Cover Image: Dead Dead Girls

Dead Dead Girls

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Member Reviews

I’ve been on a historical mystery binge for the last year or so and have devoured one series after another. I saw the cover reveal for Dead Dead Girls on Twitter, read the blurb, and then immediately put it on my TBR wishlist. I mean who can resist gorgeous women drinking illegal booze in speakeasies and dancing with each other all night long while a killer is on the loose in Harlem? Definitely not me.

Dead Dead Girls features a strong, fabulous, black lesbian protagonist named Louise Lloyd. When the book opens she is the victim of a kidnapping and fights to rescue herself as well as several other girls taken from a mysterious villain. She becomes the Hero of Harlem. Years later there is a series of murders of young black women in and around Harlem and after getting into an altercation with a police officer while trying to save another young woman, is arrested and soon realizes the only way she is getting out of a jail sentence is to help the lead detective with his case. Louise may be uniquely qualified to help find the killer, but she’s also just a normal woman working at a cafe by day, living in a group home, and spending her evenings with her girlfriend dancing and drinking the night away. But she doesn’t have a choice.

I enjoyed this mystery very much. So many twists and turns and Louise is a wonderful narrator. The pacing kept me flipping pages and the mystery was well done. I started to get a feel of who the killer might be around the 60% mark, and couldn’t wait to see if I was correct. If I have any complaint it’s that the details of what happens immediately after Louise catches the killer are kind of fast-forwarded and glossed over.

She is also surrounded by a lovely cast of supporting characters and I hope to see them and Louise very soon solving more mysteries.
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I liked Dead Dead Girls, but I didn't love it. 

Let's start with what worked: It was *awesome* to read a story about a Black queer woman solving crime in 1920s New York City. That type of representation is almost non existant, so coming across it here (as a reader who is a Black queer woman) was so validating. I love how vibrant Harlem feels while reading: it's easy to paint a picture of each speakeasy, café, and park. I also loved that this book didn't pretend that racism didn't exist, but weaved a realistic take on it into the story. It felt so much more believable because of that. 

Okay, so now for what didn't feel quite right for me: the mystery. To be fair, I love true crime and I read thrillers, but I don't read a TON of mysteries. However, this mystery here didn't feel quite aligned to me: I never fully understood the killer's signature, his reason for killing didn't get as deeply explored as I wished, and the pacing felt a little off to me. There were things Louise didn't pick up on that were obvious signs and other things she found fishy for no reason. I like when I can solve the crime with the main character and here, I felt like I wasn't given a chance to: I had to be content to just sit on my hands and watch Louise solve the mystery.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC of this book!
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I loved this book!  The setting of Harlem and Louise Lloyd as the lead were perfection.  I loved the twists in the book, and I thought the plot was very well-developed.  The ending was amazing, too!  Overall, I fell in love with these characters and the story, and I can’t wait for others in the series to com out.  I felt like I was transported from 2021 to 1920 and Harlem, and it was truly like taking a time traveling journey with a mysterious twist.  Louise Lloyd as the main protagonist was such an inspiring, motivating character that I will not soon forget her!  Thank you Berkley for the advanced copy of this book.  I enjoyed it immensely!
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I was SO excited when I first saw a murder mystery set during the Harlem Renaissance -- and with a queer, Black woman detective -- yes please! This crucial period of history is vastly underrepresented in fiction, and I'm so glad Nekesa Afia has finally arrived with this stunning debut. While she does keep the promises of what a reader will expect from the genre, Afia doesn't hide behind the glitz and glamour of the 1920s. Instead, she exposes the dark corners of those Prohibition years, highlighting the pages of history that have been written over by white voices, claiming Black culture as their own.

