Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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Member Reviews

This clever puzzle mystery is a delight, with the large extended cast of very likable characters, and a satisfying who- and how-dunnit at the center.  I look forward to more in the series, and hope to get more tempting descriptions of the delicious south Indian meals prepared by Tempest’s grandad.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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This book is a proverbial kitchen sink of mystery tropes, which usually makes for a confused and messy novel. But it worked beautifully here and resulted in one of the most fun mysteries I’ve read in a while.

The story is a terrific ode to classic and locked room mysteries, carrying forward all of the themes that make such novels mystery classics but updated in tone for a modern audience. The story has some humor to it, which helps with the sometimes-stilted and wooden nature of golden age style mysteries.

Pandian gets right about hidden room/secret passage tropes what so many authors get wrong, and all of the architectural elements that play into the story make it a fun play-along-at-home story for the reader. While it’s not one you’re likely to solve on your own until near the end of the book, the flawless plotting and structure mean no frustrating info dump in the climax and a satisfying journey throughout the narrative.

A+ for setting, use of mystery themes and tropes, and excellent characters, and an enjoyable read for both adults and for a younger audience. I’m already eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
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Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is the first book in the new Secret Staircase Mystery series.  This story "layers architecture with mouthwatering food in an ode to classic locked-room mysteries.  An impossible crime.  A family legacy.  The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases."  The Raj family seems to be cursed, and Tempest is determined to find out why.  When her former stage double is found dead, Tempest believes that she was supposed to be the next victim of the curse.  Is she right?  Why is her family cursed?  This book was a lot of fun, and I would highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys a good mystery and some fun characters.  I can't wait to read the next book in this series!  Thanks to NetGalley for the free digital review copy.  All opinions are my own.
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This might just be my new favorite cozy mystery. The story has elements of stage magic, secret rooms, and a family curse. Our intrepid investigator is Tempest, forcibly retired from her Vegas illusion act because of sabotage at her last show that nearly resulted in her death. Back home and in close quarters with her family again, she's directionless and isolated. Until a dead body falls out of the wall. And not just any body, but that of Tempest's former stage double and suspected saboteur. That's when the haunting starts. The mournful fiddle music of the mother who disappeared five years ago keeps Tempest up at night as she tries to figure out the impossible crime of how a recent murder victim wound up in a fifty-year-old wall. There are misdirections so layered and twisty that I didn't know the who, how, or why of the crime until Tempest explained it to me. And to me, that is the ideal, exciting outcome of a locked room mystery.

Beyond the mystery itself, this was a masterful take on cozy elements. I get frustrated by books in the genre that are so cozy as to be insulated from real life. In this take, the characters have multiple dimensions and real problems to contend with. It's also a diverse cast, and the author explicitly comments on racism in the context of crime. I honestly don't think I can be satisfied with a crime story that doesn't address those intersections. Also, the bonds of family and friendship are imperfect and yet welcoming. It doesn't fall flat in trying to show a fake ideal, instead showing us something living, breathing, and loving. It made me want to move to Hidden Creek right now so I can read mysteries in a train car, search for hidden doors at Fiddler's Folly, and stuff my face with Ash's delicious concoctions in the treehouse kitchen. Don't mind me as I see what Google Maps can do.

Thanks to Minotaur Books for my copy to read and review!
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This book was a multilayered mystery with likeable characters & beautiful South Indian traditions and culture. The food descriptions will leave your mouth watering. Highly recommend if you’re looking a diverse mystery that’s very unique.
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Five years ago, Tempest's mother disappeared during a magical illusion involving water. Their family's magic tricks usually involve water and it has been true that, for the last five generations, the oldest child has died under mysterious circumstances. It is known as the Raj family curse. Lately her life hasn't been so good because her last magic trick went wrong and now life is even worse because her body double (don't call her an assistant), Cassidy, has been found dead, hidden behind a wall in the house her father's construction crew is managing. 
There is a lot going on this story and I really liked the writing but the mystery just got a little too convoluted for me. 

Three and a half stars
This book come out March 22nd, 2022
ARC kindly provided by St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books and NetGalley
Opinions are my own
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Gigi Pandian's Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a charming start to a new cozy mystery series starring Tempest, a former Las Vegas magician now living with her dad and grandparents. Like the best cozy mysteries, this one features quirky, kind characters eating lots of delicious foods. Fans of meta-mysteries, in particular, will find a lot to like about the book, which references tons of Golden Age mysteries.
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Real Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

First off: This book will require you to suspend some of your disbelief and not be overly invested in being cynical and overanalyzing every little thing. 

