Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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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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3.5

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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Under Lock & Skeleton Key should have been a book that I loved, but unfortunately, it fell a bit flat. It has everything I would typically lap up: delicious descriptions of food, secret rooms and staircases, a curse, and classic murder mystery elements. 

After a near-death experience at one of her popular magic shows, which ultimately ended her career, Tempest Raj finds herself living at home with her parents. She knows her father doesn’t need her help at his Secret Staircase Construction company, but her options are limited. 

One day when Tempest is on-site with her father, the crew finds a dead body crammed behind a wall. They have no idea how the body came to be there, and they soon realize that the dead body is Tempest’s former body double. 

Tempest believes the murderer was after her because of a family curse that dates back several generations. Although the police make a quick arrest, she refuses to believe they have the real culprit. And so, Tempest embarks on her own investigation. 

I think I would have enjoyed this novel when I was younger. It’s not clear who is the target audience for this book.  Tempest is in her mid-twenties, but the writing style reads on the younger side. I had to double-check how old Tempest was because it felt like I was reading from a much younger protagonist’s pov. 

The writing was repetitive as well. It’s not necessary to drill the same points over and over again. 

There were parts that I did enjoy. The sections that focused on Tempest’s family dynamics, the scrumptious food descriptions, and when she channelled her inner Hercule Poirot was well-done. There are some mouth-watering vegan-friendly recipes at the end of the book. 

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. 

Thank you to Minotaur Books for providing a review copy via Netgalley. 

https://booksandwheels.com
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Thank you to  NetGalley, Gigi Pandian, and Minotaur Books for an E- arc of this book in exchange for an honest review! I really enjoyed this cozy, locked room style mystery! Tempest is a magician who heads back home after a scandal with her show. When she gets home, she has to deal with her families "curse". We meet many loveable and eccentric characters throughout the story and we also hear about some delicious sounding food! I'm looking forward to reading more from this author! This one comes out on 3.15.22!
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Tempest Raj is a Las Vegas magician who has moved back home to California after an accident in her last show nearly killed her. Her family has their own business, Secret Staircase Construction, that specializes in twisting, maze-like, unique buildings and houses with secret doors, hidden rooms, and other magical contraptions. Soon after Tempest moves back home, they find a dead body in a hidden room on one of their construction sites. Not just any dead body, but the body of Tempest’s look-alike and stage assistant. This coupled with her recent near-death experience makes the family wonder if the stories of an age-old Raj family curse could be real and could be coming for Tempest next.

Cozy mysteries aren’t my usual pick, but this was fun! The descriptions of the wild contraptions and tricky architecture built in the family home and in their construction projects made for a vivid setting. The cast of characters was diverse and skillfully drawn. There was enough in the plot to keep the mystery going up until the end which was tied up just well-enough to complete the book but left room for series follow-ups.
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Under Lock and Skeleton Key was a fun mystery book to read! It kept my interest and I found myself continuously trying to figure out who was behind the murder and whether Tempest was really seeing a ghost. I love when a well setup plot twist catches me off guard, so I appreciated that about the book.

I rooted for Tempest at some points, but Ivy was my favorite character. Tempest acted spoiled and selfish for a good amount of the story, but her character development was written well.

One disappointment I had with the book was that I wanted to learn more about Tempest's mom and her death.

*Thank you to Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Gigi Pandian for the free eBook ARC in exchange for writing an honest review!
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Excellent title for a new mystery series,  I liked the title UNDER LOCK AND SKELETON KEY and the sub title A Secret Staircase mystery.

The Secret Staircase has a big role in this new mystery novel.  I have read other mystery series by Gigi Pandian.

Gigi Pandian introduces us to Tempest Raj, a magician from a family of magicians.  Tempest has a Scottish grandparent and another Indian (Not Native American) grandparent.  In the UK, the Indian would be called Asian, I think.

Tempest Raj is a great name for the main character and very fitting for her age group.  Tempest is working in Las Vegas doing a magic show when it is sabotaged by someone who is insanely jealous of Tempest.  Amid the sabotage, which almost killed Tempest, and the pending lawsuits, Tempest decides to move back home to California.