DEAD DEAD GIRLS easily leads you onto the dance floor with a graceful Waltz, and quickly twirls you into a Charleston, and as the rhythm picks up, you won't ever want to sit back down. (Seriously, do NOT pick this up right before bedtime or you will see the light of dawn!) The mystery itself is expertly woven, and will certainly satisfy both a newbie to the genre, and the Jessica Fletchers among us. The suspects are complex and multi-faceted, keeping you guessing at every turn. The author does an incredible job of placing red-herrings, and varying pace throughout the novel to keep the tension up and the reader on their toes.

Though every single character in this novel jumps off of the page with life, Louise Lloyd is a standout heroine. THIS is the friend you call in a crisis, or just when you need a fun night out. Louise is incredibly smart and compassionate, and uses her charisma and life experiences in a unique way to solve the case, while constantly fighting against prejudice and her family's judgement to keep her friends and sisters safe. There is a huge amount of emotional depth in this book that goes far beyond the murders at its core, and I'm so thrilled we are going to continue following Louise on her adventures throughout this series.

Deftly written and completely atmospheric, DEAD DEAD GIRLS is a standout debut clearly steeped in research and containing so so much heart. I cannot wait to see what Louise and her friends do next! I'm a Nekesa Afia fan for life.
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This is an excellent read-just a super freaking good book. An excellent mystery, too, because I truly had no idea who was killing the girls until the very end, and the author does such a great job of disseminating red herrings and making you think like maybe you know who the bad guy is-but then you second guess yourself and figure that maybe you don't know. Basically, my fave kind of mystery: where I'm always changing my mind about who did it. But aside from the mystery there is soooo much more to love. A non-comprehensive list of my fave parts:

- Louise. She is a force of nature. She is tiny and relentless and intelligent and stubborn and "ornery" (a direct quote, btw) and there is something beautiful in watching her going from feeling like the investigation is something forced upon her to realizing that she cares way to much to let go of the girls. (Also I looooved her past as the Hero of Harlem and her complex feelings about that and about her father... she has such a layered backstory! Basically: I love her. Lou marry me.)

- The relationship between Louise and Rosa Maria. Their quiet, deep love is #goals. I just loved how Rosa Maria was Louise's rock throughout. And Lou sneaking up to Rosa Maria's room (CRIES!!) and their little guarded gestures of affection... I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE HOW THEIR RELATIONSHIP IS EXPLORED IN THE NEXT BOOK!

- Rafael. He's cute. He's funny. He's Lou's BFF. And his gesture for Lou at the end... it made me tear up.

- Louise's relationship with her sisters. It's complex and layered and I love them and I want to spend Thanksgiving with them.

- THE!! ATMOSPHERE!!! The descriptions of the Harlem Renaissance-perfect. I want to go the Zodiac!! I love the setting and I love the way the author made me feel like I was right there! (And I am deeply ignorant about American history, but this book is sooo accessible!)

Basically: read this book. One of my fave reads of the year--and it weaves in lot of themes that are still relevant in 2021. Seventy out of five stars, would recommend to everyone.
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As a teenager, Louise Lloyd made headlines for escaping her kidnapper--and freeing his other victims on the way. Now, in 1926, she works at a Maggie's Café by day and at Harlem's coolest speakeasy by night. When dead girls from the club start turning up, Louise can't trust the police to find the murderer. Instead, she takes matters into her own hands.

I really, really enjoyed this start to the Harlem Renaissance Mystery series! The setting is so engaging, and Louise Lloyd is the perfect combination of smart, fun, and irreverent. I really wanted to see more of her relationship with Rosa Maria, but hopefully I'll get to read more about it in the next installment!
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Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own. 

In Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia 1920s Harlem is the backdrop for a mystery starring an intrepid 26 year old named Louise Lloyd, also known as Harlem’s Hero.

At 16, Louise rescued herself & other Black teen girls from a kidnapper. Now, ten years later, she works at a cafe, loves to go out dancing with her friend & lover Rosa Maria, & is alienated from her family after angering her strictly religious father.

But things grow much more complicated for our heroine when young Black women are murdered & placed outside Louise’s work & she’s forced to help investigate their deaths.

