Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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Member Reviews

I reviewed this for Mystery Scene Magazine please refer to issue 171 Spring 2022 for my complete reivew
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Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is the first in the Secret Staircase Mystery. Tempest has grown up in a family of magicians and is carrying on the family tradition. She has a show in Las Vegas until someone tries to kill her and she is seen as “pushing the limits too far to keep herself in the limelight”. Tempest loses everything and moves back home with her father and grandparents. Her mother, who was the creative part of the business, went missing years ago but left Tempest with a key and a special bracelet. Not soon after she arrives home her stage double, Casey, is found deceased in a wall on a property her father is revamping. Throw in a stalker, stollen items, secret staircases and cubbies, a missing bracelet and key and you are off on a wild goose chase to catch a killer. There are a fair number of characters to keep tract of which makes the story confusing at times. Otherwise it is a magical and creative novel.  I received this novel as an advanced copy. The opinions are all my own.
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Ehhhhhhh. This was okay. It felt choppy and the story wasn’t all that engaging; I didn’t feel the tension that I knew was supposed to be there. The characters were fun, but I hope the storytelling smooths out if there’s a next one.
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"Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is the first in the new Secret Staircase Mystery series and is such a fun and unique mystery novel!  Tempest Raj was a famous magician with a show in Las Vegas until one of her stunts went wrong, ending her show and her career.  Soon after making her way back to her family home, Tempest soon finds herself in a mystery of her own.  While helping her family's Secret Staircase Construction company (which specialized in building things like elaborate treehouses and secret rooms for their clients) on a project, the body of Tempest's double from her stage show is discovered hidden behind a sealed wall in an old home that the company is hired to add a secret room to.  Tempest is afraid that she was meant to be the intended victim due to the supposed curse that killed previous members of her magician family, including her own mother, she sets out to discover the truth of how the body got behind the wall, with the help of her mystery-loving childhood friend Ivy, friend and fellow magician Sanjay, and the construction company's newest employee, Gideon.

"Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is a wonderful ode to the classic locked-room mystery, with a wonderful cast of characters including the misfits who work for her father's company, her friend Ivy, her rabbit Abracadabra,  and Tempest's Indian grandfather Ash, and her Scottish grandmother Morag.  It's was an engaging and fast-paced read, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of this series.

Thanks to NetGalley, and St Martins Press and Minotaur Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  "Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is scheduled to be released on 3/22/22.
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⭐⭐⭐⭐+ Stars
This is Book #1 in the Staircase Mystery series. 
I got my love of mysteries when I was eight years-old  and read the Trixie Belton series then moved on to Nancy Drew. So this series sounded perfect for me! 

Story stars when out protagonist Tempest Raj was in a disastrous accident on stage in Vegas. This accident has certainly put a halt to her career. When she leaves Vegas, Sanjay Rai aka “the Hindi Houdini” (he thinks of himself as an escape artist ;his illusions blend Eastern and Western magic )  is Tempest’s friend who believes her innocence, in fact he offered her a job as his assistant; which doesn’t go well with Tempest. She is actually insulted.
Tempest returns to her childhood home in northern California. 
Her father has offered her a job in his design company “Secret Staircase Construction”. His company and designers brings hidden staircases and other magic into homes as well as backyard treehouses. 

Note to other Avid readers: Doesn’t a secret room behind a sliding bookcase sound like the perfect spot for a reading room?

While checking on her dad’s latest renovation, she and the work men discover a dead body hidden inside a wall which was supposed to have been sealed for one hundred years! Yikes the body turns out to be Cassidy Sparrow who worked as Tempest’s stage double.

                                        This is truly is a roller coaster ride on a magic carpet!

I always love reading the author’s ‘Acknowledgements and or Notes’. In this case I could not wait to read Ms. Pandian’s inspiration for writing this story. I was sure it took years to write. She mentioned that she was writing this as she was recovering from her cancer.
My first author, Gigi Pandian and I am certainly looking forward to the next in this series!

Want to thank NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press ~ Minotaur Books for this eGalley. This file has been made available to me before publication in an early form for an honest professional review.  
Publishing Release Date scheduled for March 15, 2022
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Tempest Raj is a famous magician. She headlines her own show in Vegas and dazzles the crowds until the night that a trick goes wrong and Tempest is blamed for a fire on stage. She comes back to her family home to put her life back together away from the media and the fans. When her father invites her to visit the home where his crew is doing some specialized construction, no one expects to find a dead body hidden within the walls of the house, or that it would be Tempest's stage double. Can things get any worse?

