Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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Member Reviews

I have read some of Gigi's Jaya Jones mystery series and was thrilled to see Sanjay in this series too.

Tempest Raj is an illusionist and it is a path that runs in her family. All is going well and she has a show in Vegas until a new performance goes awry which causes her to lose her show, her house, and all she has worked for to get to this point. So she returns home and is trying to get settled when a dead body is discovered and someone is gaslighting Tempest.

This book is all about misdirection when it comes to this mystery. How did the stunt double end up in a wall that has been closed up for 50 years? Where is that music coming from? What is the key that Tempest has found go to? All good questions and they are all answered by the end of the book. I was glad of that because nothing worse (to me) than having to wait until the next book to get the answer to some of my questions. But the mystery was engaging and I had no idea what direction to look or who to suspect. I was surprised by the revelations and never expected these characters to be involved, but maybe I should have.

I loved the business that her dad has and wonder if I could make a secret room somewhere in my own home right now. I would love a secret passage or a hideaway reading nook where I could escape when I wanted to be alone.

I also enjoyed all of the dishes that Ash prepared for the family and chuckled when Tempest checked her father's refrigerator and it was basically empty except for a few items. I am going to have to give the cardamon cookies a try because I do love a good shortbread and this is a bit of a mashup and sounds delicious.

This was a good start to an intriguing new series. We give it 4 paws up.

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I read a short story by Gigi Pandian and really enjoyed it and was eager to read this full-length novel, Under Lock and Skeleton Key. This cozy mystery is about stage magician Tempest Raj, who returns to her childhood home in California after a professional disaster and is faced with a perplexing locked room mystery. Other weird things are occurring in her life which makes her think the story about a Raj family curse may actually be true.

The characters are interesting and the premise is very unique. There are some pacing issues, and sometimes the story veers off course and becomes confusing. However, overall I enjoyed the book, and would rate it 3.5 stars.

I received this ebook from NetGalley through the courtesy of Minotaur Books. An advance copy was provided to me at no cost, but my review is voluntary and unbiased.

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Under Lock & Skeleton Key is one of the most unusual and satisfying cozy mysteries I've ever read. Steeped in magical realism, the book centers around Tempest Raj (a/k/a "the Tempest"), a famous magician who returns to her childhood home in disgrace after one of her tricks in her Las Vegas show goes dreadfully wrong. The mystery begins when her former assistant's body is discovered in a secret closet located in a home that her father's company -- the Secret Staircase Construction business -- is renovating. Not only is the plot riveting, but I really appreciated the multi-culturalism of the characters. I am looking forward to the second book in this series. 5/5 stars. Highly recommended.

Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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This was a such a cool mystery and I loved what the Secret Staircase Construction company did with buildings. I thought Tempest's secret quarters in the house were especially awesome. I was glad to see she was able to make amends with an old friend now that she was home, and I just loved her grandparents. Grandpa was so funny how he was always wanting to feed people, must be a grandpa thing! I could definitely see why Nancy Drew was one of Tempest's favorites since all Nancy did was find mysterious staircases, attics and rooms similar to what Tempest's dad's company built. Tempest's former occupation of illusionist was a unique one for a cozy main character too.

The characters were great, and I enjoyed the whole search for the killer. It took a lot of winding paths to finally get to the answer which was something I sure didn't see coming. I loved how Tempest came to her decision at the end and can see this being a fun and cool series I'll want to read more in!

I voluntarily read and reviewed an ARC of this book provided by Minotaur/St. Martin's Press via NetGalley, and my opinions are my own.

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Last month I was sent the arc of Under Lock and Skeleton Key to review through NetGalley! I’ve had this book on my TBR list since I saw it first pop up and it was also the first book I’ve read written by Gigi Pandian.

I enjoyed this read so much! Every time I thought I had a sense of what was going on or about to happen, a new twist in the story would appear. I truly had no idea who the murderer was until the last few chapters and I loved some of the characters played out in the book. The main character, Tempest, was just as enchanting as her family history. With a family curse hoovering over her head and odd events always showing up or making an appearance, this book had me invested in the story big time! I loved the theme of this book and found it to be a breath of fresh air, it was different and I’m always craving something new. Tempest was a performer magician and had her own show, she was one of many magicians in her family including her mother and aunt. There was a sprinkling of myth throughout this story ranging from selkie’s to ghosts.