There are lots of things about Dead Dead Girls that captivate: the intriguing setting & how it’s captured w/ little details; how independent Louise is & her punchy one-liners; her striking observations about how Black women are treated & how white police officers discriminate against Black residents of Harlem.

I love when she takes off on her own investigations, how ingenious she is in making use of her clothes for hiding things.

The glitz of the flapper lifestyle & Louise’s personality draw me in but overall, the mystery itself doesn’t feel as tight as it could be, particularly at the end.

Dead Dead Girls offers a compelling backdrop & a resourceful, glamorous heroine, but the mystery doesn’t hit quite as hard as I’d like.

3.5 ⭐️. Release date: 06/01


Louise has a horrible experience w/ white police officers; they call her racial slurs, throw peanuts at her, sexually harass & threaten her. Black teen girls are kidnapped; in some cases murdered. Attempted rape.
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Hooray! Look at this fantastic cover and tempting, mesmerizing atmosphere of 20’s Harlem: speakeasies, illegal booze, the beautiful women in shiny, gorgeous dresses dancing till the morning and dangerous killer out there to hunt the working black girls of the neighborhood! Aren’t you intrigued yet? I’m already sold! 

  Louise Lloyd is hero of Harlem who fought against her kidnappers when she was only 15 and saved three other girls’ lives with her. She is adamant not to be a prey or a victim anymore at young age. She also resists the plans of her preacher, rigid, disciplined father who forces her to a marriage, leaving her house in early twenties to become a dancer but the competition was tough and as a young black girl it was more compelling to find your place in that ruthless world where being woman is already worthless and if you add the race to the equation, she is already doomed to fail.

  She plans to live in a group home temporarily, finding daytime job at a cafe as a waitress. But she falls in love with her roommate Rosa Maria. So she stops looking for another life, surrendering to her circumstances, hanging out at the Zodiac club at nighttime, drinking like a sponge, dancing till her feet bleed, smoking cigarettes like chimney as she continues her daytime job at Maggie’s coffee with less sleep and lack of energy. It’s some kind of self destructive life style she chose for her continues till she hits 26, tenth anniversary of her kidnapping.

  Her life suddenly changes as she finds dead black girl’s body who is only sixteen lies in front of her workplace and meets with officer Gilbert to testify. At the same night, she gets arrested as she tries to save a young girl from police officer’s assault. She slaps the guy, sitting at the jail to wait for how long she’ll be sentenced. 

But officer Gilbert offers her to work undercover for the police investigation to solve the dead girls’ case. She can befriend the girls and get more useful information from them. She’ll help or she’ll find herself at jail. She doesn’t have any chance to say no. She cooperates and find herself to catch a dangerous killer to reconcile the traumatic event she’s endured ten years ago. 

  Overall: I loved Louise’s characterization from the beginning and I enjoyed the execution of the mystery. 

The twists are well developed and the ending was phenomenal. Only thing bothered me was choppy, abrupt chapter endings. I think they need a little editorial work but instead of that, I enjoyed my ride! It was epic historical thriller earned my four speakeasy, dancing till the dawn, intriguing, heart throbbing stars! 

 Special thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for sharing this amazing digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest opinions.
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I wanted to like this book- the premise is great! Black lesbian detectives in 1920’s Harlem- I was very intrigued. But the writing is poor and the plot is sloppy- I got about 7 chapters in before I had to abandon it. I think with some severe editing, this could be a great book!
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I received this ARC from NetGalley. 

Dead Dead Girls is a murder mystery set in 1920s Harlem. We meet the main character, Louise, when she is abducted by a stranger. She manages to free herself and the other girls that the abductor had imprisoned before her. We catch up with her a decade later, after the hoopla of her being the “Harlem Hero” has died down. There is a serial killer targeting teenage girls in her neighborhood. After a run-in with the police, Louise is given the choice to help solve the murders or face prison time. The story follows Louise as she uses her wits and few resources to try to track down the “Girl Killer”. 

