Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

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!
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
Tempest Raj's career as a magician imploded after her stage double Cassidy framed her for a criminally negligent stunt. She retreats to her childhood home and a pity position with Secret Staircase Construction, her father's trick architectural firm. While working on a secret compartment for a client, Tempest finds Cassidy's fresh corpse interred in the old wall. Apart from being impossible, this is alarming because it might be a manifestation of the family curse that took her mother. Aided by her mystery-loving bestie and magician ex (and fortified by her grandfather's delicious Scotch-Indian cuisine), Tempest takes the case. Cozy gothic really is the correct subgenre for this delightful mystery.
Was this review helpful?
This book was a great adventure to go on. Tempest, the fierce main character of the book is on a quest to solve the murder of her look alike, solve the family curse that predicts the death of the eldest child and find what makes her happy in this series debut.

The suspense of this book was intense, with many twists and turns. The eerie sense of someone watching Tempest translated off the page and had me double checking every corner of my house while reading,

The attention to detail really brought a lot of the hidden rooms and tricks of their family house to life.

While I really liked the characters of this book and found Tempests personality to be extremely engaging, the end left a lot to be desired. The characters alone bumped my post read initial 3 star rating up to a 4, Even having said that, I am interested in the minor romantic angle and would be interested to read the next book to see where the series goes.
Was this review helpful?
Pub date: March 15, 2022
Genre: cozy mystery
In one sentence: Magician Tempest Raj is forced back home after an accident derails her career...but then a body shows up in a sealed wall, and she has to solve the mystery.

Oh, how I love a locked door mystery, and if you throw in a company called Secret Staircase Construction, I'm going to have to read the book. This one started off a little slow for me, but it started to gain speed after the body was discovered and Tempest teamed up with her BFF Ivy to solve the case. I loved how Ivy helped her dissect mysteries and build hypotheses about what was going on, with a fun nod to Agatha Christie and other classic crime novelists. The ending surprised me with some great twists and set up the opportunity for a sequel.

And let's not forget the side characters! I loved Tempest's grandfather's Indian-Scottish fusion meals and dabbawala business. She also has an adorable bunny Abra (a great judge of character, of course). 

If you're looking for a cozy mystery with a little bit of magic, give this one a try!

Thank you to St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books for providing an ARC on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Review posted to Goodreads 12/5/21, to be posted to Instagram closer to pub date.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Netgalley for early access to this title in exchange for an honest review.

This was a fantastic first installment in a new cozy/murder mystery series. I felt that both the world and the characters were beautifully developed. I fell in love with Tempest and look forward to reading on in the series to be there for both her sleuthing and growth. This was my first time reading a book that had magicians as characters and I felt that they were handled fantastic in the sense that we got both moments of awe as well as explanations. I would definitely suggest this read to both mystery lovers and those just dipping their toes into the mystery genre.
Was this review helpful?
Food, magic, true crime all came together in this story to tell you that there are no monsters but people in monster disguise like Fred Jones would tell to Scooby-Doo. There are no curses, but people who do not want to accept the unspeakable truth. Lies might protect your loved ones until they create bigger problems than truth itself. 

Tempest (also what a name) was a magician like many people on her mother's side of the family. She was part of that famous Raj klan making impossible look like an everyday thing. But she failed her last act (more like she was forced to fail her last act). Leaving everything behind along with her wealth, she came back her magic box of a childhood home to live with her father and maternal grandparents. There were limited job opportunities waiting for her, so she chose to go with more familiar one: working with her dad at his construction firm where they build secret libraries, pathways and other contraptions. On her first day at work, a wall spit out a dead body of her body double to her lap. What happened after that was fit for a famous magician.

Who could be the better detective for this almost impossible looking case other than a magician / detective book aficionado duo. One has the theoretical knowledge of all impossible use cases that human mind can put on a paper while the other has the practical knowledge of making impossible possible. With help of endless supply of really yummy food and other "practitioners", Tempest went on an expedition to find who murdered her body double and what her inheritance was. I see this book reflected as #1 of a series in some sources, and I really want it to be true since I would love to read more about Tempest and her little world of wonders.
Was this review helpful?
Let me start off by saying that I'm ready to hire Secret Staircase Construction to create my own secret room! This is tangentially related to the Jaya Jones series (the Hindi Houdini is the link) but focuses on a mystery close to home for Tempest Raj. This was fun to read and is a worthy addition to Gigi Pandian's other two series.  Can't wait for Tempest's next adventure!

Thanks to St Martin's Press for access to a digital arc on NetGalley.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book :) I'm not necessarily a fan of locked room mysteries, but I did grow up watching David Copperfield every time he had a show on TV, so the magic aspect was lots of fun. All of the characters were unique and relatable. I also enjoyed the literary name dropping ;), I would pick Trixie Belden also! Beautiful family dynamics and friendships
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Netgalley for free, early access to this title in exchange for an honest review. 
The good: Gigi Pandian excels at detailing cultural (India and Scotland in this case) elements in a relatable way to her readers. I enjoyed the inclusion of describing a multi-cultural house and kitchen (the food sounds amazing). We need more examples of POC authors who can truly reach audiences of all kinds. She is good at weaving a unique character in an ever-growing mystery genre. If you enjoy mysteries with a hint magic, but with a fresh take, she’s a great author to try. Her characters are complex and do not feel as routine as many typical cozy mystery types do.

The story: Tempest Raj, illusionist extraordinaire, is reeling from a devastating and suspicious accident at her latest show, essentially ending her career. Talk of a family curse haunts her thoughts, but she remains determined to ignore it and move forward. 
In desperate need of employment,, she agrees to help her dad with his construction business. However, it’s not long before the body double from her doomed show is discovered at their construction site. Is Tempest the true target of a crazed killer? Or has family curse finally come to claim her? 