If you like mysteries with plenty of misdirection (like good stage magic), then you should read Under Lock & Skeleton Key. There are secret passages, hidden doors, jealous rivals, obsessed stalkers, a family curse, former friends, a pet rabbit (every magician needs a bunny, right?), lots of delicious homecooked food, ghostly apparitions, a possible romance, eccentric relatives and more. Several of the characters are fans of mystery books like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and of classic magicians like Harry Houdini and Adelaide Herrmann. 

In a way Tempest is a typical twenty-something who is still dealing with the loss of her mother, the breakdown of other relationships as she focused on her grief, and the awkwardness of reconnecting with old friends and the return to her childhood home. But she is also a skilled illusionist, steeped in stagecraft and sleight of hand, and grimly determined to figure out what is going on. With some magic, some mystery, and a few helping hands, perhaps Tempest can bring down the curtain on this mystery and claim a fresh start for herself.

Publication date is set for March 15, so this might be your beach read for spring break.
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I liked the premise but I found the transitions really abrupt. I couldn't get that invested in the main character, especially as her narration had quite a few weird "gotcha" moments.
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A modern take on a classic locked-room mystery. Disgraced magician Tempest Raj finds herself back in her family home after her career implodes very publicly and very dramatically. Was it an accident? Was it sabotage? Or was it the old Raj family curse in which the eldest child of each generation is doomed to die by magical means? 

Tempest finds herself working for her dad's home renovation company, which specializes in custom home features like hidden rooms, secret passages, and the like. While on a renovation project, a wall is removed, revealing the dead body of Tempest's former magician's assistant (who was a very close doppelganger to Tempest herself). One problem - that wall showed no signs of having been touched since the house was built, no secret passageways, no way anyone could have accessed it to place the body. How did she get in there? And why was she murdered?

Highly enjoyable. Plenty of references to classic magical tricks, classic detective fiction, and who doesn't love a locked-room mystery?
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What a magical read ;) I’m a huge fan of the cozy mystery genre and think this is the first I’ve read incorporating a magician.  I loved all the characters of this book and 1000% want to move into the Raj house!  For once, I did not see the end coming and really enjoyed the adventure it took me on.  Keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel!
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This book had a certain charm, but it asked a lot of patience from me, it was too long, too detailed about things i didn't care about.  Once I got more into the heart of the book i was glad i plugged along but really don't want to have to work this hard for a light read like this was
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"Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is a cozy mystery. This is not a "how are the tricks done" story as only two magic tricks were explained. Usually it was "she made the cards disappear" or "she pulled the book and the bookshelf door opened." I didn't expect a magic instruction book, but it turns out that being told a trick had been done had less appeal than actually seeing it done. The story was as much about backstory as the current mystery. The author destroyed the suspense several times by things like having a body fall out of a wall, then spending pages describing the background of everyone on her dad's crew (which had nothing to do with the body). Or being shocked to learn who the dead person was only to spend a chapter explaining the family curse to the reader rather than showing her reaction.

Tempest was a nice, talented gal who was willing to apologize to save a friendship. The mystery was guessable from the clues. I was distracted by false clues in the beginning, but so was everyone else. Once Tempest's charm bracelet was stolen, it was easy for me to figure out who took it and, from there, to see further connections in the mystery. While I did guess whodunit before the reveal and some of why, the mystery was complex enough to kept me guessing about various elements until the confession. There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this complex mystery.
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First in a new series, with secret staircases and magic! It was quite long, so as to setup a lot of other longer term mysteries, but I’m intrigued enough to see what book 2 brings. I will say though that this really goes into some details about magic and illusions, but goes into some serious details about locked room mysteries and whatnot. I could do with a little less of the explanations as they were harder to follow along with and took me out of the stories while I was trying to fully grasp what they were saying.
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Extremely well written with a great premise, I was surprised how much I got into this book. A page turner for sure. Highly recommend.
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I'm obviously in the minority here, but I did not even finish the book, and don't intend to. I realized, after starting the novel, that I have read a Gigi Pandian novel before, which I also didn't much enjoy.

It's her writing style. I find Pandian's ideas intriguing, and I thought it was great that this novel featured a diverse set of characters, primarily Indian. I'm just not a fan of her writing style.