I really loved this book and I hope the author writes more in the series. It held my interest very well and was a good page turner! This certainly won’t be the last I read of Gigi Pandian, I’m looking forward to dipping my toes into her other mystery series.

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Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is a mystery with a lot of spark and subterfuge. I loved so many things about this story. The magician tricks and architectural wonders are at the very top of the list, as who doesn’t like secret passageways and hidden rooms, not to mention illusions meant to trick the eye. It’s just chocked so full of fun.

The characters are well-developed, quirky, full of life and love. I couldn’t help but enjoy each and every one. The mystery is complex and masked by plenty of red herrings that left me stumped until the end. I even loved the main character’s name – Tempest, and that says everything you need to know about her.

She comes from a family of magicians and has her own magic show in Las Vegas until one of her tricks goes tragically wrong. She was lucky to escape with her life. She is passionate about her family and her art, which shows in everything she does. Forced to return home, Tempest is helping her father with the family business, Secret Staircase Construction, when a dead body drops into their lives – a murder that only an experienced magician can solve.

I also loved the cultural exploration in the story as Tempest comes from a profoundly multi-cultural family. Did I mention Abracadabra? He is an adorable rabbit owned by Tempest, and he helps solve the mystery in unexpected ways. The only thing I struggled with at times was the long-windedness of the exposition at points. But the content was so fascinating that it more than made up for that. Under Lock and Skeleton Key is a fun, quirky mystery with plenty of magic tricks and secrets to delight every reader. Just say Abracadabra and see what happens.

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Under Lock & Skeleton Key pays homage to many great classic mystery writers. Tempest and Ivy often refer to books they have read to help guide their investigations, and it felt as though they needed to refer to those books a bit more a few times.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. But it felt as though the writing was a bit clunky. Some parts were repetitive; how many times does the rabbit hutch have to be described? Other parts didn’t feel like they were explained enough. I understand that Tempest is a magician, as is her friend Sanjay, and thus some “secrets” need to remain, but when reading a mystery, a reader wants to understand the thought process of the investigators. Or at least this reader does.

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What an excellent start to a new series! We have a family with a historic connection to magicians, with both Indian and Scottish heritage. We have a cool family business, Secret Staircase Construction, which specializes in creating secret nooks, hidden bookcases, etc. (I just love this! It made me think of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA, which we visited several years ago.). And we have a grandfather who cooks delicious sounding foods which combine both Indian and Scottish traditions (such as cardamom shortbread cookies). The main character, Tempest Raj, is a magician/illusionist who nearly died in a magic “trick” gone terribly wrong. She is now living back at her family home, which is filled with all kinds of quirky features, thanks to her parents’ business. Is there a family curse, by which the “eldest dies by magic” or is all an illusion meant to make Tempest think she’s going crazy? How did a dead body fall out of a wall that hadn’t been touched in decades? It’s a classic locked room mystery, set in the San Francisco Bay area. And what about Tempest’s unusual charm bracelet given to her by her mother before she disappeared five years earlier? In addition to a clever mystery with lots of twists and turns, I loved the emphasis on family and friendship. In addition to Tempest herself, there were several terrific side characters: her dad, Darius, her friend Ivy, and her magician friend, Sanjay, to name a few. This is my first book by this author and I am definitely going to check into her other books now.

Don’t miss the recipes at the end of the book, if you were as intrigued as I was by the food served throughout this book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for the opportunity to read an advance readers copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

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This book had the bones for a great story - a Secret Staircase business run by a family of magicians, a locked room mystery and a curse to boot-but it fell a bit flat for me. Maybe it’s because it’s the first in a series and the author wanted to stretch it out, but the character development and relationships between the characters left a lot to be desired. I didn’t really connect with any characters nor did I feel much connection between the characters with each other. The first half of the book was very slow and I thought about DNFing several times. The mystery was pretty impossible to figure out as there were so many pieces to it so that was good as a predictable locked room mystery isn’t all that fun. However, I was still dissatisfied with how it all played out. Once all the pieces were revealed there was no wow factor, no mind-blowing twist. I’m interested enough in the seeing the characters develop more and in the Secret Staircase company (what a dream job!) to see where else their stories will lead but I hope the next mystery has a bit more oomph to it.

