Member Reviews

This may be the best premise I've ever come across in a cozy mystery series. I \mean what mystery lover doesn't dream of hidden passages and secret staircases built into their home? And for the most part I enjoyed this read. Tempest is a unique cozy mystery character. She's not the first to come home after the world fell apart on them but her actual personality is different. Honestly, I wouldn't want to be friends with her. She's kind of a diva with a dose of moodiness but at the same time she's intelligent, gifted at her job, and just really interesting. I might not want to be friends with her but I'd love to watch a talk she gave on tricks of the trade.

What kept this book from being a winner for me was that there was just so much detail. It's the first book in the series so we have the necessary setup of the world. On top of that there's the backstory of multiple characters, the story of the family curse with historical references, details of the very complicated compound that Tempest and her family live in, how her father came to own the compound, and a number of other side stories. This caused the mystery to get a little lost at times and slowed the pace - especially for the first half.

The mystery was interesting and kept me guessing and I really liked the characters. The details of the secret places were fascinated and made me desperately want to add a secret staircase or door or nook in my own house. I think the series has a ton of potential and I'm looking forward to the next book.

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A little magic, a family curse, mystery and murder! The characters are fun, interesting and unique. The family business is creative and adds so much to the story. How did the body of a recent murder victim get hidden in a wall that has been sealed for decades? This is a very well done locked room mystery!

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This first novel in a new series from Gigi Pandian is so rich, so stuffed with character, plot and setting, it takes a moment to absorb everything the intelligent Pandian is throwing at you. She expects you, the reader, to hit the ground running. Her main character, Tempest Raj, is a magician and illusionist whose career has been crushed by a spectacular failure onstage in Las Vegas, and she’s back home reconsidering her life.

She’s from a family of magicians and illusionists, and there’s a longstanding family curse: the eldest child dies by magic. Tempest has lost a string of relatives, most recently her beloved aunt and her mother (who were known as “The Selkie Sisters”), and Tempest’s grandparents and her father are extra careful of her as they don’t want her to be next.

Her father runs a company called Secret Staircase Construction – they add witty hidden rooms and staircases at the request of a homeowner. At the moment they are working on an old Victorian recently acquired by a man and his young son. The day Tempest visits the construction site, a dead body – resembling Tempest – comes tumbling out of the wall. It’s not Tempest, of course, but her former, lookalike assistant, and the discovery of her body leads to many, many questions.

While this book is at once an almost fey look at the tricks and secret construction of the houses her father works on as well as her own family homestead, Hidden Creek, it’s also a peeling back of the layers of Tempest’s backstory. As the story proceeds, the reader is given more information, and the details of the loss of Tempest’s mother as well as the crashing of Tempest’s career become more clear and more and more fascinating.

However, this book is also a loving homage to the locked room mystery – Pandian specifically references John Dickson Carr’s classic, The Three Coffins, as well as Carr’s explanations for a seemingly impossible discovery of a body in a locked room. The body that falls out of the wall should not have fallen out of walls that were basically untouched and sound but somehow – it did. Tempest uses her smarts and a little bit of magical misdirection to get to a solution.

Tempest is truly a wonderful creation. She’s young, she’s figuring out her life (always a good thing at the start of a series), she’s an illusionist who bases her illusions on the telling of stories, and she’s surrounded by interesting people. Her family, an odd combination of Scots and Indian (there are some great mash up recipes at the back of the book), is an even richer creation. The whole thing is fertile soil for a long and interesting series. I loved her nod to and reverence for the classics – not a shallow love on her part but a deep one – it held my interest and made me appreciate this odd and precious book all the more.

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I want to start by saying not to let the star rating influence your thoughts on if I enjoyed this book or not. I found this book really hard to rate. On one hand, I really enjoyed the premise, the descriptions (particularly of the food), and the dynamic of old mysteries such as Agatha Christie thrown in. My trouble with this book is that it reads like a middle grade novel when it is marketed as an adult book. There are some repetitiveness that I didn’t find necessary, but it was a good read. This is one I would love for my teen daughter, who loves mysteries, to read.