Second: Give this book a chance and do exactly all of this and you will have a fun time reading this amateur sleuthing novel with a hefty handful of stage magic, illusions, sleight-of-hand, mentalism, and magical stories with hidden meanings. 

I have to admit that I was pretty lost for about the first 25-30% of the book. I think I might have been in chapter 8 or 9 when I actually became invested in the book. Before that point, the book was a bit of a hot mess. Too many characters being introduced in too few pages, too much exposition to set up the world of the book in that same time period as all those characters are being introduced, and barely any time at all to get to know our protagonist, Tempest (which is such a cool name). But once the plot and the players are in place, it stops being such a hot mess and just becomes an escapist sleuthing mystery with plenty of twists, turns, red herrings, and magical fun. 

I’m loath to admit it, but the character I liked the most was actually the family business: Secret Staircase Construction. Some may not agree the company itself counts as a character, but in my opinion it looms too large and permeates too much of the story for it to not be a character. And boy is it an interesting one! The combination of amazing carpentry and the know-how of a stage illusionist come together to create a company building hidden passages, stairways, rooms, and other secret things? That’s my idea of a kick-butt business! 

So lock the door on your cynicism and skepticism and throw the key into a desk drawer before you read this book. Then allow yourself to escape and enjoy!

Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martins Press, and Minotaur Books for early access to this title in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Under Lock and Skeleton is a cozy mystery surrounding the fascinating Raj family and a tree house with a hidden staircase.  The premise is wonderful, but I felt it dragged on a bit, and the mystery was not as nuanced as it could be.  I would definitely give the second book a try.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley.  My review is voluntary.
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I am always looking for new cozy mysteries and was looking forward to reading this one.  this mystery has the most unique setup that I have seen.  it was a fun cozy mystery.
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Under Lock & Skeleton Key, a lighthearted cozy mystery that I wanted to like more than I did. There were a lot of characters to keep track of and read like a YA novel. Both of these things impacted my enjoyment of this book. If you like easy to read cozy mysteries then check this one out.

**I received an electronic ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review of this book.
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I am usually up for a new cozy mystery series. I always find cozy mysteries relaxing and satisfying, they typically have charming main characters and mysteries that aren’t overly complicated or too dark so they make for nice relaxing reading for me. When I saw this one come across my desk for review I was super excited because it was a new book in a mystery series, and it had a bit of a Gothic twist.

Not to mention it boasted a classic locked room mystery—-so think Murder on the Orient Express or And Then There Were None. Mysteries that on the surface appear simple and at the same time impossible but then quickly start to become more complicated as the story goes on. I love classic mysteries like this. They feel familiar and comforting so I was eager to get my hands on this one.

The thing that stood out when this one came across my desk beyond the classic style mystery was that the author was taking a classic and making it her own by adding an Indian culture element and making secret bookcase hideaways for adults—-can I just say I need one of these—and a little bit of magic. This one was a surprise and even if it was a bit repetitive it was a great start to a new series and I really enjoyed reading it!


Under Lock & Skeleton Key layers architecture with mouthwatering food in an ode to classic locked-room mysteries.

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her. (summary from Goodreads)


This one at times was a little redundant and I got the feeling it was geared more toward a younger audience. I don’t know that I would go so far as to call it YA but it certainly felt geared toward a younger reader. That didn’t necessarily make it unreadable for me, especially since I love YA but if readers don’t really like YA pick this one up they might be a bit surprised. Some of the writing was a bit redundant as mentioned and I felt like there was more telling and less showing which read clunky for me but overall it was a good mystery, not earth shattering but good. For example, Tempest is a magician and some of the descriptions of her tricks were a little lengthy and boring.

I loved the concept of the construction company and the whole Raj family thought! It has a bit of magic and yummy food description which I loved reading about. The first part of the book was a little slow but the last half of the book was pretty good and the mystery was thoughtful and fun.I loved the locked room aspect of this mystery and people who are fans of this style of mystery will no doubt find something to love in this one. With the Raj family there is a multigenerational component of the story too which I think readers will like. It gives readers a range of characters to enjoy and root for throughout the novel. One reviewer described this book as the classic mystery for the younger generation, and I agree! This is an excellent description and I second it!

Tempest was a fun heroine with a bit of quirk and I. think readers will find her fun and I am eager to see how her character evolves in future books. Overall I think this is a great start to a new mystery series but I think there are some kinks that need to get worked out in the storytelling style. Maybe tighten up some of the redundancies but over all it’s a solid start and I would certainly read more. I don’t want to go into too much detail about the mystery so I don’t give away any spoilers but overall I love how much potential there is in this one and I am eager to check out the next book in the series!