This novel was longer than the usual mysteries, though I enjoyed the book.  There were elements of Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew in this story.  I liked how Gigi Pandian blends different red herrings and suspects to show a story.

Highly recommended for readers who love locked room type of mysteries.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press - Minotaur Press for the ARC in exchange for a honest review.
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I enjoyed this cozy mystery, the first book by Gigi Pandian I've read. I'm eager to check out her other series now.

The underlying magic theme was fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the secret passages and hidden rooms that made up so much of this story. Unfortunately, sometimes I had a hard time visualizing what the author was describing. Likewise, I got frustrated with some inconsistencies/errors in the text. One example was when the author describes a 2x3 foot oil painting on one page, and then a page or two later, it becomes a watercolor. This type of error is frustrating in a mystery where details matter.

I also thought there were too many references to other classic mystery books. A few are fun, but the number in this book became distracting.

Overall, I liked the characters, and the plot was good -  I'm looking forward to the next volume.
And I am definitely making the cardamom shortbread - I love cozies with recipes.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a great start to the series – plenty of interesting characters and potential plotlines ripe for future mystery books. The main character, Tempest Raj, has an interesting life and backstory. 

I did figure out part of the mystery right away, but there were parts that still surprised me. I knew the ‘who’, but I couldn’t figure out the ‘how’ or the ‘why’. The mystery was complex and fun to read about it when it was spelled out to me in the end.

I would like to see this book made into a movie because I need to see how these secret rooms, staircases work!

There are also delicious sounding dishes prepared by her grandfather. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few of the recipes in the back of the book for readers to try.
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I tried countless times to get into this book and I didn't make it far. It was not as grabbing as I would hope for a mystery and I found the characters confusing from the get go. I ended up DNFing this book.
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Cassidy might have tanked Tenpest's career but murder?  Tempest, a magician who finds herself back home after an onstage debacle, is working with her family's company, a company that builds secret staircases and other interesting modifications to buildings.  Cassidy was her stunt double but now she's dead, found inside a wall.  Tempest, believing she might have been the actual target, sets out to find answers.  It's a unique cozy, filled with interesting details about magicians but even better, descriptions of vegan food.  No spoilers from me.  Thanks to netgalley for the ARC.  A nice start to a new series.
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Thank you to #netgalley and #stmartinspress for this #arc !

Synopsis: 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.

My thoughts: I liked the characters, cultural aspects, and the overall plot, but would have enjoyed it more with a little less...magician-y stuff. I think because it's just not an area of interest for me, it felt a little over the top 🤷🏻‍♀️ Kind of an it's-not-you-it's-me situation 😆

Also, it was the perfect excuse to make this disappearing #bookreel so 😆
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This was not a book for me. I love a cozy mystery but I’m not a fan of magic and there is a lot in here. Not actual magic as much, as the book being built around it. 

To me the book dragged. Not much happened after the murder. It took a long time to reach the conclusion. There were also a lot of characters and I really wasn’t invested in any of them.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

2⭐️
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What a thoroughly enjoyable twisty mystery!  Chock full of marvellously vivid details from luscious food descriptions to secret staircases and gardens, Under Lock and Skeleton Key (even those are fun!) delivers a lovely cozy locked-room mystery with Gothic and magical elements, complete with a sealed-off dead body, wondrously perplexing with red herrings in every nook and cranny.

Magician Tempest Raj has moved back to her home called Fiddler's Folly in California after a frightening accident.  Not only does feisty and whirlwindish Tempest enjoy the gorgeous cooking of her grandparents but finds she had an affinity for amateur sleuthing, especially as her former body double is discovered.  Her dad's Secret Staircase Construction Company has the most thrilling name!  The family curse adds to the swirling mysterious atmosphere.  All this adds up to pure enjoyment enveloped in every word.  

Oh, how I love hidden rooms and secrets in books!  The Golden Age mystery author references are fantastic and lend a special warmth and mood.  The mystery itself is complex and pleasing and the writing is bright and stunning.  I cannot wait to see what Gigi Pandian has in store for her readers in future.  

Mystery readers, please do not miss this smashing mystery!  Get utterly lost in it.