From the rating [on Goodreads], a lot of people are, so my opinion is not necessarily indicative of whether or not you would enjoy the novel. If the synopsis is interesting to you, it may be worth a try.
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Content warning: abuse/domestic violence 

I loved the descriptions of the food  in this book, as well as the South East Asian representation, and representation of a multi-cultural household.  This book  also included amazing mythology from around the world, which was so interesting to read about.  I'm always up for a book about secret passage ways, illusions, and magic.
However, this is a YA book,  but the characters are mostly in their twenties. This would be fine, but the dialogue and characterization of the different characters at time felt very immature - they were written like teenagers. The dialogue was pretty stilted and unrealistic. 
Additionally, the descriptions of the scenery and surroundings was a little overwhelming and confusing. It was easy to lose track of the plot because of this at times.
Finally, this book features themes of domestic abuse and violence, which at times was discussed and thrown into the conversations like a casual plot point, instead of the heavy topic that it is. At times this was uncomfortable to read. 

thank you to netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book.
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I loved the setting of this mystery: a brilliant stage magician suddenly finds herself out of work and becomes involved in a locked-room mystery.  Believing that she was the intended victim and that the police arrested the wrong person, Tempest engages all her knowledge of illusions and misdirection to solve the mystery.  

And, as if that isn’t fascinating enough, Tempest’s family’s home is filled with secret passageways and hidden nooks and a lovely garden that’s only accessible through a door in the grandfather clock.  Because that’s what happens when a carpenter falls in love with a stage magician (her father and her mother).  Oh, and her grandparents live in a tree house!

Loads of fun for fans of Golden Age mystery tropes.

Minus one star since the back story seemed extremely repetitious and I would’ve preferred a tighter narrative with half the page count.

Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a digital advance review copy.  The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.
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I really loved this book!! It had so many twists and turns. It kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next!! This was my first book by this Author, and it won’t be the last!! Quick read!! Highly recommended!! You won’t be disappointed!!
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Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is an unputdownable mystery featuring an Indian-American protagonist!  The story revolves around Tempest Raj, who is moving home in her mid-20's.  She's happy to be eating her family's Indian food and learning what her family and old friends have been up to.  One day, her former stage double is found dead inside a wall that's been closed for over a century.  Was the killer after the stage double or were they after Tempest?  And how was it possible for them to murder them in a sealed-off wall?  Tempest will have to be solve the mystery before she ends up the killer's next victim!

Here's a fascinating excerpt from Chapter 1 that introduces the setting:

"As her dad loved to say: What happens when a carpenter and a stage magician fall in love? They form a Secret Staircase Construction business to bring magic to people through their homes.
The idea was quite romantic. Tempest’s parents specialized in building ingeniously hidden rooms for people who fancied a bookshelf that slid open when you reached for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase; or a secret reading nook that only appeared when you said the words “open sesame”; or perhaps a door in a grandfather clock that led to a secret garden. Tempest’s house—named Fiddler’s Folly for her mom’s favorite instrument, and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the architectural term for decorative buildings different inside than their outward appearance—had all three features. And many more, including the tree house in back. Tempest loved every inch of it. What she didn’t love was the fact that at twenty-six, she’d been forced to move back."

Overall, Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a captivating mystery that reminded me of a grown-up The Inheritance Games or the movie Knives Out.  I enjoyed following Tempest as she puts together the clues and solves this '"locked room" mystery.  One highlight of this book is the mystery aspect.  I used to love reading mysteries, and this book was like a throwback to Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys.  If the author continues this series, I will definitely continue reading!  Another highlight of this book was that the protagonist and several side characters are People of Color.  As an Asian-American myself, I am so happy to support this book, which features an Indian-American detective.  If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of mysteries, I highly recommend that you check out this book when it comes out in March!
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Murder, secret passage ways and a doppelgänger….three great things for a mystery!   Add in some fun characters and a magician filled family and you’ve got a fun read.
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I really wanted to love this. In this season of life, I've really been gravitating towards magic and mystery and stories that have both that aren't violent. And in this book's case, literal escapism! I *loved* the house and all its secret nooks (who hasn't wanted to have a special, magical bedroom? a secret reading spot?) but to me, this novel got 75% of the way there: I was 75% invested in the characters, the story, and the plot itself seemed 75% developed. It also seemed so, *so* clean, to the point that some of the language felt too clunky. What 26-year old in the US uses the word "simply"? (Although maybe a 26-year old with family members from Scotland and India.) I could see this being a fun TV show, but it would be a TV show for families and not necessarily only adults.
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