can only- as best as I can figure -be present to advance the plot. The culmination ends up feeling like the author ran out of gas on a good premise. Nekesa Afia’s strengths make her an author to watch, but for now, no more.
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It’s the Harlem Renaissance, though for young women like Louise Lloyd, scraping by as a waitress, the glamour is superficial while the struggle is real. By day she works at Maggie’s Cafe and by night she dances up a storm with her roommate who she loves and her roommate’s brother at The Zodiac despite the ever-present risk of a police raid. But then there are the Dead Dead Girls.

When a young woman is murdered and Lou finds her body outside Maggie’s, she knows there must be a serial killer at work. So do the police and when she is arrested after a raid, Detective Gilbert, who is in charge of the case, gives her an ultimatum, help solve the case by questioning the witnesses who are reluctant to trust the police (for good reason,) or go to jail.

Asking her to investigate isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. In her teens, she was kidnapped and managed to rescue herself and the other girls held by her captor. She is the “Harlem Hero” and that reputation brings some expectations. She begins her investigation by going to the girls who worked with murdered girls and then to their families. There are a few red herrings, but most of the investigation is through the accretion of one clue after another.

Dead Dead Girls is a fair mystery. No unseen, unknown murderer pops up in the end. Since Louise loved music so much, I will describe the pace as staccato. Transitions were often abrupt. It was also frustrating as when there is a known serial killer preying on women who work at clubs, why then does she go out and about at night as though she had armed escorts. It seems unlikely she would be so heedless of her own jeopardy. The denouement was fair but hasty. There’s all this buildup and then it’s over in a minute. We need more payoff when the killer is caught. Nonetheless, there are many good points to the book. The sense of place is fantastic and I love how the motif of music is carried through. I liked Lou and think could become a great series. Since this is the first in the series, it may just have some growing pains.

I received an e-galley of Dead Dead Girls from the publisher through NetGalley.

Dead Dead Girls at Berkley | Penguin Random House
Nekesa Afia author site
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The setting in the 1920s was one of the best parts of this story. The situation, however, of bigoted white cops bribing a black female dancer/waitress to help them solve multiple murders was a hard sell. The writing was a little choppy but I imagine that will improve in subsequent novels. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkeley Books/Penguin Random House Publishing for the ARC to read and review.
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This book was not for me, I did not finish it. I am not the most interested in the twenties and even though I liked the protagonist, I was not enjoying the overall story.
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diverse 1920s murder mystery is exactly my jam so I was looking forward to this one. the book definitely delivered on the setting/time period. I loved the atmosphere and Louise being Black and queer added a lot of nuance to it. the conversations about how Louise wasn't safe because of her race and sexuality were woven into the story so well. I think it gave a more authentic look at New York in the 1920s and was done beautifully.

however, the mystery itself and ending didn't work for me. it wasn't predictable exactly but it wasn't that intriguing. the red herrings and reveals weren't done in a way that made me excited to keep going. the way Louise discovered the culprit and how they ultimately got caught wasn't satisfying and didn't explore motives enough.

If you like the vibes of the Diviners by Libba Bray but didn't enjoy the paranormal aspects, this might be the book for you. I might give another book in the series a shot for the atmosphere with the hopes that the mystery gets stronger.
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I was really excited for this book. The time period, setting, and characters of color are something I'd like to see more of in the genre. However, the writing felt choppy and at times hard to follow. That could be a tactic to keep the reader moving along in the story, but it just didn't work for me. The book was also a little more graphic than I expected. Again, that's personal taste. Parts of the book felt like a cozy, while parts were very hard to read. That said, I'd like to see where this series goes, and now that I've read the first one, I'll be able to hand this book to the right person.
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Plot: dead girls are being found in Harlem and it's going to take an insider to find the killer. I enjoyed this historical mystery and loved how much I learned about the 1920s while reading it. Lousie's backstory makes her the perfect detective for the serial killer stalking girls in Harlem. While the ending wasn't a suprise, it was an action packed read. Recommended.
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Dead Dead Girls is a 1920's mystery set in Harlem. Louise Lloyd works at a cafe during the day and spends her nights dancing at her favorite speakeasy, the Zodiac. Known as the “Harlem Hero,” Louise was kidnapped as a teenager, but escaped and saved other girls in the process. Since then, Louise likes to lay low, but when young Black girls start showing up dead outside of her work place, Louise finds herself working with the police to find the killer.