Thank you NetGalley, author and publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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This was one of the best cozy mystery I've read in a long time. You should be aware this is a book referencing famous sleuthing (Dr. Phil, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie). What the cool thing about this book is the use of diversion and illusions such a fresh and cool way. I also thought it was very interesting to embed cultural information throughout the story Indian, Black and Indigenous. I did not see the reveal coming at all. Such a fun book sad but good with a diverse cast.

CN: murder, colonialism, colorist, murder, attempted murder, cheating, suicide, missing women

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I generally only read books with some kind of paranormal element, but since I’ve read some of this author’s paranormal mysteries, and I had to read this one. And boy did it not disappoint. The writing was very lyrical and beautiful without being too much. I have read writing that almost does it for the sake of doing it. This was done well, and it fit the story as a book about magic and magicians. It gave it a perfect air of magic that took it a little above. Not only that, I loved the characters, thought it was well-written, and it gave away some magical secrets. Some other reviewers thought this was simply written, but I don’t agree. This is a book that could be read by anyone of any age, and you don’t have to worry about anything too adult getting in the way. In fact, I’m not sure anyone too young would understand some of the motivations. But, anyway, I loved this book, and it’s well worth a read. Highly recommend. I was provided a complimentary copy which I voluntarily reviewed.

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“𝑭𝒊𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒈𝒆𝒕𝒔 𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒕𝒉 𝒐𝒇 𝒍𝒊𝒇𝒆 𝒑𝒓𝒆𝒄𝒊𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒚 𝒃𝒆𝒄𝒂𝒖𝒔𝒆 𝒊𝒕 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒈𝒆𝒕 𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒐𝒔𝒕 𝒎𝒆𝒂𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒇𝒖𝒍 𝒆𝒍𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒆 𝒉𝒖𝒎𝒂𝒏 𝒆𝒙𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆𝒔.”

I LOVE a classic mystery, and when I saw the first of a brand new mystery YA series on NetGalley, I knew I had to read this.

A family of magicians, hidden secrets, a company that builds secret rooms, AND references to classic mysteries, like Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew, Scooby Doo: all elements that make up this really fun plot. I loved the diverse cast of characters that all had different backgrounds, family makeups, and felt like a celebration of all the joy that it can bring. The mystery is well plotted and there are lots of reveals; misdirection is an important theme throughout the many aspects of this book! Although marketed as YA (and definitely appropriate for my classroom), the older characters and twists don’t feel classically “YA.” I wish that there was a Locked Room Library in my town, because it sounds like the COOLEST place. I really liked the friendship building between the “core four” characters of Tempest, Ivy, Sanjay and Gideon, reminding me of the Scooby Doo gang. I hope these relationships get developed further (even with a potential love triangle). Lastly, I loved the role food plays throughout the book, alongside a celebration of family (the recipes at the end are a neat touch!). My only complaint is that sometimes the writing style is a little choppy - the conflict between Tempest and Ivy was revealed then quickly patched up, or sometimes scenes jumped around a little quickly.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key is a strong start to a new series that celebrates locked room mysteries, detective fiction, magic, diversity and celebrates culture and friendship. I look forward to reading more of The Secret Staircase Mysteries in the future! Thanks to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur and NetGalley for the ARC!

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by Gigi Pandian
St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books.
Pub Date Mar 15.

Absolutely loved this totally unique mystery, my first by author Gigi Pandian, and the first in what will be a winning series, if UNDER LOCK & SKELETON KEY is any indication.

What a clever storyline! Las Vegas magician Tempest Raj is nearly killed in an accident that sends her ashamed and stunned to her family's home in Cali. All she wants is to binge on her grandfather's delicious Indian feasts. But she knows, as the days go by, that her family will pressure her to work in her father's business, Secret Staircase Construction, which makes hidden stairs and rooms, secret reading nooks, treehouses, sliding bookcases, and more for clients who want to recapture their childhoods. Don't you just love that? I sure did!

Of course, I was reminded of my fav Nancy Drew book, The Hidden Staircase, which brought such magic to my childhood as Pandian is now doing for my adulthood. Murder, scrumptious food, a possible family curse that's existed for ages, and a heroine you'll cheer for make UNDER LOCK & SKELETON KEY a complete delight. Yippee, I've found a new fav mystery series!

