Cover Image: Dead Dead Girls

Dead Dead Girls

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Member Reviews

This ARC was offered in exchange of an honest and impartial review:
Pros: A convoluted whodunit in 1920s Harlem from the PoV of Black women. Full of mystery and intrigue. Dialogues, figures of speech and references adapted to the era. Dedication is worth a good laugh. Talks about very important issues, such as racial profiling, violence against and fetishization of Black women, still relevant to this day...
Cons: Lackluster structural editing. Missing character depth and complexity. Doesn't delve into secondary characters.
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Very well written with a great story line... simply too long for my attention span. Around halfway through I skipped through the chapters to get an idea of what was happening and then to the end. Likely not the author's fault.. just seemed to go on and on. I wanted to find out what happened to those girls.
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Review: Dead Dead Girls by @nekesaafia 


The story takes place in 1920s Harlem when there was lots of culture and parties. In the city the Girl Killer is on the loose, targeting young Black girls. Our main character, Louise Lloyd, agrees to help the detectives solve this serial killer case. As more and more bodies show up, Louise becomes more fearful for her own life and the lives of the people she loves around her.

I found this story really enjoyable. It has a good mix of cliffhangers and heartfelt moments. One of my favorites aspects of this book is that it has many different subplots. Of course there is the main mystery, but there is also a romantic subplot including our main heroine as well as a family plot. I found them all very entertaining and kept the story fresh. 

Although as a whole the story was entertaining, I did find the middle section dragged a little. I also don't know if this is a me thing, but I found the mystery a little confusing at times, especially since there are so many characters and things happening at once. 

I think this book could easily be enjoyed by anyone. People who read lots of mysteries will enjoy the setting of this book and Louise as a main character. She is so witty and ready to get in on the action. I also think people who don't read many mysteries will find this one really easy to get sucked into and perfectly quench one's desire for a good twisty mystery. This book is out now so you can pick it up for yourself! 

Thank you so much to @netgalley and @berkleypub for a e-arc of this title. All opinions are my own.
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It’s 1926. The Roaring 20’s. The period of the “lost generation” post-WW1 and pre-Depression. In Britain, Lord Peter Wimsey is dealing, sometimes badly, with his PTSD and solving crimes. In Australia, Phryne Fisher is seducing young men, solving crimes, and proving to anyone who even thinks to criticize her for doing a man’s job that she’s doing it better than anyone else, including the police, thankyouverymuch and please keep your opinions to yourself.

Dead Dead Girls takes place in the same time period, following the same avocation, but not exactly the same world.

Louise Lloyd, a black woman in her late 20s, is caught up in a seemingly endless round of late nights dancing at speakeasies, waitressing during the day to pay for those late nights, and living in a single women’s boarding house with-and-not-with her best friend and lover, Rosa. Louise is trying to outrun her demons by dancing and drinking her nights away.

But those demons reach out for her in a way she can’t ignore. Young black women are turning up dead in Harlem, and Louise has just discovered the latest victim on the front step of the diner where she works.

So many girls have been killed, so close together, that even the white powers-that-be of the NYPD can’t ignore the serial killings any longer – no matter how much they’d rather sweep it all under the rug.

When Louise’ anger and frustration at the situation, along with the way that the cops seem to be using the murder investigation as an excuse to harrass as many Harlem residents with no pretext whatsoever rather than solve the crime, bubbles over, she hits a cop, ends up in jail and facing the kind of offer that it isn’t safe to refuse.

Help the cops find the killer, or go to jail and let herself be further abused by the system that is designed to keep her people down.

At first both reluctant and amateur in all her investigation and interrogation techniques, as the body count rises and the cops make no progress whatsoever, Louise finds herself drawn deeper into a web of hatred, lies and a determined desire on the part of officialdom to look the other way as long as all of the victims are black.

Louise can’t look away. She’s frightened at every turn, knowing that she, or someone she loves, could be next. And that no one except her own community will care. But when she stares into the abyss, she discovers that the abyss has been staring back at her all along.

Escape Rating B: I have to say that in the end this story hits like a hammer. And I’m still reeling from the blow. But that needs a bit of explanation. Perhaps more than that, because this is one of those stories that made me think – and I’m still thinking.

As a historical mystery, Dead Dead Girls manages to hit the sweet spot – or in this case the bittersweet spot – of being both firmly fixed in its time and place while being utterly relevant to the present, to the point where the reader, as much as they know it’s there and then, is certain that it could just as easily be here and now with entirely too few changes.