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Tempest Raj returns home after someone sabotaged her last performance in Las Vegas. Tempest has yet to prove who committed the act but until she can, her career is toast. Her father asks her to join the family business, Secret Staircase Construction. The business has not been the same since her mother disappeared during an act five years prior. Tempest is hesitant to accept, but she gets drawn in when a hidden space is discovered in the latest project. Someone hid the body of Tempest’s former stage double in a wall of the house. Tempest cannot help but wonder if someone meant to kill her. It also has Tempest wondering if it is her turn to fall victim to the Raj family curse. The only way to get answers is for Tempest to channel her favorite sleuth and investigate the crime. Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is the debut of A Secret Staircase Mysteries. This is a multicultural cozy mystery. We get to meet Tempest Raj, an illusionist along with her grandparents, father, and best friend (plus a cast of secondary characters). Tempest has an interesting and colorful family. I enjoyed learning about Tempest and meeting the Raj clan. Her mother disappeared five years prior during an act. I have to wonder what happened to her. I hope we find out in the future (could it be part of the family curse). There are hidden rooms, secret staircases, illusions, magic, and plenty of mouthwatering food in this cozy mystery. There is even a secret library. I love that Tempest’s bedroom is hidden in her home. There are plenty of secret spaces in the Raj families unique dwelling (or should I say dwellings). Tempest and her best friend, Ivy grew up reading mysteries. The author mentions some of my childhood favorites. The whodunit has some clever parts. I was curious how a killer could get a dead body in a hidden space that has seemingly not been opened in decades. Tempest did a good job at investigating the crime. The killer, though, was easily identified. The reveal was a little bit confusing. I had to reread the ending to capture all the different bits. There is quite a bit of repetition in the story. I wish it had been eliminated and the book would have been a better length. There are times when I felt the story is aimed at a younger audience (Tempest is in her mid-20s). This was a lighthearted, fun cozy mystery that has many great elements. It will be interesting to see what designs Tempest comes up with for Secret Staircase Construction. Under Lock & Skeleton Key is magical tale with secret staircases, a dead doppelganger, a centuries old curse, a missing mother, a curious key, mouthwatering morsels, hypnotizing illusions, and a surprising missive.

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This was really all over the place. Not my cup of tea. Too much drama and not one straight story line. Very confusing

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Is there anything cooler than a hidden staircase or a secret room? Add a brilliant magician, and a family curse, and you’ve got Gigi Pandian’s forthcoming Under Skeleton Lock & Key (March 15, 2022), the first in the Secret Staircase series. She’s the writer behind the Accidental Alchemist Mystery Series and Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries and winner of several awards including the Agatha and Lefty. Her short story, “The Locked Room Library”, published in July/August of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, has been nominated for both Agatha and Edgar awards. On top of it all, she’s also a co-founder of Crime Writers of Color. Murder & Mayhem had a chance to talk with Gigi about her work...

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For those who love magic, this is a wonderful read. I was intrigued by the profession of the father of Tempest (the main character and narrator). He owns a building company which builds hidden staircases and rooms. Throughout the book secret curses, rooms, and other mysteries are introduced in this great family centered book. I really enjoyed the twists throughout the book, as well, as the riddles.

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I didn’t love this one. I thought it was a little immature and had more of a YA feel.

This is definitely a multi layered who-dunnit mystery. I just found the chapters to be annoyingly short and very little character development. Towards the end I couldn’t keep up with the “guilty” parties coming out of the woodwork.

Overall was a fun light mystery but was not one of my favorites.

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This was such a different concept from what I normally read! It was almost a cozy mystery meets a magic show?! I think that’s the best way to describe it! I really enjoyed the characters!! I think my favorite was Tempest’s grandfather!! The way he wanted to feed everyone reminded me of grandpa!! The mystery in this installment of the series wasn’t one I figured out either! And I can’t wait to read more of this series to try and figure out the mystery behind Tempest’s mom’s disappearance! 4.25 stars!!

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This book was so much fun! Magic, mystery, secrets, and family curses woven throughout the adventure makes this book impossible to put down. The descriptive writing is something I loved in this book and so much of it brought me back to things I loved as a child.

Great start to a new series!