Dead Dead Girls has a great set up and fantastic characters. The 1920's are usually glamorized, but Nekesa Afia weaves in the realities of race and sexuality in this time period. Young Black girls are being killed and the police don’t act until they absolutely have to. The people of Harlem do not trust the police, with good reason. The police want Louise’s help because she has more access to Harlem and its people, and Louise wants to catch the killer and make Harlem as safe as possible for Black girls. Louise is an endearing character. She has a lot of heart and does her best in a terrible situation. Dead Dead Girls is extremely dark at times, but Louise's relationships with her sisters and her friends Rosa Maria and Rafael, provide much needed comfort and support for Louise. These moments were some of my favorite in the book.

While this story has a great set up and fantastic characters, I didn't love the mystery aspect of it. I felt like Louise just walked into clues and sometimes her assumptions didn’t make a lot of sense. Louise is an amateur detective roped into helping the police, so I was not expecting her to be an expert, but the process she takes to find the killer was pretty lackluster and boring at times. It felt like the author mapped out big moments that lead Louise to the murderer, but once they all come together in the novel, it didn't flow right. The conclusion of the novel was slightly confusing and I still don’t feel like I fully understood what happened and why.

I wanted to love this book, but it wasn't perfect. For a debut, Nekesa Afia was able to set up a good foundation with a great 1920's Harlem setting and complex characters. The mystery aspect was a little dry and confusing, but I will continue on in this series. I’m looking forward to seeing what's next for these characters.

I would recommend this to anyone who:
- loves a 1920's setting
-likes their books to explore real social problems
-likes historical books with good representation

*Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for providing the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*
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This book was fun and I love the 1920s setting. The writing is a bit uneven, but I think the series can really go places and I love reading a 20s story featuring a black female lead.
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Trigger warning: attempted sexual assault, sex trafficking, kidnapping, racism, 

When I say I loved this book. I mean I LOVED this book! 

Louise Lloyd is my favorite mystery protagonist of this year so far. 

Louise is a survivor of a kidnapping and because of that she is well known to a certain extent, but she just wants to live a normal slightly calm life. However, things don't work out like that for her sadly. Instead, she gets dragged into a murder investigation by a detective because of all the people she knows and how she can get into places that police and detectives cannot considering prohibition as well as keeping herself out of jail. So this leads her to have to not only deal with the police detective and his potential shadiness, but also a reporter that keeps sneaking around, and a murderer that she must stop to have her own freedom as well as protecting young girls from getting killed. This is a lot for anyone but Louise was able to juggle it all and was really really good at it. She figured out things that others didn't and caught onto things that were overlooked by the police and never stopped looking. 
Now as for who actually was doing the killings, I was kind of shocked by it. For the majority of the last half of the book, I thought it was someone else. I like that I couldn't figure it out for once and that it took all the clues being put together for me to realize who did it. Ms. Afia, you did very well and I can't wait to read more books by you because this one got me for sure. 

Overall I loved this book and could not read it fast enough. Louise is a great protagonist and she is always trying to find the real truth and to bring the proper person to justice even if it puts herself in danger while she's doing it. While I'm not a fan of putting yourself in danger, it does have to happen sometimes when your solving murders, and Louise always found a way to get out of danger and always seemed to have a backup plan of sorts. Louise's friends and her girlfriend just perfection. loved them so much and loved the dynamic they had with one another and how they helped when needed but also let Louise do what she needed without asking too many questions. I cannot wait to see more of them in the next book and I am so so glad that this is going to be a series because I need more of all of them. 

Ms. Afia can I get book two by chance cause um I need to know what Louise gets up to next. Pretty please!?!
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Probably closer to 3.5 or 3.75 but I rather enjoyed this as one of my first ventures into the mystery genre!

Set in 1920s Harlem, Dead Dead Girls follows Loise Lloyd, a young, Black, lesbian woman who gets roped into solving a mystery of a chain of murders involving Black teen girls.

There was a lot to love about this debut. The time period and setting were wonderfully atmospheric, Louise was a fierce and smart protagonist who was very easy to root for and the friendships and romantic relationship were nicely developed. The pacing of the mystery itself was also very well done in my opinion, and I breezed through this book in just a few days without ever getting bored. I really enjoyed seeing the pieces of the mystery come together, however, I was able to figure it out pretty early on in the story with all the hints that were given. Because of this, I found myself a tiny bit underwhelmed with the final reveal but still enjoyed seeing how things played out with the characters.

Overall, this was a solid debut that I had a great time with and would recommend to mystery fans and noobs alike. I will for sure be picking up any future installments of this series as well as anything else Afia comes out with!
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An excellent mystery novel that transports the reader to the 20s following a Black lesbian main character.
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If you’re about to skip over this one because you don’t read, or aren’t in the mood, for cozy mysteries (which the cover may make you think it is), come back this is not a cozy!

