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Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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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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Gigi Pandian's Under Lock & Skeleton Key gives us Tempest Raj and her family of "cursed" magicians/escape artists. Tempest had worked as a magician specializing in escaping from dangerous situations but a disastrous show led to her losing her livelihood and her return to home. She moves back into her family compound, living with her grandparents and father and longtime friends. Her father builds unusual bespoke family homes which Tempest's mother used to personalize and design. The homes incorporate the clients' interests through secret staircases and rooms, etc.

But since Tempest has returned home, dead bodies surface and the strange events seem tied to Tempest. Tempest investigates and we are drawn in by the family dynamics!

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Under Lock and Skeleton Key promises magic, mystery, and a family curse -- a perfect combination for a locked-room cozy. But Gigi Pandian's latest is too uneven and scattered to achieve any great magic or mystery, and as for the family curse? It felt like an accessory Coco Chanel would have told the story to take off before leaving the house.

Three-sentence summary: Disgraced magician Tempest Raj returns home to lick her wounds and work for her father's company, Secret Staircase Construction. When Tempest's traitorous stage double is found murdered, enclosed in a wall that appears to have been undisturbed for a century, Tempest is convinced she was the intended target. She resolves to solve the mystery.

I haven't done the exact math on this, but I'm pretty sure for every sentence of this book devoted to the present-day, forward-moving plot, there are at least 11 sentences devoted to exposition/the past. It makes for slow reading... so slow that at the 35% mark, I finally threw in the towel. An example of the kind of stop-and-go storytelling I'm talking about: We learn early on that Tempest's mother disappeared five years before the events of the book. Then we learn she disappeared during a performance (she was also a magician). THEN we learn that she disappeared during a performance... "when she was about to reveal the secret of her sister's killer." Information is doled out at such a slow trickle, it's impossible for to build any appreciable momentum/tension.

I skimmed the latter half of the book and can see how, once the story allows itself to be the locked-room mystery it aspires to be, it moves along at a more reasonable clip. The first third of the book, however, is so lacking in propulsion that some readers -- like me -- may find there's not enough power to move forward. The book leaps too quickly from family mythology to extended descriptions of (admittedly delicious-sounding) food to Tempest's personal history... and on and on and on.

Ruthless editing and clever reorganization might have saved this narrative from itself, but in its current form... the magic fizzles before it can spark.

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While I love Pandian's other series (the accidental alchemist) and I was excited for this one, it just didn't work for me. I could not connect with the main character and I found myself getting bored while I was reading it. There's nothing wrong with the book, it was well written and had an interesting story, it just didn't work for me.

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I found this book to be delightfully quirky and fun. I loved the idea of the Fiddler's Folly. The house just sounds to wonderful. I also loved the relationship that Tempest had with her grandparents. Ash was so charming and I enjoyed the descriptions of all the food and the place of love his cooking came from. There were multiple mysteries to solve in Under Lock and Skeleton Key. I was slightly disappointed that the mystery of her mother's disappearance was never fully solved. It does make me wish for a second book. A few times, I felt like the writing jumped around which made it a bit difficult to follow in those cases. There is also a lot of characters so sometimes I had to stop and think about who was who. All in all, I found it to be a great cozy mystery with a whimsical vibe. I loved the incorparation of other mystery books and authors and even a bit of true crime even though the main theme was magicians and misdirection.

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