Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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Member Reviews

This was such a nice start to a new series! I enjoyed the premise for the mystery, particularly its homage to the locked room mystery. It was equal parts entertaining, nostalgic, and a joy to read. The level of detail included in the descriptions about the work done by the Secret Staircase Construction (the company owned and run by Tempest's father) was helpful in visualizing the various settings included in the story. The "mysteries within the mystery" were also enjoyable. They added an extra layer of suspense and intrigue to the mix without impacting the pacing too much. I'm always happy when I can get my hands on a mystery written by a woman of color. This is the first book I've ready by Pandian. and I plan on reading more after this one.

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Rating: 3/5 Stars

Tempest Raj is cursed. For generations, the first born daughter in Tempest’s family has mysteriously died, including Tempest’s own mother. After a near death experience in her latest magic performance, Tempest finds herself back home with her dad and grandparents, piecing back together her life.

When her stunt double look-a-like turns up dead in a local home her dad is working on, Tempest wonders whether or not she can outrun her family’s curse and save her own life just in the nick of time.

I had really high hopes for Under Lock and Skeleton key but had trouble with the pacing and building a likable connection to the plot and characters. The ending didn’t really work itself out with half of the books mysteries remaining unsolved. I was left looking and hoping for more and was frustrated that I had spent quite a bit of time with a novel that didn’t feel resolved.

Not sure I would go back and spend the time, but worth the finish if you do.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Gigi Pandian and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest review!

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I read about 20% of this book, but found it so boring and hard to finish. I was excited when they found someone buried in the wall of the house, but it just moved at too slow of a pace for my overall liking. I may try to pick this one up again in the future when my head is in the right place. Being a mood reader can be difficult. Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me this free ARC.

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This was a wonderful surprise of a book.
Great writing, great characters, and a different kind of mystery.
Tempest Raj is the most well-known magician in Las Vegas, that is until a trick goes horribly wrong. With her tail tucked between her legs, she returns to her family home in California where she is reminded of a family curse. The one that supposedly killed her mother.
While visiting the home that her father's specialty construction company was working on, her double, is found in a wall. It's definitely a perfect locked room mystery. Is the family curse real and now after her? Is there a stalker that's after her? With the help of her family, and Gideon, the stone carver, Tempest sets out to solve the mystery and clear her name.
The author did a wonderful job of blending cultures, creating secret spaces that I wish I had, and created the beginning of a wonderful romance. I can't wait to see what happens next. What a great story!!!

**I received an ARC of this story from Netgalley and the publisher and this is my honest and voluntary review.

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The First Secret Staircase Mystery

Tempest Raj was a top rate magician, a successful woman in a male dominated profession. Unfortunately, "was" being the key word. A disastrous fall from grace led Tempest out of Las Vegas and back to her family home in California. Visiting her father's construction crew on a job, they discover something hidden in the old wall. It's not newspaper or the usual debris, but a body. Although it appears the walls haven't been touched in over a hundred years, the body is someone Tempest just saw, her body double, the woman who sabotaged her. But was Cassidy truly the intended victim or was Tempest meant to die? Tempest starts to see and hear things that aren't there. It must be an illusion. Or could it be the Raj curse? "The eldest child dies by magic." Tempest is determined to uncover the truth.

I'm absolutely enchanted with Tempest's family home. What an incredible place I'd love to visit and explore. The idea behind it was also great and I would love to hire her father's construction crew to create some magic in my own home. I want a secret room! I also love the family bonds that are shown here, and truly the love, especially between Tempest and her grandfather, makes the book extra special. I certainly wouldn't say no to some meals cooked by Ash! I love Abracadabra and, of course, as a huge fan of the Jaya Jones mystery series I was thrilled to see Sanjay, the Hindi Houdini.

UNDER LOCK & SKELETON KEY has all the elements of a fantastic read. I should have loved it, instead I only liked it. I'm still not completely sure why, but I think it boils down to the following. The story line is not always linear as important backstory is slowly revealed. That aspect, as well as a large cast of characters and an incredibly complex mystery made it difficult to get truly absorbed into the story. There was just too much going on. That being said, I really did like it. Now that the groundwork is laid, future books are sure to be less cumbersome.
A wildly successful magician, who suddenly isn't, a construction company that specializes in hidden rooms, and luscious descriptions of mouthwatering food serve to make UNDER LOCK & SKELETON KEY a truly unique mystery.

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Tempest Raj is a talented magician, but her story opens with her back in her childhood home, in disgrace after her headlined Vegas show was sabotaged in such a way that she was blamed for it. She’s helping her dad with his remodeling business when a body tumbles out of a wall. The problem is that the wall hasn’t been opened for 100 years, but the body is that of her stunt double Cassidy, the woman she suspects of sabotaging her show. Tempest wonders if she was the intended target, and begins to worry about the family curse. For 5 generations, it’s been said, the eldest child dies by magic. Tempest lost her own aunt and mother to the curse. Now, as an only child herself, she can’t help fretting.

Tempest’s father has the coolest remodeling business ever, and I want to hire him. He specializes in adding hidden rooms, secret staircases, and spaces that require a puzzle or riddle to open. It’s so fun, and the book was a really fun read as a result.

Tempest realizes to solve Cassidy’s murder, she’ll have to figure out how she was put into the wall in the first place. It’s truly a locked-room mystery, and she turns to the classics for inspiration. In the meantime, she’s also spending time with her grandparents who live in a treehouse and cook the most delectable foods using a fusion of Indian and Scottish inspirations, still mourning the death of her mother 5 years earlier, and trying to solve a mystery while staying one step ahead of the killer.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key was a delightful read. I enjoyed it immensely, and highly recommend it.

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Loved it!
Attached is my interview with Gigi Pandian one the Crime Writers of Color Podcast.