The bad: Although the author excels at descriptive details and scene setting, it feels there is far too much exposition and too little dialogue. I wanted to see who the characters were based on their conversations and interactions. So, I felt editing down the long, descriptive pages of background weighed down the story. 

Overall: Definitely has good potential and the author is good at creating new characters to follow. I would be interested in whether she continues this as a full series or more of a trilogy. Maybe she could focus on some of the other characters in future books since they seem pretty fleshed out. Even a prequel could be fun to really explore her family history in a way that isn’t just telling us about it. 4/5 stars
Was this review helpful?
I was drawn to this mystery from the moment I read the premise. A home renovation company that makes secret passageways! So clever and fun! The mystery itself was super twisty and ingenious. I can't wait to read more in this series and will be recommending to mystery lovers.
Was this review helpful?
An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

Every now and again you come across a book that is masterfully crafted, filled with nail biting action mixed with real life and grabs you on the first page. This is true of Under Lock and Skeleton Key. Pandian does an amazing job of creating characters that draw vivid, observing many wondrous spaces while blending in staple mystery ideals that reach back to Agatha Christie and the golden age of mysteries. 

This fast paced book was filled with magic, likable and vivid characters, and gave the reader a solid foundation in magic. This book is well worth the price of admission and I cannot wait to check in with Tempest again and see what happens next in her world!
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.
Was this review helpful?
I so enjoy a good mystery, and this one had me all in with hidden rooms, secret entrances, illusions, and family secrets!
Tempest Raj is an illusionist who's Las Vegas show has been cancelled after a sabotage that almost cost her more than just her show and forced her to come back to her family home to recover.  Her family, who runs Secret Staircase Construction and builds hidden rooms, has also had some mysterious difficulties with what seems like a true family curse that claims the lives of every firstborn through magic.  Has this curse come to try and claim her?  Was the "accident" in her show really meant to kill her?  When Tempest's assistant who she thinks is behind the sabotage turns up dead in a house that her father is working on, there is too much pointing toward a curse that she never gave any credence to.  
This is a delightfully whimsical mystery story that sets the groundwork for this new series while executing a really good who-done-it.  I especially loved all the cross-cultural information.  Tempest comes from grandparents of Indian and Scottish decent, and they all now live in the US.  It was so much fun to read all the Indian and Scottish references to food, history, and cultures.  My delight was made more so by the recipes in the back!  
As this is a first in the series, there were a lot of backgrounds given but it didn't seem to detract from the pace of the mystery which was impressive.  There are unanswered questions as well which is to be expected in a series, but the main mystery was solved in a complex way that I didn't see coming.  I had some of it figured in...sort-of!  This is a series that is going to stay on my radar.  
Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this fun story!  This will be out in March, 2022!
Was this review helpful?
Not what I was expecting, and unfortunately just wasn't for me. I don't see this being particularly successful in our collection, so will probably pass.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you #Netgalley for the advance reader copy of Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian in exchange for an honest review. Tempest Raj was the Tempest - a stage magician in Las Vegas. Now she is back home. Magic is part of Tempest's life, as it is also part of her family's. A family of traveling magicians. Her dad builds secret staircases. A body is found. 
I loved the characters in the story. I have not read any of her work, but really enjoyed the cooking, the use of books, museums, and library to research. I liked reading that Agatha Christie felt the why is as important as the how. This was a fascinating story.
Was this review helpful?
This fun, whimsical book is the first of a series, which is exciting! 

Tempest Raj is the latest in a line of famous magicians. Her act in Las Vegas had been extremely popular, until her assistant sabotaged her new show. Now her agent is worried she's going to be sued, and Tempest has gone home to lick her wounds and figure out how to prove she wasn't negligent but set up.

Her family lives in a very unique house and runs Secret Staircase Construction. They specialize in crafting secret rooms and hiding spaces, and do high-quality work that always has a story behind it. Or, at least, it did while Tempest's mother was alive. She disappeared 5 years ago. There has always been talk about a family curse, with the oldest child of each generation dying. But in her mother's generation, both daughters passed away (or at least, it is assumed that her mother died, as she's been gone for five years without a word).

Tempest is trying to find a way back to Vegas, but when they find her old assistant's body in the wall of the house they're renovating (a seemingly impossible magic trick, because the wall obviously hadn't been disturbed in many years), she also has to solve the mystery to get her life back on track. 

I loved this book. There are fantastic descriptions of all of the secret places in their home, the mashup recipes her grandfather makes, drawing from his Indian heritage and his wife's Scottish heritage, and the magic tricks Tempest and her magician friends employ. There is an intriguing mystery to solve, and even ghostly appearances. I look forward to the next installment of this series!

Thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy!
Was this review helpful?
Despite her best efforts, Tempest Raj ends up working for her father's company, a unique business that builds secret staircases and other childlike features into its clients homes.  When Tempest discovers a body behind a wall, she swerves in to another unexpected career:  amateur sleuth.  This charming, satisfying mystery will appeal to fans of classic mysteries.
Was this review helpful?
This book was fun and full of surprising twists!! I really loved the business of creating secret spaces, and it made this story so intriguing! The MC is fun and full of an energy that makes her so enjoyable to read about!

I thought this was a great story, and I can't wait for more!!
Was this review helpful?
I loved this book, I enjoyed the riddles and interesting magic tricks that are in this book. I love how kind and supportive all of Tempest's friends and family are.  If your looking for mystery and magic this is a must-read.
Was this review helpful?