Set during the Harlem Renaissance, Louise Lloyd has never been able to avoid the spotlight after escaping a kidnapper as a teenager, and setting free the other girls in the process. The press has remembered her, as has the Harlem community. When she’s arrested for assaulting an officer, this comes in handy for the police who recognize her and want to use her. There’s a serial killer, killing young Black girls, and the detective in charge thinks a young Black woman like Louise will make it easier to get people to help with the investigation, rather than white cops asking questions. She doesn’t want to but is backed into a corner, so she goes out asking questions, putting herself in danger…

Louise is a great character who, after being kidnapped as a teen, being forced to raise her younger siblings, and thrown out by her father, wears no rose colored glasses when viewing the world. What she does love is dancing with her girlfriend and friend until the morning hours at a speakeasy, with zero intention of marrying or doing any of the things expected of women.

If you’re looking for a historical mystery, set during the exciting Harlem Renaissance, with a bit of a noir feeling to it, pick up this book. I’m excited that it’s a series starter and look forward to more of Louise and the time period.

(TW attempted rape/ kidnapping/ homophobia/ racism)
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I'm a simple gal, I see this on Twitter and immediately add the book to my TBR: "if you want a jazz age murder mystery starring a tiny, tired lesbian, look no further than DEAD DEAD GIRLS." And let me tell you: this debut historical mystery did not disappoint! With an amazing atmosphere, complex characters, and engaging plot, I devoured this book in two sittings *shakes fist at sleep*

"Secrets were made and kept at the Zodiac. It was a place where men could dance with men, and women could dance with women."

Instantly gripping with a sense of unease creeping from the narrative, I was transported to Jazz Age New York City. Let's set the scene for Dead Dead Girls with some Jazz ! I loved how the reader is introduced to Louise in the "present time" of 1926 on the dance floor of a Prohibition era club: the freedom and excitement of expressing herself dances on the page. The Zodiac is where she can be herself and dance with her partner Rosa.

"On nights like tonight, everything fell into place, and 'good' wasn't even the best word to describe it. 'Magical,' maybe. The way the room vibrated with anticipation as the band struck up, and she was whirled onto the dance floor -- it always elicited the same feeling."

Diminutive in stature but not in personality, Louise is a main character you can't help but root for. A survivor of kidnapping ten years prior, she lives a happy and 'simple' life as a waitress and tries to move past her notoriety. But when Black girls turn up dead, the police "ask" (aka force) Louise to help them solve the crimes because she can go where the white cops can't. This is the last thing she wants, but she feels a responsibility to her community to do what she can... and it's quickly obvious that the police haven't been doing much in their investigation. She fights for Black girls who the system seems to not care about and I like how she challenges white apathy.

"Summers were time for them to get together as a community. But no one trusted anyone anymore. There was doubt seeping in through the cracks of a community that used to be so close."

Expertly plotted, I love how the clues and hints all tie into the greater mystery rather than having obvious and poorly contrived red herrings. Every chapter ends with a quip that only someone recalling with 20/20 perspective would say, and that not only kept me on my toes but kept me reading. I had to know what would happen next, and I was on pins and needles trying to figure out who the killer is and who the killer will attack next. It's a fast read and one I struggled to put down.

"It was strange to see how her story wasn't a story until it was. There was no mention of missing girls, no mention of her being snatched from the sidewalk blocks from her home, no mention of this utterly life-changing event, until there was a fifteen-year-old Louise looking shellshocked and dirty, accompanied by three other girls."

There's a parallel spanning ten years in Louise's life: when she was abducted in the past and her trying to solve the murders in the present. How no one beyond the community seemed to care about the missing girls until Louise escape; how no one cared about the murdered girls until bodies were left out in the open. It's a critique on not only the news cycle and sensationalism of media but also how crimes against Black people often go unreported and under-investigated. Lingo and slang of the era helps to solidify the era, as sadly the trials and tribulations of Louise and other Black girls of Harlem could have been set in modern times with little difference.

The pacing is a little weird towards the end of the book, and I would have liked maybe 20 more pages. I was genuinely wondering if there was going to be a resolution in this book because I was getting close to the end and it was still all rising action building toward the final confrontation... and then it's resolved in a page. I had a case of reader whiplash because I was vibing so hard with the book and then it was over in a blink; I was left feeling a little unsatisfied, which is a shame because other than that it was a stellar read.