The consequence is that the mystery has a bit of a slow start, because it takes a while for the time machine to transport us back to Harlem in the 1920s. It’s definitely worth the trip, but it takes a few chapters to get us there.

At the same time, OMG but this is a hard read after this past year. Because of the way that it feels both historical and all too plausible in the present day. Particularly as I’m writing this review on June 1, the 100th anniversary of the second day of the Tulsa race massacre. Which Louise would have known all about – but which entirely too many of us did not and do not to this day.

Just as the murder spree in Harlem that touches Louise’ life much too closely would have been reported on extensively in the Black newspapers of the day like The Defender but would have been totally ignored by the white papers.

As a character, at first I found Louise a bit difficult to get close to, because so much of her behavior seems so deliberately reckless. It took me quite a while to get it through my head that her irresponsible behavior doesn’t really matter. She’s in a no-win scenario and nothing that she does or doesn’t do will make it any better. Like all of the things that we women are taught not to do because we might get raped, when the fact of the matter is that rape is about power and not about sex, and there’s little we can do to prevent it – and that we’ll be blamed for it anyway.

Louise’ situation is that only multiplied. Exhibiting different behavior, while it might have made her life in her father’s house more tolerable, doesn’t change the way the world perceives her and treats her. She has the power to make things worse, but not to make them better. At least not on her own. Lashing out however and whenever she can is a reasonable response. But I admit that I had to work my way towards that reaction.

The mystery that Louise has to solve is as dark and mesmerizing, twisty and turny as any mystery reader could possibly desire. But the circumstances in which Louise has to solve it are weighted with the baggage of racism and sexism in a way that fill much of the story with the darkness of the evil that men do and the inexorable weight of power corrupting – even just the power of small-minded people with little authority – and absolute power corrupting absolutely and inciting more of the same.

Dead Dead Girls is the author’s first novel – and what a searing debut it is. I’m looking forward to great, great things in her future work – particularly the second projected book in this series!
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Nekesa Afia brings a unique voice and perspective to the cozy mystery scene. I do classify this as cozy in my mind even though there was a little more boundary pushing than some safer cozies. It was refreshing to have a historical mystery set in 1920s Harlem during Prohibition that the main character is a lesbian Black woman. Afia weaves the historical (and current) racial inequity of Black people throughout the story, but in a less direct manner that might turn cozy readers off for fear of it removing the coziness. The story centers around young Black women being targeted and murdered in Harlem, and the main character, Louise, must unwillingly work with police to solve what's going on.

An aspect I felt was really interesting was how Afia doesn't pretend that the police are necessarily helpful just for the story's sake. Her characters of color are wary and untrustworthy of law enforcement, and with good reason. Circumstances throws Louise into working with a detective and officer, but she never truly lets her guard down because she knows due to her skin color she is not one they serve and protect.

While in a historical setting, much surrounding the Black experience and treatment by police is brought out in the story. Tragedies occur, and the Louise is no stranger to them, but she has perseverance and determination to solve the mystery. There is also a lot of joy in Louise's life. She loves to dance and go to the secret bars, which happens a lot when she's out with her friends, and she's also in love. So I really liked her character and how Afia developed her and gave her a lot of back story, but also brought in happy moments even when the crimes and tragedies are more the center of the plot.

 While I loved so many aspects, the characters, the plot, and the setting, I give this three stars (I would give 3.5 if Goodreads let me!) only due to some struggles I had transitioning between chapters. This is a debut book so I'm expecting (and hoping for!) more from Nekesa Afia. There were a few times I found myself confused when a chapter ended and went to the next, felt like a prior issue wasn't fully resolved but we still moved on with the characters abruptly in the next chapter. Overall, the story fit together and made sense, just the transitions weren't always clear.
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Louise Lovie Lloyd seems to have a knack for finding trouble. After being kidnapped in her teens and promptly escaping and releasing a few other girls who had been missing for longer than she had, she's grateful that her community seems to be forgetting about the time she was the 'Harlem Hero.' But suddenly, dead girls are showing up whose link is the speakeasy that's run at the same property as the diner where Louise works.

She assumes it's just a coincidence, but that doesn't really matter when everyone is worried about who may be next. Against her better plans, she ends up assisting the police in trying to find the killer. There are places a Black young woman can get into that old white cops can't. 