The concept of the story was really interesting to me. I was immediately drawn in by the mystery of it. I loved that Louise was so quick thinking and tough. She made for an amazing heroine. I struggled with the writing not giving me a 1920s feel. It came off as a much more contemporary story. As it unfolded, the suspense was just lukewarm for me. It didn’t feel like an edge of your seat suspense thriller ever fully manifested. Quite a few times, I thought that the story didn’t feel believable. I hope that some parts of the book are edited and fleshed out a little better before publication. 

Overall it was a good book, but not great. I feel like it’s a 3 star read. Thank you to NetGalley, Berkeley Publishing Group and Nekesa Afia for the opportunity to review this book.
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In 1920s Harlem, a young woman who was kidnapped as a teenager but escaped is enlisted by the police to solve a series of brutal murders.
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The premise and blurb for Dead Dead Girls had me hooked! This was easily one of my most anticipated reads.

The mystery was just what I wanted, it kept me on the edge of my seat. I want Louise to be my friend. She was everything I love in a MC. I loved the side characters and thought that the development of the world was great. I also liked how Nekesa Afia showed the systemic racism and how the story she told could have easily taken place in 2021 rather than 1928.

If you want this fresh take on a mystery that touches on real topics, I recommend checking this out.

CW: attempted sexual assault, killing, kidnapping, drugging, abuse
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I reviewed this title for Mystery Scene Magazine it will be published in their Summer edition please refer to it for my complete review
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1926 Jazz age Harlem New York, we fall in love with Louise Lloyd a hard-working waitress living in a group home who adores going out to the speakeasy with her girlfriend and her brother. She quickly gets wrapped up in a string of murder investigations by working with the police to keep from going to jail after an unfortunate incident. By becoming an informant and investigating the crimes of the serial killer on the loose, she conveniently becomes everyone's trustworthy best friend and the clues seem to fall into her lap. While twisty, fierce, and just plain fun, this one fell flat for me with the choppy transitions and exceedingly unbelievable investigative thread.
3 stars for the writing, 5 stars for the cover (I mean, just look at it!!), main character, setting, time period, and pacing.
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I like Louise.  I like her drive and her devotion to the girls of Harlem.  I wanted to love this novel, but it is very choppily written.  It's not always clear who is speaking to whom and scenes change abruptly with no transition.  However the characters are solid, and it's fantastic to have this kind of representation of the 1920's.
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An excellent adult (definitely not YA or cozy) mystery novel that takes us along with a black woman in 1920s Harlem who must help solve the mystery of all the teenage black girls who are being killed. Lots of twists and turns with a really immersive setting (I loved the fashion, the dancing, the music, and the illegal clubs of the Harlem Renaissance). While it's not a romance novel and their relationship is already established, I liked the relationship arc between Louise and Rosa Maria.

I was lucky enough to receive a free advanced copy of this book from Netgalley.
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Harlem.  The 1920's, jazz, speakeasies, flappers and murder.  Louise Llyod is a survivor.  Abducted and nearly murdered as a teen she escaped, helped other girls escape and vowed never to be a victim again.  A decade later she's a waitress by day, speakeasy dancer at night, a young woman still trying to figure out where she fits in the world.  This changes when she stumbles upon the dead body of a young woman in front of the cafe where she was a waitress in the day.  Thus begins a string of murdered girls in Harlem.  When Louise is roped into helping with the investigation this puts her into the cross hairs of another dangerous killer and maybe she won't survive this one.  This is an engaging mystery that always keep the reader guessing.  You really could get a feel for the place, Harlem is a character all on its own here.  Louise s a young woman trying to figure herself out and it's really easy to enjoy spending time with her. This feels like the first book in a series and if it is I am all for it because after getting to know the characters and getting a feel for the place I wouldn't mind spending more time there.
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Overall I enjoyed this debut. I liked the period details and wish there were more of them. The conclusion felt like it took a while to arrive, but the final confrontation still managed to feel abrupt. The characters including Louise, Rosa Maria, Rafael, and Louise’s family are the best part. Everyone has complex relationships with each other, and the potential for a series based on these characters is obvious. I will pick up the author’s next book.
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This can't-put-it-down novel gives a vintage twist to the "ordinary citizen teams up with police to fight crime" trope. But while that usually involves an eager crime-fan, or a writer doing research, Louise Lovie Lloyd is neither. In fact, she's possibly the worst choice to help the police catch the Girl Killer before he strikes again, but she's who they need.