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Synopsis: Tempest Raj is back living in her childhood home after an accident (or was it sabotage?) destroyed her reputation and brought her Vegas show to a close. When the body of her stage double/nemesis is found in a situation that is the very definition of blocked-room mystery, Tempest investigates the murder, as well as the family curse that killed her mother and may be about to kill Tempest herself.

▪ A family of stage magicians: how cool is that? Tempest’s magician mother fell in love with her carpenter father and, together, they founded a company that builds hidden rooms for people’s homes. Her family lives on a property where those skills were put to use, so it is full of hidden doors and strange nooks. It’s magical.

▪ Food porn! Tempest’s grandfather loves to cook, and he is always creating dishes that mix the Indian and Scottish heritage of the family. It all sounds delicious, and there are actual recipes at the end of the book! This book made me so hungry.

▪ Quirky characters. There are so many distinctive, quirky characters: fellow magicians, childhood friends, family members, and the employees of Tempest’s father’s company. This makes a great pool of suspects and fellow investigators. There are two characters, however, that I had some trouble telling apart, which became a problem as the investigation progressed.

▪ Solid mystery and a family curse. The murder mystery element is very strong, bringing together all the elements of a locked room mystery while also being very meta about it. The potential family curse add a hint of real magic to the illusions Tempest practices. It also adds a big dose of emotion and conflict for Tempest.

A thoroughly enjoyable mystery, especially of you’re a fan of Golden Age detective fiction.

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This book was fantastic! From the characters to the storyline, The story was fast paced and a cliffhanger until the end.

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Mystery, secret passages, magicians, murder, and maybe a curse? This book has it all! And I had a lot of fun following along Tempest in her search to uncover it all before she became the next victim. Tempest is an interesting character and I think it is cool that her heritage is from all over and how her grandpa mixes up ethnic dishes when he cooks.

I also really want to live in a house that is designed or modified by Darius, Tempest's father, with Ivy and Gideon also pitching in with their special talents. There were so many interesting characters in the book!

I enjoyed reading this book and would definitely read more in this series, if only to find out the mystery of Tempest's mother, plus I want to see if what Tempest will do with her myriad of magician skills and cool friends and family.

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This locked door mystery has some interesting twists but bringing in multicultural influences in story and food enhanced the story. Tempest Raj comes from a long line of magicians. Combining her family backgrounds from both Scotland and India, Tempest offers a unique magic show which ends up getting cancelled after she is almost killed when her act is sabotaged. Moving home, Tempest finds herself faced with the murder of her doppelgänger and part time assistant, Cassidy. There were many different characters that I am sure will be developed along with this series. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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Author Gigi Pandian has a very creative idea with the plot of Under Lock & Key. Tempest’s family owns a construction company called “Secret Staircase Construction”, adding a cool layer of hidden rooms and mystery to the story. There were a lot of interesting characters introduced, and while it was a bit confusing at times, it’s necessary for world-building to set up the series. There are also excellent descriptions of the meals prepared by Tempest’s grandfather, and recipes at the end as an added bonus. A promising start to a cool new series.

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Tempest Raj is a disgraced magician, from a family of magicians, foiled by a glitch she swears she had nothing to do with. Coming home to the other family business-building secret rooms in people's homes-the dead body of her stage double is found inside a sealed wall. Tempest must solve the mystery while fighting to regain her reputation and decide what her future holds.

This book was just so much fun. There's mystery, suspense, romance, and the depictions of the secret rooms and keys and staircases were so great to read. I definitely recommend this book and really am looking forward to more in the series.

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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an e ARC of this book.
A new series from an author who is new to me. Locked room mystery, magic, fantastical thinking, food (including actual recipes), delightful characters. This book has it all. Thoroughly enjoyed.

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Is it a crime or an ingenious illusion?

“Under Lock & Skeleton Key” is the first in the new “Secret Staircase Mystery” series. Tempest Raj is a magician, a female working in a profession dominated by men. Her parents, long retired from their own careers, run a company that specializes in building “hidden rooms,” for example, one that is revealed when someone removes a designated book on a bookshelf. Characters arrive with complex backstories that are gradually revealed as the narrative unfolds. The group is almost like the “Scooby Doo” gang but with a fifteen-pound, lop-eared rabbit.

A spectacular stage accident or “Tempest’s negligence,” as the lawyers called it, put her career on hold. She returned to her family home, but plans to return to her profession. As a stage magician, Tempest knows the story comes first, and only then does the creation of the illusion for performance begin. To that end, she is Nancy Drew all grown up; she watches classic mystery movies, gets lost in tricky books, and finds riddles and mysteries everywhere. Now back at home, she finds secrets everywhere, in the most unusual and surprising places. She uncovers riddles some new, and other that have been hidden for years.

There are endless variations on how a supposedly impossible crime can be made possible, but Tempest finds a crime, a trick, without a story and must unravel the deception. “Under Lock & Skeleton Key” is quick to read with plenty of mystery and laughs on each page. I received a review copy of “Under Lock & Skeleton Key” from Gigi Pandian, St. Martin's Press, and Minotaur Books. Under Lock & Skeleton Key” by Gigi Pandian is now available from independent bookstores, retail outlets, online booksellers, and public libraries.

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My thanks to NetGalley for making an eARC of this book available to me.

Fans of the author's other books will definitely enjoy this one. As should newcomers. A fun little read, this has at least four mysteries to resolve before the book ends, and it definitely leaves you wanting to see more of this cast of characters. The puzzles and magic descriptions are delightful, as is the concept of a business that specializes in creating hidden rooms. Quite the niche enterprise. As a bonus, this book also refers to Jaya Jones from another of the author's book series. Now if she could only figure out how to refer to her gargoyle/alchemist series as well.

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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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