The story of this independent woman and the friends she considers her family is interesting. One of the other residents at the boardinghouse where Louise lives is the woman she loves, Rosa Maria. Their relationship is largely a secret, but they still enjoy their nights out dancing at the speakeasy where Rosa Maria's brother tends the bar. New York City is lively and fun for them, despite prohibition.

I'm interested to see what mystery involves them next. I'd give this book 3 out of 5 stars. The characters and the setting were charming, but the plot felt a little forced sometimes. There were a few outright statements of foreshadowing, but I didn't notice actual behavioral clues about some of the story developments. I suppose that's not saying too much, since I admittedly do like to be surprised. This was a fun historical mystery that is the first in the Harlem Renaissance Mystery series.
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I got about twenty pages in and I was disappointed by this. I don't think historical mysteries are  my jam. I just felt like it was hard to connect with the characters. I think I will come back to this at some point but not right now.
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With an incredibly vividly described setting and atmosphere, and with turns that I never saw coming, this story is really well crafted. There's a sense of danger always lurking, and Louise is a clever, intriguing character who is unwillingly forced into the center of the action. This is the start of a series, and after this strong series opener I'm very curious where it might go next.
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There's so much I want to say about this book but since it's a mystery, I feel like I should say as little as possible for fear of spoilers. I was honestly expecting more of a cozy mystery with that cover but this is a much darker and more intense story than a cozy, with young Black girls being brutally murdered in Harlem in 1926.  The protagonist, Louise Lloyd, also a young Black woman, unintentionally finds herself on the case after punching a white police officer in the face. Something about Louise intrigues the officer and he makes a deal with her:  if she can help him interview folks in Harlem who may have information about these murders, he won't charge her with assault.  Louise reluctantly agrees and thus begins her unofficial career as an amateur detective.  

I don't want to give away anything about the murder investigation, so I'll just say that I loved Louise.  She's smart, sassy, and tenacious, and really does have a knack for detective work and for getting people to talk to her.  I also loved how the author perfectly brings 1920's New York City to life, both the good and the bad.  She really captures both the beautiful and creative spirit of the Harlem Renaissance as well as the ugliness of the racism that still pervades society.  I'm excited that this is going to be a series and look forward to seeing Louise tackle even more mysteries.
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Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Drink rec: Champagne🍾

A mystery set in 1926 Harlem featuring a female protagonist who works at a café by day and then parties at speakeasies at night and solves mysteries? I am HERE👏🏼FOR👏🏼IT!  Louise is such a badass female lead and I wish I was half as cool as her! Not to mention this book has some LGBTQ+ representation in it as well!

I found DEAD DEAD GIRLS to be unique because I don’t often read historical mysteries and I loved the setting of Harlem in 1926!  The atmosphere of partying all night at speakeasies while there is a serial killer on the loose who targets Black girls in the neighborhood was really suspenseful.  While this book was super fast-paced with short chapters, I felt like the story line was a bit choppy at times.

Overall, I would definitely recommend picking up this fast-paced mystery! Can’t wait to see where this series goes next!
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I had DDG sitting in my virtual TBR list for a couple of months now, so I hope that this is the super early advance reader's copy that I received, because honey…

I had two major issues with the book: How it was written and how the story panned out. The story itself wasn't bad. It has all the dressings to make a good gumbo. I simply think it needs another revision. The pacing was good, but the flow of the story is very choppy. Afia tried to create an air of suspense, but it came off lazy.

The opening of the story started strong and clear. It introduces a young girl who experienced first-hand kidnapping and fast-forwarded that same girl's life ten years later. After her run-in with the police from a night of partying, the story started to fall flat for me. Where I considered DNFing, reached from the stupidity of the main character's thinking. To put it, that girl sucks at being a detective. All her moves were predictable and careless, and she had way too many feelings she couldn't explain but acted on impulse.

I strongly recommend a revision. The book has potential, and I hope to see it, but for now, this ain't it.
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3.5 stars

There were several things to like in this series debut featuring the fascinating setting of the Harlem Renaissance, definitely underexplored territory. Protagonist Louise Lovie Lloyd is a bit of an enigma. She is a mid 20s waitress who escapes each night into the speakeasy jazz world of Harlem. She is notorious because she engineered an escape from a kidnapper when she was just in her teens.  She is somewhat estranged from her father, a hypocritical minister who exploited her kidnapping ordeal to build his congregation. Her closest relationship is with her lover Rosa Maria and Rosa's brother Rafael.