Who is killing Harlem's Black working girls? Will Louise be next? Or will her 1920s flapper lifestyle get her first? Between gulping down illegal hooch, smoking too many cigarettes, staying up dancing all night, working on a just a few hours sleep, and hiding a secret scandalous romance, Louise has to find the time and energy to help solve the case.

Nekesa Afia's debut novel is intended to be the first in a new series of vintage mysteries. Will I be keeping an eye out for the next book? You bet, Louise!

Thank you to author Nekesa Afia, NetGalley, and Berkley Publishing Group for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.
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In Dead Dead Girls, we are dropped into 1920s Harlem, following a black lesbian heroine. She has a unique backstory, having escaped from a kidnapper when she was 16 and becoming known as a hero in Harlem. Now, 10 years later, girls are dropping dead outside of her place of employment. Pulled into the case by a mishap, she must reconcile her past and the current slew of murders in front of her. This book is full of classic 1920s elements, such as speakeasies, illegal booze, and amazing dresses, but through a different lens than we’re used to based on the protagonist’s view on life. 

Based on the premise, I was eager to pick up this novel. The story is a good one, with a unique premise and an entertaining cast of characters. I enjoyed the different kinds of characters we got: black, white, straight, gay, church-going, people who don’t attend church...the list goes on. The author gives us a good insight into what living in Harlem might have been like in the 1920s, which makes for a fantastic setting. 

What I found distracted from all of these positives was some of the prose, especially in the first two-thirds of the book. This shocked me, because I’m not one to notice such things, but I believe the book would benefit from some editorial changes. The chapter endings felt forced, as if the author was trying to drum up suspense instead of letting it happen naturally. For example, instead of finding a girl dead and ending the chapter there, the chapter would end with something along the lines of “it would be the last time she would see her alive”. It’s fine if this happens once or twice, but it was every other chapter for the first half of the book; furthermore, it ruined the suspense when the protagonist finds the person dead because we already knew they would die. 

The other problem that I had with the writing was the general tone. On the Goodreads page, the author specifically states that this book is for adults. Having read the book, and knowing some of the stuff that happens, I understand why it’s adult. However, the tone and writing style is more Young Adult. This is another thing I believe could have been fixed with some editing. Now, this is the first mystery I’ve read in a while, as I usually listen to them on audiobooks, so maybe other mysteries are written in a similar fashion and I didn’t pick up on it. However, I believe that most if not all of the issues I had with this book could have been taken care of in editing, which makes it more sad as I believe they were avoidable. 

Now for the most important part of a mystery novel: the twist and the ending. These were great. As far as the twist goes, I had suspected the twist correctly at one point early on, but then got thrown off by other turns the novel took and had replaced my guess. This did not make the twist any less satisfying once I arrived to the reveal, and led to a phenomenal ending. The novel also picked up in the last third, making me get more sucked into the book. There were a few minor things left unexplained, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel any less. 

In the future, I would pick up another novel from this author again, especially if they are three or four books down the road. Given that its a debut author, I think they still might be trying to find their voice and writing, and once they get into the swing of things they would be able to create suspenseful storytelling to immerse the reader in. 

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars - Pretty Good (Rounded up to 4)
*I will be posting a version of this review on my Goodreads as well as my blog, closer to the publication date.
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