My sincere thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this enchanting book.
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When I saw the cover of this book, I fell in love. When I read the summary, I wanted it and when I was granted my request from NetGalley, I put down everything else to read it. 

Under Lock and Skeleton Key follows Tempest Raj, a stage magician who until very recently worked as a headliner in Las Vegas. 

She's mixed. So many people in this book are mixed. Indian and Scottish for her, There's a Black man who is a single father who is absolutely sweet and his son is adorable. There's also the Hindi Houdini, her good friend Sanjay.

Honestly some of the best written kids because they reminded me of my younger sibling and their friends when they were around that age. 

Tempest's family has suffered under a curse that her grandfather Ash absolutely believes. The eldest child dies by magic. And it seems true with the families history. 

Tempest comes from a long line of magicians (and she owns a rabbit named Abra) and it was only natural that she become one as well. Even though her mother lost her older sister Elspeth during a gruesome magic act. 

The curse took a bit of a turn after that. Tempest's mom died after that. And she says that it's cheating because her mom was only the oldest since her sister died. 

I agreed with her there. I actually highlighted that part in to put in my review because a) yeah that's cheating and b)it's so relatable. 

Tempest is actually relatable. You don't need to be a magician to feel for her. She's lost her show in Las Vegas due to her stage double tampering with her show. Tampering with in it a way that almost got her killed. 

That's where we come in to Tempest's life, living back in her childhood bedroom in her childhood home that is the number one place I want to live. 

Why? Because you get into it by pulled a secret lever and it opens up to a secret staircase that takes you to her room. And the house in general? Well, for one it has a title. It's called Fiddler's Folly. It was built in chunks and each part as it was added and grew was built in with hidden reading rooms, bookshelves that open to new hidden rooms. 

Tempest's grandparents actually live in the treehouse portion and it's yet another incredible construction. 

Not surprising since her father owns a construction company called Secret Staircase Construction. They build those hidden rooms and many other amazing things for other people. Her mother worked with her father up until her disappearance. 

Now this is supposed to be a review, not spoiler city so I have to reign in how much I want to spill on everything. 

What we have in this book is an incredible, diverse cast and each person feels real. They're all very fleshed out and none of them, to my relief, were annoying. their relationships and the history they share feels real. 

Since it's a mystery I wasn't sure what to expect. A lot of the ones I've tried over the years have been very dark and gritty, more pulp than anything else. But this felt lighter and it is. Yes there's a murder but that doesn't change the fact that this book has characters in it that don't just see doom and gloom everywhere. 

There's a lot of sleight of hand, a lot of tricks and things that were fun to picture while reading. And when the book his 78% I was actually gasping and speaking out loud. There were twists and turns then more twists. It was amazing. It was so well written that I had the distinct feeling that I was there with the characters while everything was going on.  

There was one thing that bothered me a little. The central mystery of the story is how was X thing done. And I was very excited to have it explained to me. I'm not a magician, tell me your secrets!  That...didn't happen. Or if it did, I missed it. I was looking forward to it almost being like that old show. Where this magician in a mask would do a really famous trick and then reveal how it was done. 

It was that. I was a little put out by it. I wanted to know! But when the book comes out, I'll buy it and read it again so it's not a big deal. This is also the first in a series and I eagerly look forward to the next installments!

Even though I didn't have the magic trick explained to me, there's so much magic in this book that it earned a five (5) star rating from me. I recommend it if this is your first foray into mysteries or if you're looking for one that isn't super heavy. 

Like I said in the beginning, I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. A thanks to them and the publisher.
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an original clue style mystery with a twist!!

under lock and skeleton key is the first of a new series I cannot wait to read the rest of. I wonder if the characters will remain the same or have a crossover, or whether it’s just the same style of mystery. either way, it’s the new agatha christie!!!

it was a light, quick read as we discover who killed the main character’s body double from her play, the tempest. the trick is … the body is behind a wall that has been sealed for decades. 

I could do without the side romantic side plots and interests as I felt it took away from the main story too much, but overall, it was a satisfying read!

thank you to goodreads and minotaur for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. 

rating: 3.5 stars 
wine pairing: napa valley merlot
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