Overall, Nekesa Afia's historical mystery debut wowed me. I love being so engaged in a plot that I can't put a book down, and the mystery itself is plotted well. While the ending came a little quicker than I'd have liked, it's a testament that I wanted to keep reading. I look forward to the next installment in this series and recommend this one to lovers of historical mystery with female characters who become detectives to speak for the forgotten victims.

Representation: Black main character, diverse main cast, LGBT+ characters (gay and sapphic characters)
Content Warnings: attempted rape, depictions of grief, loss of a loved one, murder, racism, sexism, use of n-word, victim blaming

eARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley for my honest review. This does not affect my opinions of the book nor the content of my review. Quotations are from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon final publication.
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I was excited to read a mystery set during the Harlem Renaissance and the main character is black. Louise Lloyd was fierce, unapologetic, and passionate. At 15 she saved herself and three other girls from a kidnapper. Fast forward 10 years and young black girls have started to disappear again.

This is where the story took a weird turn for me. There was a definite element of mystery and I suspected a few people of the murders. When Louise was thrust into the investigation of the murders with Detectives Gilbert and Martin, things just seemed off. Louise was basically bribed by Detective Gilbert to assist in the investigation or face going to jail Louise always seemed to be flying by the seat of her pants. She was in a secret relationship with her best friend Rosa Maria and I really wanted to know more about their relationship and it is the 1920's what did that actually look like. I also wanted more of a backstory on Louise's family dynamic. She lived in a boarding house for single women but she had an aunt, father, and three sisters. I wanted more. The ending was anticlimactic for me. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this ARC.
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Book TW: sexual assault, attempted rape, racism, emotional abuse

Dead, Dead Girls is the author’s debut novel and is the first book in a series of murder mysteries set in the Harlem Renaissance. While I enjoyed the book decently overall, and I adored the atmosphere that Afia created, there were some structural and style issues I had with it as well. The largest issue for me was a large overuse of foreshadowing that I felt undercut the mystery and tension of the book. It was largely foreshadowing using a future tense (I.e. she would regret doing this, this was the last time she would see ____ alive, etc). While I think occasionally using this literary device can actually increase tension, it was used so much that I figured out where the book was heading early on and then was just frustrated that Louise didn’t get there faster. I think without the extreme foreshadowing, my reading experience definitely would’ve been improved. Without getting into spoilers, I did also have a few problems with the twist and ending because it seemed somewhat inconsistent from the setup in my opinion and so I was expecting a further twist or reversal based on that... but then there wasn’t and I was just left a little like “well... alrighty then.”
I do generally like Louise as a character, and it’s kind of nice to have a character whose temper flaring is both helpful and harmful depending on when it appears. 
Some of the side characters were a little flat, but I think they definitely have potential to be fleshed out in further installments as is common in mystery series. I think especially Rosa Marie could use with some development in future books. However, as this is both a debut and obviously a plot focused book, I’m not going to be nearly as harsh about flatter characters as I would be in an explicitly character focused novel. As I mentioned, the strongest aspect of the story was definitely the atmosphere and there were some genuinely heartwarming and tense moments as well. I think Nekesa Afia is definitely an author to watch as her writing and development grows over time. I may try this series again later, but I probably wouldn’t reread this specific book. If you want a fairly fast, straightforward murder mystery you may still enjoy yourself with this one.
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As soon as I heard that this was a book set in 1920s Renaissance Harlem featuring a Black lesbian MC, I couldn't hit the request button fast enough. I have always been in love with the glamour and glitz of the 1920s, but rarely have I seen Black women like me take center stage in the story much less make it onto a cover like this. 

This story follows Louise Lloyd who is focused on living her best life following a traumatic past. This comes to a head when Louisa finds the body of a 16 year old Black girl in front of her workplace. Before she can testify, she's arrested for slapping an officer who was attempting to assault a young girl. Louise is given an ultimatum: help solve the case or face the unjust consequences from the Judge. 

What I loved about this mystery is that it's not your typical whodunit where you need to figure out who the murderer is. In this situation, you know. The difference is that Louise must acquire evidence to ensure that the person is found guilty of their crimes. I definitely appreciated this approach because this is something that is still seen so often when it comes to victims from marginalized communities. 

As far Louise goes, she was a fantastic character from start to finish. She's fierce, independent, and refuses to be intimidated even when she should definitely run from certain situations. It's also completely understandable her initial hesitancy to get involved considered the past that she endured and the unintended fame that followed. 

This is such a wonderful debut, and I can't wait to see more of what Afia has to offer.
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