Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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
Was this review helpful?
When her latest magic trick goes terribly wrong and almost kills her, Tempest loses her sponsors, friends and her show. She moves back home to hide from the fallout, helping out at the family business: A construction company that builds clever contraptions into your home. But on a job, a hidden room is revealed and out falls Tempest's former assistant, dead and a dead ringer for Tempest. Is the family curse out to get her? Is Tempest's mother reaching from beyond the grave to help her solve the mystery? And will she be able to find out before she too falls victim? This mystery features a unique hook, quirky characters, and an almost too-twisty murder mystery. But the rusty dialogue, excessive discussion of murder mystery tropes and a story overstuffed with too many characters that need exposition drag down the otherwise engaging series opener. Perhaps author Gigi Pandian will find her footing in the second book, as is often the case with cozy mysteries. Under Lock and Skeleton Key is best handed to fans of stage magic and mysteries, and those who don't mind a meandering plot.
Was this review helpful?
Tempest comes from a family of magicians and creative people.. When her headlining Vegas act is sabotaged by an associate resulting in her injury, she returns home to Hidden Creek to recover. Her father owns Secret case Construction specializing in hidden rooms and arcitectureal features.  While helping the crew on a job the body of her assistant is discovered behind a wall. Determined to solve this mystery as well as the disappearance of her mother and who caused her show to deconstruct Tempest goes on the prowl. This cozy mystery is spiced with whimsical details and entertaining characters. The interactions between family and friends is heartwarming and the fusion food of her Scottish grandmother and Indian grandfather is mouthwatering. (Recipes included). I was entertained by the snippets of unique home design and the references to historical magicians and Golden Age detective novelists. Did I mention there was a family curse? And maybe a ghost? This is a first entry in a new series from the author and although not normally a cozy reader I am anticipating the next adventure.
Was this review helpful?
Amazingly inventive storyline. Such a fun story and intriguing backstory with so many unexpected surprises. Very hard to put it in a day. Great mystery!
Was this review helpful?
Perfect for mystery readers who like their mysteries on the cozy side, but without the cliches and stock characters. This book is strikingly imaginative and takes what could be a typical mystery in some fun and creative new directions. I look forward to recommending this title.
Was this review helpful?
With equal parts magic and mystery, Gigi Pandian has created an excellent mash-up in her latest book, Under Lock and Skeleton Key. With illusionist Tempest Raj at the heart of the story, the reader is submerged into a world of magic and mystery. Tempest was one of the most successful illusionist/magicians working in Las Vegas until an assistant sabotaged her show, almost causing her death, and leaving the entire fanbase believing she is reckless and has no concern for the staff she employs. She is required to sell everything she owns in Vegas to pay suits and damages to the event, and has now moved back home to her magical house which was built by her construction oriented father and magical thinking mother.

The house, and all the projects taken on by her family’s construction company include a level of magical openings, secret keys, and hidden rooms. As a company they were famous for these creations, utilizing Tempest’s mother’s talent for creating magical events based on stories related to the owners. The description of some of these creations are bound to make the reader want to rush out and hire the company to either build or remodel something they own with their own version of books that open secret panels,gargoyles that contain the key to opening doors, hidden staircases, etc. It would be like living in your own personal magical funhouse where the magic has been created just for you.

The construction company is struggling and has been since the death of Tempest’s mother five years before. When Tempest’s mother disappeared, it fueled the tales of a family curse that meant the firstborn child of every generation was doomed to die. This curse, or belief in it, carries through to Tempest who is being terrorized by seeing her mother’s “ghost” playing a unique tune on her violin, experiencing other unexplained phenomenon, and constantly watching over her shoulder for the next threat to her life.

Pandian has then placed a murder right in the middle of this magical world. On a tour of a house currently under remodel by the company, a body suddenly appears as if bursting through the walls of a secret room. An initial investigation reveals the dead body is the assistant who set Tempest up and created the original stage disaster. Tempest and her family immediately conclude the attack was meant for Tempest. As a result, Tempest decides she must solve the mystery of who killed her assistant and how they got her body in a hidden room.

As she investigates the murder, Tempest also examines her life as a performer, the ways in which she has pushed away her friends and others who care about her, and whether or not she can repair the damage. While she is trying to solve these issues, the bracelet she was given by her mother and wears constantly is stolen, replaced by a plastic one she had made for her assistant to wear when she was working as Tempest’s double during illusions. Are there special meanings embedded in the bracelet? These are compounded when Tempest examines the replica and learns the charms that make up the bracelet snap together to create a key, but to what?