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I hope this becomes a long running series. It now has a place on my list of best books I've read this year (there are only two) Tempest and her family are wonderful - wish they had a room for me. Murder, magic, locked room and name dropping of so many of my favorite authors. I was a Nancy Drew fan as a kid and then I discovered John Dickson Carr and so many more, this was a must read for me as soon as I saw it listed on NetGalley. I wasn't disappointed...except when I finished it, that is.
Tempest returned home to Hidden Creek, CA after her career as a stage magician imploded in a big way. Her father runs the family construction company, Secret Staircase Construction. Her late mother had the magic touch that made the business flourish and her father is struggling. (I can't wait to learn more about her mother) Then there is a body, and a curse....I won't say more for fear of spoilers. If you like strong characters, mystery and magic do not hesitate to read this fantastic mystery.
My thanks to the publisher Minotaur and NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

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The child in me who always wanted to find a secret staircase and loved reading about various magicians and grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown, The Westing House, and Nancy Drew was instantly drawn to Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian.

Tempest is a famous magician from a family of magicians, who also happen to have a family curse. Her family owns a construction business that puts secret rooms and stairways into buildings. Tempest’s own house is full of secret rooms. Tempest and her best friend grew up reading various mystery authors, who are mentioned throughout the book. And there is a mystery library with a train car that seems to actually move.

Come on! How could anyone not think this is a fantastic world that Pandian has created… now if only it was real and I could be friends with Tempest.

And besides the fabulous world that was created, Pandian does a great job with character development too. Lots of quirky characters and people who truly seem caring and that they would always have your back.

While I was pretty sure I knew the killer early on, it didn’t take anything away from the story. I will admit though I was a bit confused when the reveal happened. There were so many moving parts, which I usually find very enjoyable, but I just couldn’t grasp it all. Perhaps if I reread the ending a time or two I would be able to follow along, but I have way too many other books to read!

Will my confusion at the reveal stop me from reading future books in the series? No! I am actually really looking forward to the next book in the series.

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Under Lock and Skelton Key
by Gigi Pandian
Pub Date: March 15, 2022
Thanks to the author, Minotaur, and NetGalley for the ARC. As a cozy, this really has it all, a complex, interesting mystery with thrill, chills, and intrigue along the way….…
Happy Publication Day!
Although I didn’t love this novel, I’m sure others will have lots of fun with it. I recommend this to readers that enjoy YA and are looking for a light murder mystery. The parts of the story I loved were the sections that focused on Tempest’s family dynamics, the scrumptious food descriptions, and when she channeled her inner Hercule Poirot was well-done. There are some mouth-watering vegan-friendly recipes at the end of the book.
3 stars

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I received a complimentary ARC copy of Under Lock & Skeleton Key (Secret Staircase Mystery #1) by Gigi Pandian from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press /Minotaur Books in order to read and give an honest review.

…As a cozy this really has it all, a complex, interesting mystery with thrill, chills and intrigue along the way….…

Being a fan of Gigi Pandian’s Jaya Jones series, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to read and review Under Lock & Skeleton Key, the first book of her locked room Secret Staircase Mystery Series. Those of you familiar with the Jaya Jones series will find some homage paid to it in this newest series however it works well as a standalone.

As the book opens, we meet Tempest Raj who has recently fallen from grace as a magician in Las Vegas After a trick goes horribly wrong Tempest barely escapes with her life but loses her reputation and is publicly disgraced. After losing everything Tempest returns to her family’s home in California. Tempest’s childhood home was far from normal, she grew up in a home any kid would love, filled with secret staircases and enchanted gardens. Her family owned the Secret Staircase Construction company which specializes in hidden and unique home designs inspired by magic. Her mother, the company’s creative vision, long gone, her father struggles to keep the company afloat. When Tempest was doing well with her Las Vegas act she had been sending money home to help her family but now she is doing all she can to find a way to help them.

When the body of her stage double is found inside a long-sealed wall in her father’s current project, she feels compelled to get to the bottom of it. When strange things begin to happen to Tempest along with her look-alike’s murder it is becoming clear that Tempest is at the heart of the murder, and she must solve it before she becomes the killer’s next victim.

Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is a unique and extremely fun cozy mystery. I love the fact her books feature diverse, multi-faceted characters who all feel well-formed and really add to the story. As a cozy this really has it all, a complex, interesting mystery with thrill, chills and intrigue along the way….featuring some great Indian food (with recipes at the back), everything a reader could ask for. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the further adventures of Tempest Raj.