Thanks to the author, St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books, and NetGalley for the ARC. Opinions are mine.

#underlockandskeletonkey #gigipandian #stmartinspressmimotaurbooks #newfavmysteryseries

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I’m a big fan of Gigi Pandian’s books so I was super excited to see her expanding into a new series. I loved this story and the Raj family as well. It was particularly fun to have a crossover character from the Jaya Jones series in the book. (Plus a couple of shoutouts to books and characters in that series!)

It’s a fun mystery. You should definitely read it.
Thank you to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a gothic locked-room cozy mystery by Gigi Pandian. The eBook version is 352 pages.

Tempest Raj is a magician from a family suffering from an infamous curse where the eldest child dies by magic. After an horrible accident during one of her Las Vegas performances, she loses her contract at the venue along with her house due to legal repercussions as she was blamed for the issue. Heading back to her childhood home to rest and hide out for a while seems like a good idea.

Her father owns a construction company which specializes in hidden rooms, interesting and intricate locks, and other cool things like that. But when she visits their latest project, the crew finds her former stage double dead inside a wall. But that wall had supposedly been sealed for at least the past 50 years. Worried that the family curse is finally coming for her and that she was the actual intended victim, she decides to figure out what really happened.

This was a really fun book, and my first read from the author. I'm absolutely going to check out her back catalogue. Chapters are pretty short, so it was like potato chip reading for me; I read the last 45% in one sitting.

There's a lot of diversity in this book, least of which in Tempest's own family as her maternal grandparents are from Scotland and India and her father was adopted and is not quite sure of his own heritage. The main character is in her mid-20s but it reads very New Adult to me, so this may be a great option for someone who typically reads YA mysteries and is looking to try some adult titles.

If you like food, that's also a big part of the book as well as her grandfather Ash is a chef. There are a few recipes included at the end of the book as well! I'm excited to try out the cardamom shortbread cookies for sure. All of the recipes are vegetarian and could easily be made vegan.

Tropes in this book include: locked-room mystery, cozy mystery, gothic mystery, family curse, multicultural

CW: death, murder, near-drowning (referenced, not shown)

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Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is the first book of the locked room Secret Staircase Mystery series. While this is the first book of the Secret Staircase Mystery series the mystery within the book is solved so it could be read as a standalone if choosing to do so.

Tempest Raj has been working as a magician in Las Vegas but lost her job when wrongly accused so she has headed back to her childhood home in California. The home Tempest grew up in is unique to say the least with her family owning Secret Staircase Construction which specializes in hidden and intricate home designs which of course compose their own home.

As Tempest is just settling in back in California she goes for a visit to her father’s latest project. Things become complicated for Tempest though when a body is found inside of the project, a body that looks suspiciously like her former stage double. With an obvious murder occuring that looks like it may have been directed at Tempest herself she decides they need to find the killer fast.

Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is sort of a cozy mystery but it doesn’t fit all the way into the cozy mold being just slightly different which wasn’t a bad thing. The characters are diverse and the theming was certainly unique with the out of the ordinary constructions. There’s also some some food talk too of Indian and Scottish origins with recipes included at the end. This first book was a lot of character building which for me moves a little slower getting used to the new series so I rated this one three and a half stars and would definitely be interested in returning.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

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There is only one way to describe Under Lock & Skeleton Key. It is a sheer, magical delight! As a rule, I prefer books to the movies that are made from them. I enjoy seeing men, women, and their surroundings come to life in my mind simply by the words on a written page. However, my imagination limited my ability to fully appreciate the magic of Under Lock & Skeleton Key. I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to see on a screen what I was reading about on the page. I hope someone out in Hollywood reads this novel and feels the same.