Book Info and Rating

Format: 352 pages, hardcover

Published: March 15th, 2022 by Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9781250804983

Free review copy provided by publisher, Minotaur Books, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: 3 stars

Genre: cozy mystery, mystery
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A locked room mystery with a magical twist, as disgraced magician Tempest Raj discovers the body of her doppelganger and former assistant in the wall of a house. Was Tempest the intended target, and does this have a connection to the family curse that has resulted in the demise of several magicians? Charming characters and plenty of references to classic mystery books make this a fun read.
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Under Lock & Skeleton Key was such a fun mystery. I enjoyed the characters and overall thought it was well written.
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Talk about a different take on the cozy mystery! This was so good! It pulled on elements from all the great classic mystery novels, then added in the layer of the main character being a magician/illusionist then ended the story with some of that Scooby-Doo-esque "pull the mask off the monster" nostalgia thrown in. This is going to be a really great cozy mystery series and I can't wait for more! Plus the possibility of a love triangle? Yes, please!
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Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is a marvelous start to a new series.

Will Tempest figure out who killed her doppelganger before she is next?

Tempest Raj
An Illusionist or magician is the best way to describe our sleuth, Tempest Raj. She comes from a long line of magicians, but there is a curse on the family, and it seems that her time may have come. Tempest is dealing with the failure of her Las Vegas act and moving back with her family in their strange little house in the San Francisco Bay Area. In some ways, she is happy. In others, the whole failing at her craft really stings.

I like Tempest and her family. Her dad is such a sweetheart, and her grandparents are wonderfully caring. Tempest doesn't have many friends, but the ones that she finds back home are true friends. Tempest saw some character growth during this first installment.

I look forward to seeing which love interest she picks for herself.

The Mystery
Ms. Pandian does a fantastic job of keeping us guessing and using 'misdirection' much as Tempest uses in her act. She kept me guessing; I picked the culprit at first but then fell for her red herrings and misdirection. I totally thought it was one of the red herrings. Although, it honestly seems as though karma got the best of Cassidy.

I also liked the hidden rooms and the key parts. They are extremely ingenious. Hopefully, the mystery of Tempest's Mom's disappearance will be solved in a future installment.

Four Stars
My rating for Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is four stars. The concept of the sleuth, her family, and the Secret Staircase Construction company is fresh and intriguing. I enjoyed the whole story but found that some parts could have been reduced. Even with that said, I recommend this book to all you cozy fans out there.

Thank you for dropping by! I hope you enjoyed this review of Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian.

Until the next time,

If you would like to see other reviews like this one, check out
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This book has it all – a classic murder mystery with secret staircases, a curse and delicious sounding food (with recipes that can be found at the back of the book).  What more could you want?  

This was a great start to the Secret Staircase Mystery series.  It had interesting characters and a mystery that was easy to follow.  Note that even though it is part of a series it can be read as a standalone.  I will definitely be looking out for the next in the series.

I want to thank NetGalley, Gigi Pandian and St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books for the e-ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are honest, my own and left voluntarily.
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This book did not grab me in the way that I had hoped,  While I enjoy locked-room mysteries generally, I think the magic aspect of this work was not to my taste.
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Tempest Raj is a magician/illusionist who loses everything when a stunt in her new show goes terribly wrong. She moves home and plans to help her dad with the family business of designing and building secret rooms, but when the dead body of her stage double is found in a wall, Tempest needs to figure out how she got there and if she was the intended victim. 


This book was a love letter to classic detective stories, but with a Scottish-Indian woman magician as the lead. (YAY!) There was a lot to like about this story. The premise is excellent —  magic, a family curse, secret passageways, a corpse found in an impossible location — hello! And I liked that the cast of characters and setting made this read very much like a cozy mystery, but there was some darkness there (a decapitated dead aunt and Tempest’s missing mom!?!) that kept things lively. 

The mystery part was honestly kind of confusing (so many characters), but the solution was also a little obvious, but I also really didn’t care — I enjoyed spending time with Tempest and her family and friends and am looking forward to reading another book in this series. 

Also: I LOVED all of the food descriptions and that some recipes were included at the end. I’m making those cardamom shortbread cookies as soon as it stops raining and I can run to the co-op for chickpea flour.
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Like a great Scooby Doo Mystery but with magic and illusion! 

I found myself engaged and loving this cozy Ya mystery from beginning to end. 

Abracadabra is my favorite character. This bunny sidekick was endearing and adorable. Perfect name for a magicians pet too. 

Can’t wait to read more in this cozy mystery series!
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