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Her career and reputation in shambles, Tempest returns home to her family in California while she figures out what to do next. She tries to resist going to work for her father's company, but gets pulled into the business more and more every day. When what appears to be an impossible crime is committed, Tempest thinks she was the intended victim. She decides it's up to her to solve the puzzle, using her family's connections, and all her skills as an illusionist.

This is the first book in a new series by a new-to-me author, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It doesn't suffer from so many of the issues I've encountered in other series starters, and the writing is well done. The setting was very imaginative, and I'd love to visit the family home, but I'm not sure I'd want to live in a place that has so many secret rooms, staircases, and ways to open doors. The main characters are people I'd like to get to know, but I get the feeling that some of them appear in the author's other series, so I felt like I was missing the background on some of them.

The mystery was more complex than in many cozies, trying to solve a crime and a significant puzzle related to the crime at the same time, as well as a puzzle involving Tempest's personal life. There were several viable suspects for the crime, and I guessed the identity of the culprit before it was revealed in the book, but the related puzzle was more difficult to figure out. The personal puzzle was even more of a challenge, but I enjoyed the way that was resolved.

The only thing that bothered me was the many references to things that happened to derail Tempest's career without giving us the whole story, but it did all come out as the book progressed, so at least readers aren't left hanging until future books in the series. I have already added the author's other series to my to-read list, and I look forward to reading the next book in this series.

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This book had it all, a mystery, some magic, an interesting back story, family history and great characters. Tempest is such an interesting main character. She is a magician and I love the illusions that are described in the story. She's also just returned home after losing her job as a performer in Las Vegas. Her family all lives on a compound together, so she is coming home to her Dad and her grandparents. The house that they live in sounds amazing with all of the secret stairways and nooks and crannies to explore. This is a unique mystery that had many surprises, but also the characters are so engaging that I didn't want the book to end. The narrator added to my enjoyment of this audio book with the different accents that were used for different characters. A wonderful start to a new series!

I received a complimentary copy of this audio book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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A thrill of a cozy mystery! Truly magical. Following a disgraced magician when her doppelganger turns up down, this book is full of great food, an amazing setting (complete with hidden staircases), classic mystery references and most importantly representation.

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What a fun adventure of a mystery!

I love a good mystery that is more than just a whodunnit and this was just what I needed.

Tempest was born into a family surrounded by illusions and became an illusion herself; becoming a well known magician. She used this outlet to get closer to her family, especially her mother to try to figure out why she disappeared. When misfortune befalls her, and she returns home because of it, she only comes up with more questions trying to figure out where she fits in and what she wants out of life.

Combining aspects of magic, curses and secret passageways is such a creative way to bring excitement to a story. I feel like I was just one of many people who always dreamed of having secret hideaway spaces and hidden passageways in my home. There’s something so rewarding about figuring out the riddle or puzzle to get through. But when you add in unknown variants, it can really ramp up to be an adventure.

Reading through this story, I really felt like I was a part of it, uncovering things as they did to put the puzzle pieces together. Getting the full picture can be tedious, but these characters made it very engaging to keep me turning the pages to see what came next.

It was quite imaginative as well as descriptive, which I love, so it was very easy for me to picture the characters and the settings in my mind. I could even hear the music and smell the food! Now to wait for the next installment…

Thank you to the author, Minotaur Books and NetGalley for the ARC ebook!

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“Anyone who has a mentor who calls himself Nicodemus the Necromancer isn’t a normal person.”

This is such a quirky start to a new series. There is a little bit of a mashup of genres, including a few mysteries running through the book, while reading like a cozy at times and a more serious mystery too. There is some humor, see my earlier quote, and just a hint of romance. I will admit at times it seems to lose it’s focus, but quickly gains it back.

There is magic, secret rooms and trap doors, Indian and Scottish culture and folklore and homage to old school mystery writers including John Dickson Carr, Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie.

Cast of characters I like. Tons of red herrings. Have I convinced you to give this one a try yet? I saw the author speak tonight and she described it as Scooby Doo for adults and I love this analogy. There is a mystery that hints at being supernatural, but is grounded in the here and now. There is a great group of friends trying to solve the murder and while it has a gothic feel because of all of the secret rooms being built, it never gets to be too scary.

And I almost forgot to mention the fabulous cover.  it has all kinds of details from the story.  It really caught my attention.

I can’t wait for the next one and will need to go and look up the author’s backlist.

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