Lovie is a strong character with lots of nuances. But you never feel the spark with her and Rosa, despite lots of declarations. And the narrative often felt disjointed to me. The mystery part was interesting, but a surprising plot twist well before the end discloses the murderer and after that, I thought it fizzled.

Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Set during the Harlem Renaissance this story follows Louise who is a waitress enjoying life as much as she can. She was kidnapped as a young girl but managed to escape and free not only herself but others girls earning herself the nickname of Harlem's Hero. A little over a decade later she still is battling some unresolved trauma which she drowns under alcohol and dancing. 

Her life gets shaken up again when she stumbles across a dead body outside of her place of employment. After a drunken altercation with the police she ends up getting recruited as expendable bait to help track down the serial killer terrorizing the Harlem streets. 

This book took a little bit longer to find it's stride then anticipated. Early on the chapters are very choppy and tend to end in what I assume is an ode to radio mystery shows from that time period. They're these foreshadow heavy cliffhangers meant to build suspense. Which ended up foreshadowing the killer earlier in the story than necessary. Once those were dropped and the author let the suspense build naturally the story flowed much better.

I could tell the author had  fun with this 1920s setting and wanted to play up the glitz and glamour as much as she could while also keeping it clear that it wasn't all sunshine and roses for Black women.

The writing gets stronger towards the end as the story finds it's stride. This series has potential to expand beyond the illegal booze and worst kept secret speakeasies into something magical.

3.5/5 stars

I received an arc from Berkley in exchange for an honest review.
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Dead Dead Girls is an intense, engaging debut. I found it impossible to put down as the reader follows Louise into her investigation of who is killing Black girls working at a club in Harlem in 1926. Louise is not a detective, she's a waitress by day and spend the nights dancing when she can. But she finds a dead body in front of her workplace, and becomes further entangled when she tries to stop another Black woman from being arrested. Instead, the detective offers to drop her charges of assault of a police officer if she helps them investigate, because he is not getting information he needs from the victim's families and friends. The body count keeps rising as Louise finds more and more potential killers - there is no shortage of awful people in the world. 
Louise is such a fascinating character. What has made her a survivor also drives her to do her best to keep others safe. It's not about solving the mystery, but for saving as many people as she can by doing so. She's in love with another woman and not starry-eyed about what that could mean long term for them. The contrasts of hope and despair throughout the book speak to so many elements of the time period, the lack of rights, racism, and the affects of those who remember the first world war. 
In the author's historical note, she states that she could have set this story as a contemporary, and reading the book, there are striking reminders of how little has changed, especially with how the police treat Black people. 
I look forward to the next book in the series.
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I liked the premise of this but I found that the execution left a bit to be desired.  I thought that the author did a good job putting you firmly in the 1920's but the story itself felt both rushed and too slow at different times.  I also thought that some plot points and character information needed more of an explanation / details then were given.  Not a bad read but overall a bit disappointing.
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I am definitely rooting for Louise, the heroine & amateur sleuth in this highly compelling own voices Harlem renaissance-centered mystery! Thanks to Berkley Books and Netgalley, I'm reading the e-Galley.
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This book really confused me. I loved parts of it so much and I didn't like some parts at all. So, I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. More on that later. The book is set in Harlem Renaissance era. It's historical mystery fiction. I loved all the vintage vibes in the book. The setting was just fabulous. It was a bit slow paced at times. But it still hooked me till the end. 

The writing style was articulate. The tone of the book was magical. I loved the feminist undertones of the book. The MC was a badass female lead. The plot was a bit predictable though. The story was about Louise, who was pretty popular in her teen years. She escaped from her kidnapper and saved a bunch of girls. But her overbearing father kept trying to contain her, so she left home.

She lived alone now with a bunch of girls in a flat. She was in a relationship with one of the girls- Rosa, a journalist. Suddenly, girls from a particular club keep dying brutally. The police were under pressure to catch the killer. They dubbed him the "Girl killer" which was very off putting for me( where's the imagination lol).  Louise punches a racist cop and gets arrested. The officer made a deal with her. 

If she helps in the investigation, then he won't charge her. So she reluctantly agreed to this. She started investigation and found so many secrets. In the process, she put everyone she loved in the path of harm. Will the prize of catching killer be enough? 