The reader can pick and choose which questions they want to try and solve, if any. Some may want to solve the entire book, some just one or two issues, and some may simply sit back and relax, just to enjoy the well written and different book created by Pandian. The characters are all distinct, many are people the readers may wish they could meet in person, and the magical houses are places almost anyone would hope to have at least a part of as their own magical dwelling place.

Pandian has created a unique book with a classic theme of murder mystery, and it is a joy to read. Regardless of whether the reader is brought to it for the mystery or the magic, I think they’ll stay for the pure enjoyment of reading an excellently crafted book with interesting characters, unique places, and lots of ideas that trigger the imagination.

I thank St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Book and Netgalley for providing an advanced reader’s copy for review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
Was this review helpful?
My first thought on reading this book was that it was too long.  There seemed to be a lot of filler and going over the same thing constantly.  Was there a family curse?  Who caused the show to fail and why?  In fact, I put the book down and read another book before I came back to this one  One other thing that I found to be very annoying was the constant use of the phrase "mashup."  Once you get to about 60%, it starts to be a pretty good story, if you get that far.  I know this is an ARC, but it badly needs editing.  Thanks for the chance to read it.
Was this review helpful?
Tempest Raj is a twenty-six (26) year old magician who found herself in a near-death stunt which landed her living at her childhood home with members of her family who cook, coddle & coo around her & tend to her every need. Tempest is on the brink of what she fears might be rock bottom; having lost whatever good graces her magician’s act had given her. In this first instalment of what one might presume to become a series, Tempest finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery; how can a recently deceased body be found behind an aged wall? 

Well, most unfortunately for me I did not enjoy this story at all & I will preface this long-winded review by stating simply that this was not meant for people in my age group. I am a couple years older than Tempest & found her behaviour ranging from absurd to ludicrous & then began to wonder if this character was written as someone who might reflect what younger audiences might think someone in their mid-twenties to be. My reason for questioning the authenticity of Tempest’s character was truly brought about because the writing style employed in this book is very juvenile; the transitions between thoughts, scenes & events circle around a select few catch phrases which would behold the interest of a young audience. This is certainly not a negative thing, if the book were targeting young people. Unfortunately, it is being put forth as an ‘adult’ read & for that reason, I found it fell very flat. 

I would like to highlight that books are not necessarily restricted to us based on our ages. One can find themselves, for example, appreciating “Le Petit Prince” at any age because the writing style is filled with artful transitions & beautiful prose. What differentiates this story from one which might be appreciated throughout the ages of the human life span is the fact that nothing was very magical. By this I mean that, the writing was not bewildering; it was bland & lead us around the same corner, over & over again. We see this in the first chapters when Tempest continuously repeats how important a meeting is for her. We understand that the meeting is important, this does not need to be told to us more than twice. For this reason, I felt that the storyline might appeal to younger audiences as they might be more willing to forgive redundancy than I.

As someone who can, more often than not, clock the twist in the opening chapters of a book, I found this story to not hold much depth in the plot to lead me to want to continue reading until everything was revealed. Being an avid reader of Agatha Christie’s I find myself always paying close attention to wording; even the most mundane phrase is often where the reveal is found. For this reason, I again was lead to reflect upon the target audience of this story. 

The premise of the plot holds a great deal of potential; the book will be beloved by many a young reader, that I am certain. However, as someone who has lived in the adult world for many years & has spent many a stormy night reading brooding mystery novels; I found this story to not be anything particularly pleasing for me. The actions that the characters took touched the surface of what they could be. Tempest herself has very shallow interactions with people who are described as being very close to her. I suppose this comes down to the writing style; things were told to the reader rather than them being shown. This is not to say that there were not detailed descriptions, there were, often ample.

Ultimately, this book was not for me. Should you read this review & wonder if you should read the book I would encourage you to give it a chance. Everything I stated was from a very subjective standpoint. If you’ve not delved into closed-door mysteries, this story might appeal to you. If you are fine with redundant descriptors, the length of this book will not bother you. I will say that I appreciated the touches of combined culture which presented themselves within the cooking practices of the characters. This trait did bring the characters together & forged what one might view as a genuine family experience which was authentic to the story we were reading. 

I’m sure we will see this story find it’s way to the ideal target audience as time moves forward & I am glad for every person who reads this story & adores it. 

Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin's Press & Gigi Pandian for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

#UnderLockAndSkeletonKey #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
I have very mixed feelings about this story. There were quite a few positives including the strong relationships among Tempest Raj and her family. The setting was great. I really enjoyed all the various puzzles that were part of Tempest's family home. I enjoyed the loving descriptions of all the various foods prepared by Tempest's grandfather. Vegans will be glad that the book includes recipes.

I also enjoyed all the references to Golden Age mysteries and magicians. The Locked Room Library is a place I would love to visit. 

There were also a number of things that I didn't especially enjoy. I'm all for a twisty plot but this one was a bit over-the-top for me. Misdirection upon misdirection made the plot confusing. I also had some problems with the keeping the large numbers of cast straight. I felt like I had entered on book 2 of a series where all these people had been introduced previously. 

The basic story seems to be that magician Tempest Raj has come back home after her career in Las Vegas was sabotaged by her assistant Cassidy. She nearly died in a stunt gone wrong. She lost all her money and her career. Now, it looks like her problems have followed her home when the body of that assistant is found in a secret room in what is the latest project of her father's Secret Staircase company.

Tempest wants to figure out the trick of the locked room and, incidentally, who murdered Cassidy. Did someone mistake Cassidy for Tempest? Is this another incidence of the Raj family curse that has killed the oldest child in each of five generations?

Fans of magic-infused and twisty mysteries will enjoy this one.
Was this review helpful?
WOW, we have a winner!

We learn that Tempest has gone home to California where she plans on eating lots of her grandfather's home-cooked meals. During her stay, she visits her father's recent renovation project to find a dead body. One that is behind a wall that was supposedly sealed for more than a century. And, so the mystery begins. 

Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a masterpiece. I could not put this book down, and the storyline and well-crafted characters left me wanting more.
Was this review helpful?
I thought this started out well enough, a magician in a cozy mystery, cool! But it started getting repetitive fairly quickly (maybe the editor will see it and redact some of that stuff) and convoluted. This book was a bit messy! And some parts were extremely unbelievable and just didn't make sense. I loved the idea of all these hidden rooms and such in a house, made me think of the Winchester House in CA (! But I won't be continuing the series. I may try one of Pandian's other series though, just to see if it's her or just this series.
Was this review helpful?
A very enjoyable read. 

The first in a series, we follow Tempest as she has returned to her family home, after her Magic show in Las Vegas was cancelled because of  an accident. While Tempest is enjoying the time spent with her grandparents, she is trying to decide what her future will bring. 

He father runs the Secret staircase construction company - specializing in creating secret rooms, hidden staircases etc for their clients. When a dead body is found inside the wall at one of their construction sites, Tempest realizes she knows the deceased - and she cannot have been inside the wall for more than a short while. What follows is Tempest and her friends trying to solve a 'locked room' mystery while they are concerned that a family curse is pointing towards Tempest being the intended victim, 

This was a quick and easy read, with some delightful characters. Tempest's Grandfather is Indian, and loves to cook and her Grandmother is Scottish, providing foods that are a mashup of both cultures. Some of the recipes are included at the end of the book.  

I found the writing rather simplistic, and wondered for a while if this was a YA book. However, I think the style fit the plot - as it was all about the art of magic, secrets, misdirection and the suspense of belief. 

I found the book delightful. It reminded me of a favorite British TV series from the 1990's - Jonathan Creek - in which a magician used his skill in magic tricks to solve murders. I will be looking to read the rest of the books in the series.
Was this review helpful?
Such a fun mystery full of masterful illusions, innovative architecture, and food! Tempest comes from a family of magicians/illusionists and has always heard there is a curse on her family that the eledest child dies from magic - and this has been true for five generations. Tempest doesn't know if she believes in the curse or not. Tempest was a headline performer in Vegas until an onstage incident that she was blamed for, caused her to se everything and go home to Hidden Creek to stay with her family. Trouble follwowed her - a body of a co-performer was found in a wall in an old house Tempest's father's company was remodeling. Other things were happening around Tempest that were very odd. She and her friends start inveslotigating to find out what is happending and who is behind it.

There are great characters in this book and I really enjoyed them. I also liked the plot and found the architecture of the hidden rooms and puzzling locks fascinating. Tempest's grandfather's cooking and love of food is peppered through the book. The mystery had enough complexity to keep my attention.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press through Netgalley for an advance copy. This book will be published on March 15, 2022.
Was this review helpful?
This mystery is a departure from my typical reads, but in a fun way! Tempest is an intriguing main character. I enjoyed the setting very much, from her multicultural family to the descriptions of the hidden features and secret rooms throughout the family's home. 