The story is one Agatha Christie would surely enjoy. It's a locked room mystery, only instead of the dead body being found in a locked room, it is discovered within a wall during a construction job. The construction company is called Secret Staircase Construction, which is owned by Darius Mendez. Darius is father to Tempest Raj, an illusionist who is hot off a Vegas show which ended in a disaster that left her running back home. The home she runs to is magnificent both physically and emotionally. The physical home was designed and built by Tempest's mother and father. Her mother was also a professional magician/illusionist, but she disappeared years ago and is believed to be dead. There is some speculation that she is a victim of a family curse which states that the eldest child in each generation dies by magic. Through five generations of the Raj family, the curse has proven to be true, up to and including Tempest's mother. Back to the house though, Tempest's parents "had experimented over the years on their own house until it was over 4,500 square feet of magical, hidden hideaways across four separate structures." There are myriad hidden rooms and gardens, but my favorite was where Tempest's grandmother and grandfather lived -- a tree house with a bright red front door!! I also adored her grandparents, Ash and Morag, who embody Tempest's Scottish and Indian heritage through the food they prepare. Food plays such an important role in the novel that there are several recipes included at the end of the book!

Back to the story, on Tempest's first day back at home, she visits her dad's construction site which is a fabulous old home where Darius is creating several hidden rooms. When they open a wall in the kitchen, a body falls out. Two things are clear: (1) There is absolutely no sign of anyone having tampered with the wall, and (2) The body is that of Tempest's own doppelganger, her old magician's assistant Cassidy Sparrow. Was Cassidy the intended victim or is this a case of mistaken identity? Is Tempest herself being targeted? This is a well-written, intricately developed mystery with lots of twists, turns, and misdirection.

My thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for providing me an eGalley in exchange for a published review. Under Lock & Skeleton is a perfect new read for classic mysteries.

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After a stunt during her performance nearly kills her and endangers all of her spectators, master illusionist Tempest Raj moves home to Hidden Creek. While there amongst the twists, turns, and secret corners of her childhood home, Tempest must reconcile with her own mother's disappearance five years before. Trying not to think so much about the past, Tempest begrudgingly decides to help out with her father's construction company which specializes in building secret rooms, cabinets, nooks, etc into people's homes. When Tempest's stage double's dead body falls out of a wall in a home in which her father is working, the mere impossibility of it all draws Tempest into the mystery. A mystery that might be more centered around Tempest than she previously thought.

This is the first book I've read by Gigi Pandian, but I was really drawn into the locked-room mystery story trope. I love a good twist and turn and the story really keeps you riveted to the page wanting to figure out what happened.

However, I feel like Gigi Pandian really utilized the feint by seemingly going on tangents of information thereby making the reader rely on ourselves to parse through what will be meaningful to the mystery at hand and what won't be. These moments took a bit away from solving the crime itself. While I commend Gigi Pandian for using her own sleight of hand, oftentimes it was a bit much right out of the gate. Tempest would talk about being back in her hometown and about her former childhood friend, then low and behold that childhood friend appears on Tempest's doorstep and we go into the backstory. Or Tempest figures out a clue on one page and the next she's leaving town in order to info gather. There were just some very abrupt choices made which could be jarring.

I think this might be something that tones down a bit as the series goes on and as I become more familiar with her writing style. Plus, understanding this as a first book, I know there's a certain amount of introduction that has to happen. Because at the end of the day, Tempest and her family and friends make a really interesting unit. The way they each experience life and the things they bring to the table are wonderful.

My absolute favorite thing about the book was simply how magical everything was. The hidden passages and the puzzles to solve. It was just fun. There were layers and meaning to every item.

Overall, I think the build-up of the mystery was more intense than the payoff. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I mainly felt like a lot of what happens here is part of a bigger picture that will unfold in subsequent sequels. Gigi Pandian definitely built a captivating story with characters that I look forward to revisiting.

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I can’t remember the last time that I so thoroughly enjoyed a mystery! Gigi Pandian's latest book features an illusionist named Tempest whose dynamic Vegas show was sabotaged. She returns home, thinking she has left the disaster behind, but then discovers the body of her stage double in a nearby house. Was she the intended victim, and why? Murder, illusions, greed, sleight of hand, and curses abound in Under Lock and Skeleton Key.

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In her newest series, Gigi Pandian creates an enchanting blend of family, magic, murder, and a taste of Indian food. Magician Tempest Raj suffers a career setback and returns home to find her only work maybe for her father’s Secret Staircase Construction company.

Ms. Pandian writes captivating mysteries filled with unusual and colorful characters. Her newest work is an excellent example of her riveting storytelling skill.

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