The big reveal to me was not surprising at all. It was really very obvious. But other than that, the book was really entertaining, I still have the book 4 stars. If you love murder mysteries, you should definitely give this one a try.
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I went into this book with high expectations. The premise and protagonist -- a Black lesbian flapper tries to catch a serial killer in Prohibition-era Harlem -- sounded AMAZING, and very much in my wheelhouse. 

Unfortunately, my expectations weren't satisfied. There were definitely scenes and details I enjoyed, and Afia clearly did a TON of research that came through with the historical setting and dialogue. But as a whole, the book felt lackluster given its superb set-up. The prose is far more tell than show, which meant there were scenes where the characters' reactions/emotions felt jarring and confusing (suddenly they're shouting! suddenly they're angry or sad, and the text itself doesn't set that up in an organic way). This lack of showing meant that few of the characters felt all that compelling or three-dimensional; though we're privy to much of what goes on inside heroine Louise's head, even she feels rather shallow. There's also sudden suspicion and distrust regarding a central character that's a little too convenient for the plot, when that character has yet to do anything in text/on-screen to spark such a reaction. 

And the heroine, though she constantly asserts that she's determined to catch the killer and protect the victims, really doesn't do all that much proactively to solve the case; a lot of vital details just happen to come to her, or she's passively led to clues. Despite her rousing introduction in the opening prologue, Louise ultimately doesn't feel all that heroic in the "present"-set mystery. And, despite the looming and persistent threat of a serial killer, there isn't that much urgency in the narrative itself -- at times, the story falls into sections or asides that drag without much payoff. 

Afia *does* make a point of weaving in important commentary on how the Black residents of Harlem have always been seen as disposable and less than. How the victims of the killer are blamed for their own murders (they must not have been Good Girls, given their job/skin color/behavior, etc.) and that the white, overtly racist police force has NO incentive to give them justice or protection. There's also plenty in the text about how heroine Louise struggles with layers of inequality, as she's not only Black and poor and a woman but also a lesbian, forced to hide her romance for fear of legal prosecution and societal persecution. 

Still, overall, this historical mystery didn't leave the memorable mark I'd hoped for. This is being billed as the first in a series, and I doubt I'll pick up Book 2.
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Advanced Reader’s Copy provided by NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.

Ok so let's start with the good: 

1. Nekesa Afia fully immerses readers into 1920s Harlem. I wanted to be in the Zodiac dancing along with Louise and Rosa Maria. 
2. YESSSSSSSS to Black queer representation in historical fiction. I'm here for it. 
3. Louise in general. She's someone I'd want to be friends with.
4. The overall theme and plot is solid.

But (and unfortunately for me it's a big one), the pacing and transitions are super choppy and confusing. Sometimes I'd have to go back and read the previous paragraph to figure out what happened in the page break between what I had just read and what I was reading now. 

And while I didn't know exactly how the Girl Killer mystery would be resolved, it was really easy to know who it was from early on and spot the red herrings throughout the story. This didn't take away from my reading experience, but nothing was exactly a surprise like I was hoping it would be. 

Overall I really enjoyed DEAD DEAD GIRLS and this is a solid debut novel. Afia has something here and with a little more editing it would be great. I look forward to seeing what happens in the next Harlem Renaissance Mystery book. I could also see this being turned into a movie or TV show - and I'd watch the hell out of it.
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Since in 1920's Harlem, Louise is forced back into the limelight, which she left behind with her escaped abduction 10 years previousily, to help the police find out who is murdering young black girls. 

This story is set in a fashion & music era that I adore! I couldn't wait for a mystery series surround by an LGBTQ Black Heroine who is ready to get justice for the murdered girls. I really admired Louise and her whole character because she tries to live her life after a horrific incident, and she wants to love the girl she loves, see her family and be happy, and that's all I want for her - LET HER BE HAPPY! I identified with her strained relationship with her father, even before the kidnapping when she was 16, because I have that with my own, and as we are both the eldest sister, we were both protectors and ended up being cast out.
The racism, sexism and power imbalance between Louise and the cops she might be working with were strange and yet realistic.

The biggest letdown was the choppy and cliffhanger written within the chapters -mostly at the end. It kept me from fully enjoy the story because, at times, I honestly had to reread a sentence or two. After all, I was a little confused. The flow at the end of the end was very up and down too, which threw me off.
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