I did feel like the book had a little too much superfluous information, particularly in the beginning, which caused a bit of a slow start. It was also a little hard to pinpoint the audience or subgenre for this one... it's definitely a cozy mystery but also YA? NA? It's an enjoyable story nonetheless. 

Thanks to Net Galley and Minotaur for the complimentary digital review copy of this title.
Was this review helpful?
There are so many things to love about this book! This fun cozy mystery brings a disgraced stage magician back to her family and their secret staircase construction company, adding in a locked room mystery, fantastic architecture, and lots and lots of magic. I couldn't wait to find out the solution to the mystery, and now I can't wait to find out what comes next. Tempest's wonderful multicultural family and all of their veg/vegan food was a great bonus, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them all better. Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur Books for the advance digital copy!
Was this review helpful?
I immediately got hooked with this one. Tempest Raj is 26 years old and has recently returned home to Hidden Creek, California, after an accident during a magic performance in Las Vegas almost killed her and did kill her career. Her childhood home, Fiddler's Folly, is full of hidden passages and secret staircases and her grandparents live in a treehouse in the backyard. Her father runs the Secret Staircase Construction company "to bring magic to people through their homes." He began the company with Tempest's mother who was also a magician ... until she disappeared on stage five years ago. The disappearance wasn't part of the act, but was thought by many to be linked to a family curse going back five generations. 

Shortly after Tempest returns home she is convinced to help with the family business -- currently doing renovations to a 110 year old mansion. The blueprints don't seem to match up what they're physically seeing, and they soon discover a body in a wall that apparently hadn't been touched in the 110 year history of the house. It literally falls out of the wall onto Tempest and wasn't a 110 year old body, at all -- it was Tempest's stunt double from Las Vegas. Her doppelganger. The one Tempest believed caused the career-ending accident.

There are so many questions facing Tempest, her friends, and her family (and the police, of course, even though they make an arrest very early on):
Who put Cassidy in the wall and how? 
Was it meant to be Tempest? 
Is it all related to the supposed curse? 
And is her mother really haunting her?

Like I said, I got hooked early. I have always wanted a secret room or hidden staircase which, of course, would lead to a nook where I could read my beloved mysteries and watch old classic movies and just hide from the world in general. Tempest and her best friend, Ivy, are also mystery buffs so there's plenty of name dropping that made me smile. Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock and so many more. They plan to use their knowledge of mysteries -- both fictional and non (Ivy's sister is a true-crime writer), Tempest's knowledge of magic (along with her grandfather's though he hasn't performed in decades and hot hot hottie fellow magician Sanjay), and the combined knowledge of secret construction from her father and his crew (experts in "architectural misdirection") to figure out what really happened, how, and why.

I have had Gigi Pandian books on my TBR for years now. I am ridiculously glad that St Martin's agreed to let me have an advanced copy via NetGalley ... and I'm just as glad that I have so many other Pandian books available while I wait for the next Secret Staircase Mystery. Between the compelling mystery that kept me guessing the entire time, the rich details of the settings I will dream about for ages, and the mouth-watering food cooked up by Grandpa Ash, I'm definitely a fan.
Was this review helpful?
An enjoyable read with a likable protagonist and characters you can root for. 

Tempest Raj (cool name) is a stage magician who has returned home after being accused of a careless and risky magic accident, where she was ‘apparently’ witnessed preparing for the unsafe stunt. She firmly believes her former stage double, Cassidy, was responsible for the accident. 

But when Cassidy is found dead inside a wall of a building being constructed by Tempest’s parents’ company, called the Secret Staircase Construction business, she and her best friend Ivy, have to solve the murder before someone kills Tempest, or accuses her of it. 

This was a fun read, with diverse and quirky characters. Tempest’s grandparents, Grandpa Ash is of Indian ancestry, and Grandma Mor of Scottish, together with their brilliant fusion recipes, and Tempest’s rabbit, Abracadabra, they add a lot of fun in what is an intriguing mystery. 

I’d certainly recommend this for cozy readers who like mysteries with a healthy dose of magic thrown in. I hope Gigi Pandian follows this up with more of this group of interesting characters. 

Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
While I loved the idea of The Secret Staircase Construction Company, overall this book was not for me which I know puts me in the minority of readers. The writing felt clunky, the characters one-dimensional and I felt things jumped all over the place all and so I was never able to fully engage in the story
Was this review helpful?